A Tribute to Game Changers

Jerry had a new idea. The coin operated arcade game he had developed in his garage was cutting edge. Instead of using discrete logic hardware that typically drove video arcade games, Jerry decided to use a microprocessor. His microprocessor-driven arcade racing game, called Demolition Derby never made it past field testing to appear in the video arcade scene, but a year later, Gun Fight appeared as the first widely released microprocessor-based arcade video game. What Jerry had developed in his garage became a real game changer. But his biggest contribution was yet to come.

Jerry Lawson was born in New York City. His dad was a dock worker, a longshoreman, who was fascinated with science and along with his wife, always encouraged Jerry’s interest in scientific hobbies, including ham radio, chemistry and electronics. After college, Jerry moved to San Francisco and took a job in the sales division of Fairchild Semiconductor as an engineering consultant. It was there that his garage experiment became a reality. He was promoted to Chief Hardware Engineer and Director of Engineering and Marketing for Fairchild’s video game division. He also became one of the two sole black members of the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of early computer enthusiast that included well-known members, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

One of the problems with video games at the time was that they were hardcoded to just one game. Home game devices had been created but they were limited to the games you could store in hardware. Jerry knew that the home gaming market could be expanded if they were able to offer a way for consumers to change out the game in a convenient way. He set to work on a new idea. Based on the previous pioneering work he did in moving from complex discrete logic to a software microprocessor-driven design, Jerry knew there had to be a way to make that software portable. He moved the game code to ROM (read only memory) and packaged it into a highly portable cartridge that could be repeatably inserted and removed from the console without damage. This would allow users to purchase a library of games to enjoy, effectively creating a new business and revenue stream for console manufactures and game developers.

Jerry’s invention, the Channel F console (the “F” stood for Fun) included many pioneering features. It was the first home system to use a microprocessor, the first to include a detachable joystick, the first to give users a “pause” button and of course, the first to have swappable ROM cartridge-based games. Sadly, the console was not successful, but the invention changed the home gaming world forever. A year later, a gaming console came to market using Jerry’s revolutionary concepts, and took over the world, the Atari 2600. Many other game consoles followed with the explosion of games and options for the consumer.

Jerry changed the industry! Despite his two game changing products being market failures, his ideas lived on and created a new industry. He is now recognized, honored and celebrated as the “creator of the modern video game console”.

I don’t know about you, but Jerry and his story inspired me. I see brilliant minds all around us. They dream into the future and even implement pioneering work that changes the game. Sadly, many go unnoticed until they are gone. Jerry’s story reminds us that we should applaud these pioneers. They help nudge technology and our human experience forward. We should celebrate them, acknowledge them and honor them. I know some of you are pioneers too. Keep innovating, dreaming, creating, building and inspiring! We need the game changers!

Leading Change

My dad always dreamed I would follow his footsteps and become a land surveyor and civil engineer. In my teens, I worked summers as a surveyor. It was hot, dusty and grueling work. I was fascinated at how you could use science, geometry, a transit and a level to convert a cow pasture into a residential or commercial subdivision, but I was enamored with computers more. I decided to pursue a computer science degree. After college, I started freelancing. I wrote business management software for retail and mail order companies. I installed networks, set up file servers, and developed control software for a local glass factory. I loved working with people and enjoyed seeing technology help solve business problems. I was having a blast! Ironically, my next client would help fulfill my dad’s dream.

My dad’s engineering firm needed to “computerize” to stay relevant in the market. Their manual design work, drafting and surveying was being displaced by modern firms using computer aided design. They needed help. I was hired to computerize the business. I purchased AutoCAD and began writing software to automate the tedious calculations for hydrology, earthworks, structural analysis and coordinate geometry. All the drawings were manual so I started working with the drafting team to convert them to digital. We were making great progress getting new projects into the computerize workflow. Then I hit a snag.

“Keep that @#$% computer away from my projects!” One of the founding engineers was less enthusiastic about all this new technology. His team was instructed to avoid me and stay the course on their manual processes. I was shocked! I hadn’t anticipated this reaction. Why wouldn’t everyone want this technological magic? I was faced with one of the great leadership lessons in life. People resist change. We are habitual. We avoid risk by default, especially if the change isn’t something we understand or control. I started this transformation expecting that the hardest job would be all the lines of code, integration of new software and systems, but I soon discovered that the biggest tasks was going to be onboarding my fellow humans. How should I respond? I could enlist the edict approach. After all, I happened to know the boss. But I knew that wouldn’t create the culture or environment that would lead to our long term success.

