New Office Goes Blue

Posted by mitch on March 31, 2023

It’s been forever since I posted! My family moved a few miles a few years ago; the office page is horribly out of date and I hope to do a thorough revisit of office space, work environment thoughts, and so on by 2030. Seriously. I have lots of additional thoughts from over the years but quite cramped for time right now.

But I did want to say one thing: nearly everyone says not to paint a room dark colors. “It will make the room feel smaller/darker.” “Go with light neutrals… a nice greige.” Ugh.

So when we bought this house, my office was painted all white. The new office is about the same floor square footage as my old one — both rooms are around 400 sq ft. However, the new office is roughly twice the volume, due to not being under the rafters of the attic, and I have a door going outside to the garden and many more windows than I had before. The downside has been getting Cat6 drops installed–a huge pain–and speaker wire, but I’m finally converging.

But most importantly, a few months ago I painted the room a very dark blue and hung up sheer curtains. The morning light was blinding me on Zoom calls and I had to do something. Also the room felt very “blah” with white ceilings.

I’m super happy with how it came out–technically I haven’t finished painting, but it’s been good enough to get back to work for now.

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The Microsoft Surface Studio 2

Posted by mitch on March 29, 2020

I debated for many years whether to buy this computer, starting with the first revision. Both versions have similar severe limitations: high price, limited processor, storage, memory, and connectivity. Of course, the point of the product is to draw on the screen in a “big” way, which for many customers means Photoshop work and Photoshop likes memory.

Earlier this year, I bit the bullet and bought the base model. I would have preferred the 32 GB model, but paying an additional $700 for an additional 16 GB of RAM and nothing else is simply not a good value.

I’ve used the Studio 2 daily for many weeks now to augment my use of paper notebooks. I tend to do most of my thinking work by hand in lab notebooks and there are many limitations with paper: moving a drawing, erasing, undo, and the physical boundaries of paper come to mind. Zooming can also be challenging.

My main project has been working out algorithms and designs for a new set of data processing products. For the past few months, about 75% of what I’d normally do on paper I’ve been doing in OneNote and for the most part, it’s been wonderful. I don’t regret the purchase.

However, there are many aspects of the Studio 2 that are poorly thought out.

  1. The keyboard is an “extended” keyboard with the numeric keypad. However, the use case for the Studio is pen and any extra footprint of the keyboard is just in the way.
  2. The Studio 2 doesn’t come with the Dial, which means it’s pretty much a useless accessory. I bought one and it doesn’t even work with Microsoft’s own OneNote.
  3. The screen doesn’t go high enough on the stand when using it as a desktop. For my desk chair and table configuration, it’s about 4-6″ too low.
  4. When the screen is pulled down, where is one supposed to put the keyboard? There’s an onscreen keyboard, which has gotten better in a recent Windows update, but it’s not ideal. I put a stack of books behind the Studio so I can reach up and use the keyboard. I suspect this is the main reason Apple hasn’t introduced a similar product.
  5. The glossy screen is beautiful. It’s also a mirror.
  6. The computer often struggles to wake up with an external display connected, which means reaching around behind it to disconnect the external screen, wake the computer, and then re-connect it. There’s really no excuse for this.
  7. It’s Windows, which means on random days when I come back to my desk, the computer has updated, rebooted, and all my state is lost. Microsoft continues to fail to understand it is my computer and not their computer; that my tasks are more important to me than their tasks.
  8. USB-C is the only way to connect an external monitor. There’s only one USB-C port.
  9. The pen is a bit thin for my liking; I’d prefer something a smidge thicker. “Put a grip on it,” you said. Yes, but that would prevent the magnetic storage from working (the pen stores on the side of the display).
  10. A few days ago, I finally decided to write up my experience because Photoshop was lagging badly—to the point of being useless, on a small ~3000×4000 pixel document and using the brush tool. I ended up having to reboot the computer to get Photoshop performance back.
  11. OneNote is my main drawing tool, and it sucks in so many ways. (I’m drawing designs and ideas, making notes and thinking, not making art.) Export sucks, printing sucks, there’s no layer tool, etc.

I don’t regret the purchase; I’ve been far more creative at a higher velocity in my work with it. I’d say it’s still $1,000 too expensive for what it is, and a premium drawing tablet should come with 32 GB of RAM standard.
When Microsoft comes out with a newer model, I may upgrade.


Back to the Stacks

Posted by mitch on October 03, 2019

Around 2004, when flatscreens were starting to come down in price, I embarked on an adventure. I bought a mixture of 17″ and 19″ panels–8 of them–and some Ergotron DS100 quad screen stands to try stacked monitors. You might recall a 17″ panel was 1280×1024, a 5:4 aspect ratio, and large enough for essentially one window of code. With a mix of terminal windows and code buffers, I wanted to have ~4 buffers on the bottom row and a mix of terminal windows and header files on the top row.