I set my target on being as successful as possible with the teams that were onboard with the transition. They were excited and enthusiastic about what we were doing. It was hard work and required some iterations, but finally all the calculations were being made by the computer. To be fair, for the first projects, it took a little longer than the manual path. Our skeptical engineer was quick to call that to our attention. We printed our results and submitted them for review at the city. A new requirement hit from the land owner and the city council. A complete design change was needed, an effort that would have taken months. The skeptical engineer laughed at first, but what happened next changed everything. Because it was digital, we only needed to edit the code and have the system recompute the models. In less than a week, we resubmitted and received approval. We moved on to construction.

“How on earth did you do that?!” the skeptical engineer was shocked. We patiently explained what it took. We were honest about some of the difficult bits and listened intently to any of the concerns or questions that were raised. The team that had been through the transformation was elated with the results and their enthusiasm was contagious. Soon, the once skeptical engineer, still being terse and grumpy, demanded, “How soon can you get all my projects in that @#% thing?”

The engineer who was skeptical not only acquiesced to using the new technology, but he and his team became the biggest users and supporters of the systems we built. They were delivering two times more projects than everyone else. He went from blocker to champion.

This taught me a valuable lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career. As technologists, we amplify the business by introducing new ways to deliver value. We automate. We code. We transform. We create faster ways to get things done. But in all of that, we can’t forget that the most important role we play is bringing our fellow humans along for the journey. Sometimes that even includes that fellow human looking back at us in the mirror. Change is hard. Change without people is impossible. With patience, empathy and determination, we can enlist the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings and help unlock the unlimited potential before us.

Listening

“Dad, you weren’t listening! We told you already.” 

I’m a great listener. Well, at least that is what I originally thought. In reality, there are many times when I’m present in body, but absent in listening. The audio channel is working but my mind is tuning it out. In some conversations, I find my mind daydreaming, racing toward solutions, practical steps and action planning instead of hearing what is being said. Have you ever experienced that? Thankfully, I have three attentive daughters who make sure I know when that is happening.

Listening. It’s one of the core senses we have as humans, but do we use it well? In my conversations with businesses across the company and across the industry, they often cite that a key challenge working with “centralized shared services teams” is getting them to listen. I am often told things like, “They come to tell, but we wish they would come to listen.” When I probe that sentiment, it is very clear that the desire is to have the other party fully understand them. It isn’t just to recognize the words, concepts or thoughts, but to fully connect with their frame of reference. It is to intimately understand their challenges, their business needs, their priorities, passions, practices and people. By doing so, the help that the central team offers is more relevant, effective and wanted. In the end, they want to be heard and understood. Isn’t that what we all want? 

In a recent call with our CIO, she challenged us all to pick a “focus word” for 2023. For me, on both a personal and professional level, I picked the word “listen.” I want to improve my ability to hear with understanding. And I want to champion and expand my team’s ability to “listen” and help the businesses we support.

We know there are challenges ahead. I anticipate a great deal of flux with new demands across the globe, new opportunities, new adventures and new perspectives. The ability and focus on intentional “listening” will be a superpower to help us all succeed. And, yes, my daughters will be happier too.

The Present under the Tree

My step dad was a great storyteller. In one of the last conversations I had with him, he wanted to talk about Christmas. But first, he had to lie down. His body was riddled with cancer. His strength was gone and he needed to rest. He closed his eyes and begin to reminisce about his childhood. He loved Christmas. He told me how his dad would buy a tree and set it up in their living room a week before Christmas. You could smell the fresh cut pine throughout the house. His mother would wrap up the presents and put them under the tree. He recalled how he and his brother would sneak in to inspect and shake the presents. They would try to imagine what was inside. Maybe it was some socks or a new coat. Or better yet, maybe it was that new toy you always wanted! It could be anything. The colorful paper and neat bows only added to the mystery and intrigue. He couldn’t wait for Christmas morning! The days and hours would stretch on for what seemed like eternity, but then Christmas Eve would finally arrive! They could barely sleep. At first light on Christmas morning, they would rush to the tree and tear open their treasures. It was magnificent!  

As he lay in his bed, struggling with some pain, a broad smile formed across his face. His eyes opened. They were beaming with a misty, joyous radiance. He looked directly at me. “Jason, I feel like Christmas is coming. Eternity is wrapped up in a beautiful package waiting for me under the tree. I can’t wait to open it. It’s like I’m holding it right now and wondering what’s inside. I keep shaking it and wondering how wonderful it will be. What is on the other side of this mortal life? What will heaven be like? Christmas morning is coming for me and I’m ready to open it.”

Not many days later, my dad opened that present. He breathed out his last terrestrial breath and drank in the brilliant glory of eternity. While his life was ending here on earth, his joy never did. With a tearful smile and a heavy heart, I sent my last wish to him as he departed, “Merry Christmas, Dad.”

I recognize this is a heavy and personal story to start off the new year, but I think it is an important one. For me, it is profoundly grounding. There are controllable and uncontrollable events on our horizon. What matters and what is in our control is how we prepare and respond to those. How we look at things shapes our destiny. It can limit us or propel us forward. Wrapped up under the tree are packages with our names on them. What will they be? What will we find inside? How will we respond? What new adventure awaits? What will we discover?

As the new year is born, we don’t know where it will take us. We will face new experiences and say farewell to others. New memories will be made and old ones will visit us. Like the stars in the heavens, they will illuminate our journey, orient us and encourage us. We will embrace the unknown and keep going. Every encounter, precious. Every person, infinitely valuable. Every day, a gift. 

The future is before us, full of potential, new adventures and new memories to enjoy. Like a present under the tree, it could be anything. It’s time to start unwrapping! 

Happy New Year!

Money Shot

Are you ready to see the money shot?”

Every year, at Thanksgiving we start our “prep list” for our annual holiday party at our home. It’s a highlight of the year for us and an opportunity to spend an evening with some of our work family, their families, kiddos and other friends. We just hosted that event his past Saturday. It was so fun! We had food, holiday treats, gifts, music, and laughs! Of course, I even provided a few tours to see my garage collection of tech hacks, projects, Powerwalls and gadgets.

For any of you who host parties, you know they can be a lot of work. Your prep list is full of food and drinks to buy, cooking, arranging, planning and of course, cleaning. That last bit can vary quite a bit. Even if you have a regular schedule of keeping things maintained, there are still those items you postpone, like the deep cleaning part, until there is a good motivation. Well, hosting a party is a good motivation. One of the things we identified this year that needed some special treatment was our area rugs. We have tile floor throughout the house but we have large area rugs in the living rooms. They can get dirty. Very dirty! We needed to either replace or clean them. My wife found a professional cleaner that would be able to accommodate our schedule. 

The carpet cleaner showed up with special chemicals and equipment. After he treated the rug, he pulled in this large hose and vacuum tool and said, “Are you ready to see the money shot?” We looked at the rug and it already looked better. The colors that had faded were already showing again. But then it happened. He turned on the machine and began pulling the vacuum head across one side of the rug. It was mind blowing! The white border of the rug exploded with colorful and vibrant brilliance. The rest of the rug we thought was clean suddenly looked dingy, gray and soiled in comparison to the strip he had just cleaned. We were stunned! He laughed. He then told us that people love to see that. In fact, he informed us, you can spend hours on social media watching people clean their rugs this same way. I couldn’t believe it so I checked it out for myself. There are tens of thousands of hours of rug cleaning videos out there! I kid you not! And I must admit, they are addictive, soothing and somehow satisfying. 

Why is that? It turns out that there is a lot of research on this type of thing. We find a sense of optimism, peace, clarity and control when we watch things go from dirty to clean, chaos to order. In reflection, I find the same with my own efforts around cleaning. In preparation for our party, we declutter, wash, arrange and decorate. I confess that the ramp to begin that process isn’t easy and my procrastination skills kick into overdrive, but once I’m past that the effort is oddly satisfying, refreshing and enjoyable. Now, don’t get me wrong, my garage is still 100% chaos and needs some treatment, but containerizing and treating chaos in an agile fashion is a topic for another email. 

For today, as we parade into this holiday season, I’m reminded of the joy of cleaning. We all need a bit of housekeeping from time to time. Life is dusty. Spider webs settle in the crevices of our hearts, our minds and our homes. Seeing the “money shot” of things in your life go from dirty to clean is an enjoyable experience, healthy and encouraging. Pull out the special cleaner, scrubber and brush and go to work. Trust me, it is true! Try it. Go clean something and report back. I’ll wait. 