I never really took a good picture of the setup, but the net-net was that it didn’t work very well. The second row was overwhelming; it gave me headaches, and I felt like the world was bearing down on me. It was disappointing, but I continued to use my screens in a single row horizontally in a variety of configurations. Typically I had 4-6 displays on my main coding machine, and an extra display or two for iTunes, documentation, whatrever on adjacent computers.

2005 era office in Cupertino, CA.

In 2007, I started living in Boston part-time and bought a 24″ 1920×1200 screen in Boston and I quickly bought a second one for my home in California. I had been wary after the headache-setup of trying larger screens than 19″, but once I was stuck with coding on a laptop that I carried back and forth, I wanted the biggest screen possible–and it turned out to be fantastic. In June 2007, I consolidated my life to Boston and ended up running two 24″ with two of my 17″ panels in portrait mode on either side. I would use a large window stretched across the screens and 2 buffers per 24″ screen with terminals on the 17″ panels.

In 2008, Apple “finally” released an updated Mac Pro (the wait seemed long at the time–but nothing like Apple’s pace these days). I bought my first Cinema 30″ screen around that time and the sheer wonder of 2560×1600 and all it could do was not lost on me. I quickly bought another three or four 30″ screens and some 20″ screens that I ran in portrait mode.

January-ish 2008: 2×24 + 2×17

The Apple screens used a fluorescent bulb. These don’t last forever and by 2014, I had upgraded to 3×30″ HP screens, as the Apples were getting too dark. The HPs I bought were the last pre-LED backlight 30″s that HP sold, unfortunately, but they held up well–and they used DisplayPort and didn’t require all the power bricks and dongles that the Apples did. I sold all the Apples on Craigslist.

In 2016, Dell released the 43″ 4K screen and I ordered one the day they announced it while waiting for take off on an airplane. I eventually began running the 43″ with new LED-backlit 24″ screens in portrait and picked up a second 43″ ViewSonic screen for my secondary coding workstation.

A few months ago, for some reason, I started wondering about stacked displays again. I was dubious but found some tall monitor arms–it was challenging to find arms tall enough that the 24″s would clear the height of the 43″ displays, and I finally upgraded my 43″ screens to be mounted on monitor arms (an Ergotron HX for the Dell and a now-discontinued HumanScale M8 for the ViewSonic, due to the terrible VESA mounting position on the ViewSonic–the Ergotron arm isn’t tall enough to mount the ViewSonic).

Current: 2×43 + 4×24

After a few months of use, I’m happy to say it’s been a wonderful experience. I have room for two huge development windows with 3-4 buffers each across the bottom, and all my remote shells, logs, Slack up above. The 43″ screens are big enough that I don’t see the 24″ monitors unless I want to look up at them. I suspect the fact the screens are all LED helps as well–and I’m much more aggressive about using giant fonts than I was 15 years ago (my vision is still good enough not to need correction, but no reason to push it).

I put the tall arms into existing grommet holes on my desktop, which turned out to provide some separation between the left/right pair, which seems to be fine for how I work with them.
All six are connected to my 2013 Mac Pro. Five are connected via DisplayPort and one of the 24″s via HDMI, since my sixth Thunderbolt port has some hard drive arrays hanging off it.

The issues I’ve blogged about before still exist: I wish for curved 43″-caliber displays; I have owned the Dell 38″ curved, and while it’s very nice–a much higher quality screen than the Dell 43″–the height is too short after having lived with the 43″ height for so long.

I’ve written about 20,000 lines of code in the last few months while working at this set-up on products with a significant number of moving parts. It’s just been awesome. If you haven’t tried stacking screens, it could be a good move.

Big Monitors Compared

Posted by mitch on August 31, 2018

For the last 18 months or so, 43″ displays have been the max you can get for a traditional computer monitor on the desktop. Dell was the first, and I ordered their 43″ the day they allowed pre-orders in May 2016; other vendors eventually followed.

During the last 18 months, I’ve collected the Dell 43, the curved Dell 38, and a ViewSonic 43. Which one is the “best”? Let’s take a look:

First, overall, these are 4K screens with pre-HiDPI/Retina resolutions. The 43″s run around 100 pixels per inch, which is about the same as the old 30″ monitors that were 2560×1600. I really like this resolution, but of course it will be great to upgrade to 8K in a few years for the increased sharpness.

Here’s my main desk, with three portrait screens and the Dell 43″ in the middle:

The Dell 43″: Plenty of inputs. The speakers are OK, but not great. DisplayPort and HDMI only; no USB-C. The buttons are on the front. Color reproduction is adequate for non-color work but definitely not good enough if you’re doing anything serious. The DisplayPort handshake can be iffy with MacOS from time to time (10.13.6 is worse than 10.13.5 was, but 10.13.x has been better than 10.12.x).