Holiday Hugs

“I like warm hugs.” — Olaf, Frozen

I love getting holiday greeting cards! Our first cards started showing up last week. Most of the time, I dread going through the mail. You can probably relate. Mail these days is littered with extended home warranties, credit card offers and advertisements. But this time of year, envelopes of love wrapped up in memories, reflections and joy arrive nearly on a daily basis. Friends, family and dear acquaintances from long ago reconnect across time and space with a card, an address and a stamp. Those tiny bundles of care soared across oceans, over lands, across snow-capped mountains, rivers and valleys, finally arriving at our home like a warm hug. You all know me by now. I get nostalgic and emotional about all these wonderful tiny human touches. They remind us that we are all related, connected, remembered and loved. They are small things but they mean so much.

At this point, we send out so many Christmas cards that we have to pick up postage by the hundreds. But every card is special. I love spending time with each card, each envelope, thinking about each person and family that will receive it. Memories fold into every envelope. Concern, love and hopeful wishes accompany every stamp placed. Off they go, on their journey to the objects of our fondness and the precious hearts of our human kin.

This time of year can be busy. The lists are non-stop. Shopping, planning, mailing, volunteering, cleaning, hanging, cooking, and traveling… all those activities spin up in our lives and can even overwhelm us. I have to remind myself to add to that list, pausing, resting, remembering, reflecting and loving. We are surrounded by so much beauty, so many precious connections with people, moments of joy and instants of delight. But they are fleeting. Don’t let them soar away without your attention. Snuggle up next to them. Wrap your mind around their splendor. Soak in every connection, every person you encounter and every moment you experience. We won’t walk this way again. Tomorrow is coming and it will be glorious, but don’t miss the chance to savor today. Treasure your loved ones and every moment you have with them now and throughout this holiday season.

May this season bring you love, joy, peace and warm holiday hugs!

Thanksgiving

I could see my breath. The curling wisps of vapor waved and disappeared before me in the cool crisp morning air. I looked up and saw that my neighbor’s roof was white with frost. The emerald green grass on my yard sparkled as the sun poked out over the horizon. The chill of the morning pulled back just a little as the trees along our street burst into flame. Their brilliant red, yellow and orange hues sprung to life as the sun’s vibrant rays backlit their leaves. Notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves seemed to be everywhere… Well, maybe it was just my coffee. But, it was glorious! Fall is in full swing.

In the US we are on the glidepath to Thanksgiving. Next week, there will be family, friends and feasts. Preparations will slip into sleepy afternoon naps and awaken to Black Friday holiday shopping chaos. I can’t wait! I love this time of year. Sure, the festive foods, cheerful tunes and colorful lights all decorate the season with delight, but another treat for me is the time of remembering. I begin to reflect back and meditate on the days gone by. I confess, I’m nostalgic. I love to relive history, cherish those moments with friends, family and fellow travelers. It makes me smile. Visions and feelings from the past arrive like Christmas cards from dear friends. Smells, pictures, traditions and sounds trigger remembrances and moments of joy. Gratefulness rises like those butter covered rolls in the oven. Our adventures, discoveries, setbacks and successes are all part of the grand journal of our lives.

What are you thankful for? As you dream into next week and the holiday season, what pops into your mind? Make sure you take time to pause during this busy holiday season. Breathe in the moment, exhale the worries and focus on the blessings. You are surrounded. Like a feast, there are so many great things to sample and remember. There is even a song in the air! Quiet now. Can you hear it? The melody of our life is accompanied by the enduring rhythm of our own hearts. Stop and listen. That song has journeyed with us all of our days, keeping us alive and marking every moment as a gift, a soothing and sacred reminder that we matter and our days are worth living.

Listen, I know what you are thinking… There will be some challenges and difficulties before us. But we can get through it. You are all brilliant and powerfully unique. The journey ahead is preposterous. It’s full of unexpected surprises, possibilities, challenges and delights. As we feast on the memories of the past, don’t forget to drink in the intoxicating hope of the future. The best is yet to come!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween!

Pirates, Pumpkins and Princesses were all over the restaurant. I’m a sucker for babies and cute kids. I couldn’t help myself. I wandered around the restaurant greeting heroes, cowboys, fairies, clowns and vampires.  I saw Spider-Man at a table next to us and commented on how “amazing” it was to be in the same restaurant with Spider-Man! He eventually took off his mask as we were leaving and I called attention to the fact that Peter Parker had joined us. His face went as red as his suit and an enormous smile formed on his face. His family was beaming. 

I spotted Queen Elsa, and made sure everyone knew that we had royalty in our midst. She stood up in her chair with a humongous smile and took a bashful bow as the crowd gave her applause. I passed by Hidden Leaf ninjas, happy clowns, scary skeletons and ghostly ghouls. My favorite of all was a patch of pumpkins placed carefully in a line of highchairs and orange colored bibs. They were all munching away. Who knew pumpkins loved animal crackers so much?