The main drawback is a dark gray band around the perimeter of the screen. It’s annoying once you notice it; I didn’t notice it til someone else who bought the monitor asked if I had noticed it. (Thanks a lot! :-).

The ViewSonic 43″: Like the Dell 43″, it lacks USB-C. The control buttons are on the back and overthought–someone thought you’d like to reach around and get angry to turn on the monitor or use a weird joystick… it’s quite odd. The color is very nice–much better than the Dell, but the screen has a slightly glossy coating, which means reflections can be quite bad on dark backgrounds.

The Dell 38″: One of the downsides with both of the 43″ panels is that they are not curved; I sit about 21″ from the screen in the middle, which means the distance from my eyes to the corners of the screen is about 6″ further away. A curved 43″ would be very nice, and so it turns out the curved 38″ is very nice too. It’s almost as wide, the color is good, and it has USB-C. However… the 1600px height kills it for me. Sure, this is what I had on 30″ displays for years, but once I went to a 2160px tall screen, losing those 500 pixels suddenly matters. The screen is much shorter in height, as well, which is why I’ve decided to sell my 38″. But if you need USB-C, this is a great buy.

Here’s a view of the Dell 38″‘s curve:

Monitor arms

One thing to keep in mind with these bigger monitors: If you want to use a monitor arm, the 43″s are big, heavy and may need a 200×200 plate–the bigger arms can cost quite a bit more. I used the 38″ on a modern Ergotron LX arm and it was fine. Ergotron makes a HX series, but I haven’t tried that arm yet.

Where does that leave us?
It’s hard to say. The 38″ costs more, but is probably the best overall screen. If you can deal with the gloss, I’d say the Viewsonic 43″ comes in slightly ahead of the Dell 43″, and is probably the best value for the buck.


Raising Money Isn’t About the Pitch Deck

Posted by mitch on May 17, 2018

At various levels of involvement, I’ve either personally pitched, assisted as an executive, consultant, or friend with over a dozen companies in raising money. Not every group is successful, but I’ve had my hands in the pot at various levels of involvement to the tune of $30 to $40 million of capital exchanged. In the last few years, I came to realize companies (CEOs) tend to spend way too much time worrying about “the deck.”

Worrying about the deck can come in a variety of forms, but the companies who fail to raise often confuse the deck with the story. The pitch deck isn’t the key to unlocking capital–just as no other single factor is the key. It all works together. The pitch deck is a visual aid, perhaps a guide for the story, but it’s the story and the fundamentals that matter–no amount of tweaking a graphic, re-ordering the slides, polishing the slides, animation, or other attributes will suddenly close the funding.

The worst offenders bring in outside consultants to refine the deck. From time to time, I’ve even been that consultant–and the founders who refuse to rehearse the presentation, the founders who can’t organize and execute on a plan… well, these are the ones who don’t raise.

When it comes to raising capital for computer businesses, my experience has yielded a few conclusions:

  1. For most investors, your business has to tie into some fundamental shift in the market or thesis that the investor you are pitching already believes in before you walk in the door. Raising money for an early stage company is a search for these investors; it’s not a sale. (I’m pretty sure someone else said that, but I can’t find the citation.)
  2. As an early stage company, you need a credible story that reflects how you will exploit this shift–how will you find the customers who are changing, how will you service their pain with your solution, and what gives you an edge.
  3. Different proof points are necessary for your stage of progress, and part of that is tied to how much capital you’ve burned already and the age of the company, regardless of what you’re calling the raise (Seed, Series A, Series B).

The deck needs to be clear and look professional–but just as important, the story needs to be coherent and make sense. You’re going to have to rehearse it, a lot.

The deck is a living document; you should be editing it slightly after every pitch. What was confusing? What didn’t flow well? Whoever is actually pitching needs to be involved and driving the deck changes–it cannot be outsourced to someone else.

Much has been written about how to pitch–my favorite books on the topic include The Art of the Start and The Power Presenter.

Finally, even if you’re an army of one, you need to bring someone with you to your pitch. Never pitch alone. It’s very difficult to note on what’s working and what’s not when you’re the one talking. Over and over, I’ve witnessed a confused audience and the speaker is oblivious–you need someone who can jump in and help when things slide a bit off (without contracting what was just said; see Kawasaki’s book for notes on this). Of course, I’ve said my share of nonsense that a cofounder had to adjust based on the reaction in the room.

The Pain of Searching for Slides

Posted by mitch on November 01, 2016
products, software

I want to tell you about my new project, Bit Lasso Reveal.

For years, I’ve worked on slide decks. Hundreds and hundreds of slide decks–sales decks, strategy decks, roadmap decks, investor decks. I did a few presentations before founding Pancetera, but my real introduction to PowerPoint was building the pitch deck for that company. Building a presentation that would raise millions of dollars took an entire summer of monkeying with PowerPoint, and after a few weeks, I remember telling my cofounders I suddenly understood how to make decent decks. I didn’t, really, but I had gotten a lot better at it.