I love Halloween time! Photo memory books on this date remind me of the times we had the cast of Inside Out and Kingdom Hearts assemble in our home to haunt our neighborhood for candy. I recall Jessie the Cowgirl, Elsa and Anna, Rapunzel, A Storm Trooper with Princes Leia, Wendy, Sora and so many more. I love Halloween! Yes, part of it is the ridiculous amounts of candy we buy and consume. But that isn’t all. I love the fun and fanciful moments as kids get to dream into their favorite characters, embrace the identity of their heroes, wrap themselves up in a wonderful world of imagination and make-believe. It’s magic. They get to be anyone they want to be and they are celebrated.

You can be anything you want to be. It occurs to me that we could use a bit more Halloween inspired imagination throughout the year. During Halloween we celebrate and applaud the creative adventures of our kids and each other. We should do that all the time. We should encourage and rejoice in our abilities to dream, to create, to wrap ourselves in fanciful “what ifs” and precocious “why nots” until we see the world though the magical lens of “what can be’s”. 

Trick or treat! Tonight, join me in celebrating what we can be. Dream into the future and the possibilities that await us. Those characters, those adventures, those fanciful explorations can unlock a storehouse of potential that will propel our human story forward. 

Happy Halloween!

Listen

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Mark Schwartz had just taken on his role as CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) when the team hand delivered a huge book of rules to his desk. He had just asked the team why it took months, not days or weeks to build and deliver a simple single page website. “Here is why,” his team said pointing to the tome of regulations and rules. They carefully explained the large number of procedures and approvals required to do something that seemed so simple.

Mark was determined to simplify the process and improve the speed. As he read through the enormous volume of rules, he discovered many legacy controls that no longer applied, yet required motion by the team. Like organizational scar tissue, the rules had been crafted to respond to some incident or fear and then spread to cover a vast domain, even if it was outside of scope. They were outdated, inflexible, irrelevant and at best, ineffective.

“This is bureaucracy!” It needed to be eliminated. He immediately started to tune the processes and eliminate the needless rules. Now, you would expect a cheer from the team impacted by this, right? Surprisingly, that’s not what happened. Instead, it resulted in an uprising! The authors of the rules began to appear in his office to protest. His own team resisted the change. Those rules, despite their pain, had become a comfortable crutch for the team. They depended on them to know they were doing the right thing. Even the team that was harmed by them was defending them. But why?

As he talked to them, he came to realize that they were not trying to block progress, they were trying to protect the country, the organization and the individuals applying for citizenship. Their intentions were good! He listened to them. He asked more questions. They explained their concerns and their motives. He told them how he understood and appreciated them and their efforts. He asked if they could work together to change the rules to be more efficient and relevant, but still address their key concerns and motives. The geometry of the energy in the room changed dramatically. Suddenly they were all behind his efforts to improve the rules. Over the next several months they slimmed down the bureaucratic book of rules to a manageable size and more importantly, unlocked the speed and potential of teams trying to deliver features and new websites for the organization.

We often make assumptions. We have a tendency to cast a reality into place that we invent by ourselves. We can even be guilty of assuming malintent of others when that is not the case. A superpower that awaits every leader who chooses to wield it, is the power of listening. As Mark discovered, the bureaucracy that was created by individuals at USCIS was not intended for evil, but for good. By reaching out to those who crafted the rule book to understand their intent, he unlocked the door to improvement. By listening and understanding, he forged a new reality into place that profoundly changed the dynamics from resistance to revolution. The authors of the previous reality willingly enlisted to rewrite the new one. The results were significant.

Do you want to change the world? If so, reach out to others. Ask Questions. Listen. Like Mark, we may discover a good story that will completely rewrite our understanding and forever change the trajectory of our progress. Go on! Listen.

Grid Bugs

Oh, no! We were several hours into a major system outage and there was still no clue as to what was broken. The webservers were running at full load and the applications were pumping a constant stream of error logs to disk. Systems and application engineers were frantically looking through the dizzying logs for clues as to the cause. Of course, looking at the logs, you would assume everything was broken, and it was. But even when the application worked, the logs were full of indecipherable errors. Everyone knew that most of the “errors” in the logs weren’t really errors, but untidy notices that developers had created long ago as part of a debugging exercise. As one engineer observed in some degree of frustration, “It’s like the log file that cried wolf!” After a while, nobody notices the errors.

The teams restarted services, rebooted systems, stopped and restarted load balancers. Nothing helped. Network engineers dug into the configuration of the routers and switches to make sure nothing was amiss. Except for the occasional keyboard typing sounds, dogs barking or children crying in the background, the intense investigation had produced an uncanny silence on the call. Operation center specialists were quickly crafting their communication updates and were discussing with the incident commander on how to update their many clients that were impacted by this outage. Company leaders and members of the board of directors were calling in to get updates. Stress was high. Would we ever find the cause or should we just shut down the company now and start over? Fatigue was setting in. Tempers were starting to show. Discussion ensued on the conference call to explore all mitigation options and next steps.

“I found it!” The discussion on the call stopped. Everyone perked up, anxious to hear the discovery. “What did you find?” the commander asked in a hopeful way. The giddy engineer took center stage on the call, eager to tell the news. “It’s the inventory service! The server at the fulfillment center seems to be intermittently timing out. Transactions are getting stuck in the queue.” The engineer paused, clearly typing away at some commands on his computer. “I think we have a routing problem. I try to trace it but it seems to bounce around and disappear. Sometimes it works, but to complete the transaction, multiple calls are required and too many of them are failing. I’m chatting with the fulfillment center and they report the inventory system is running.”

The engineer sent the traceroute to the network engineer who started investigating and then asked, “Can you send me the list of all the addresses used by the inventory system?”  After some back and forth, the conclusion came, “I found the problem! There are two paths to the fulfillment center, one of which goes through another datacenter. That datacenter link looks up but it is clearly not passing traffic.” After more typing, the conclusion, “Ah, it seems the telco made a routing change. I’m getting them to reverse it now.” Soon the change was reversed and transactions were flowing again. The dashboards cleared and “green” lights came back on. Everyone on the bridge quietly, and sometimes not so silently, celebrated and felt an incredible emotional relief. Sure, there would be more questions, incident review and learning, but solving the problem was exhilarating.

How many of you can relate to a story like that? How many of you have been on that call?

A friend of mine, Dr. Steven Spear at MIT, often reminds us that the key to solving a problem is seeing the problem. You can’t solve what you cannot see. A big part of reliability engineering and systems dynamics is understanding how we gain visibility into problems and surface them so they can be addressed. Ideally, we find those weaknesses before they cause real business impact. That is often the attraction of chaos engineering, poking at fault domains to expose fractures that could become outages. But sometimes the issue is so complex that we just need a clear line of sight into the problem. In the story above, connectivity and those dependent links were not clearly visible. If there was some way to measure the foundational connectivity between the dependent locations, our operational heroes could have quickly seen it, fixed it, and gone back to sleep. Getting that visibility in advanced is the right thing to do for our business, our customers and our teams.

This past weekend, I found myself itching to code and tinker around with some new tech. The story above is one I have seen repeated multiple times. We often have limited visibility into point-to-point connectivity across our networks and vendors. Yet we have this grid of dependency that is needed to deliver our business powering technology. I know what you are thinking. There are millions of tools that do that. I found some and they were very elaborate and complicated, way more than what I wanted to experiment with. I finally had my excuse to code. I wanted to build a system to synthetically monitor all these links. Think of an instance in one datacenter or cloud polling an instance in another datacenter or region. I had a few hours this weekend so I blasted out some code. I created a tiny multithreaded python webservice that polls a list of other nodes and builds a graph database it displays using the JavaScript visualization library, cytoscape ,which was fun learning by itself. Of course, I packed this all into a container and gave it the catchy name, “GridBug”. Yes, I know, I’m a nerd.

You can throw a GridBug onto any instance, into any datacenter, and it will go to work monitoring connectivity. I didn’t have time to test any serverless options but it should work as well. I set up 5 nodes in 3 locations for a test, with some forced failures to see how it would detect conditions on the grid. The graph data converges overtime so that every node can render the same graph. If you want to see it, here is my test and project code: https://github.com/jasonacox/gridbug

I have no expectations on this project. It is clearly just a work of fun I wanted to share with all of you, but it occurs to me that there is still a lesson here. Pain or necessity is a mighty force in terms of inspiration. What bugs you? Like this outage example, is there some pain point that you would love to see addressed? What’s keeping you from trying to fix it? Come up with a project and go to work on it. You are going to learn something! Look, let’s be real, my project here is elementary and buggy at best (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), but I got a chance to learn something new and see a fun result. That’s what makes projects like this so rewarding. The journey is the point, and frankly, you might even end up with something that brings some value to the rest of our human family. Go create something new this week!

Have a great week!