I ended up with over 100 versions of that original pitch deck on my laptop. What is it about slides that causes so much version sprawl? Every time we present, we make changes–the audience was confused by a picture, something felt out of order, a key element was missing. But we never know for sure: did we make the deck better, or worse? Let me throw some of these slides in the back.

Collaborating also leads to sprawl, with copies of decks floating in email, cloud drives, attached to tickets or Wikis, posted in Slack–it’s a huge mess.

So switch to Office 365 or Google Slides and be done, right?

Well, not really–these just move the problem around, but they don’t change how we work with slides.

In fact, slide search is a recall problem. “I know I made a green competition slide last fall.” How do you search for that in Spotlight or Windows search? Well, you could type in a few key words, but everyone who has done this knows what you get:

Slide search with the Finder

A bunch of slide covers. You can see in the screenshot I have lots of versions of a deck I was working on a few years ago. How can I quickly find the specific slide I want? I can’t! I have to open the decks up and look through them manually.

This is madness!

But with Bit Lasso Reveal, I can immediately see all the “How It Works” slides I have for these decks. I don’t have to open the decks up, and the slides are automatically stacked into similar piles. You can see I have a number of variations of these slides, as I evolved the concept over months of thinking about it, and now I can see a complete history of those thoughts–perhaps at some point in the past, a concept was removed from a slide and I’d like to get it back–with Reveal, I can identify those changes over time.

Slide search with the Finder

The best part: Reveal doesn’t require any changes to how you work. You can carry on in as tidy or as messy of a fashion as you’d like. Go ahead and put slides in email, on your desktop, in Dropbox, or OneDrive, or all of them–Reveal doesn’t care. Reveal automatically finds your slides and organizes them in its own database without altering your content. Reveal can even associate slides that you have in both Keynote and PowerPoint versions!

Reveal is available now on Mac, and I know a lot of PowerPoint activity happens on Windows, so you could imagine I’m working on that. Comments? Feedback? Suggestions? I’d love to hear from you. Write to or tweet at @bitlasso

P.S.: As a bonus, here’s a picture of the slide comparison:


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The Dell 43″ 4K monitor

Posted by mitch on June 05, 2016

I was sitting on a plane on May 20th waiting to take off back home to Boston when I read about Dell’s release of the P4317Q, a 43″ 3840×2160 monster. I managed to order it before we got in the air.

I had been running the Dell 34″ curved monitor with a 27″ in portrait. The wideness of the 34″ was fantastic–it’s easy to see 3 pages of text side by side by side. However, the 34″ was frustrating for Xcode work–the 1440 height isn’t ideal for most of my work vs the standard 1600 pixel height of 30″ displays. Although I’ve sold off my original 3×30 Apple displays, I still have and use 3 HP 30″ displays, 2 in one office and 1 in another office.

But mostly I just want the biggest workspace possible, and Dell has finally delivered a big workspace. The 43″ runs about 104 pixels per inch, which is comparable to the 30″ 2560×1600 of roughly 100 pixels per inch. This means there’s not a “Retina”-style HiDPI tightness to text, but instead a larger viewing area.

Initially I got extremely motion sick from the monitor–It turned out my Gunnar computer glasses were making me sick with this large display. The motion sickness happened within 5 minutes.

Since taking them off and spending about 20 hours with the monitor, I’ve found it’s almost exactly what you’d expect–a beautiful, expansive, stunning display with one major caveat: It’s not curved, which means the corners of the screen are about 7″ further away from my eyes than the middle of the screen. Hopefully a curved version is coming. A smaller challenge is that the top of the screen is “too high” if I slouch in my chair–I think the monitor actually works better when my standing desk is elevated, but this is relatively minor.

I tried to take some pictures to capture how big this screen is, but nothing really pulls it off. Below is a picture showing a 4 page Word doc at 150% Zoom–the pages are slightly larger on the screen than printed. Without tool bars, it’s quite possible to squeeze in almost 8 pages on the screen in a 4×2 grid without much reduction in size.

If you have room for it, are tired of bezels breaking up the view, this could be a good way to go. I’ll definitely upgrade when someone comes out with a curved version or something even wider–I’d love to have a 50″ curved display, perhaps on the order of 5440×2160.


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What’s the deal with printers?

Posted by mitch on May 25, 2015
hardware, productivity

In 2001, Lexmark offered a PostScript USB printer for $399. No networking, but laser! For under $400!

I bought it. The printer couldn’t print straight (the paper tray was poorly designed), but it was laser! For under $400! On my desk! And it worked with lpd, which meant all of my computers could print (but not parallel to the edges of the page). Data Domain, in 2002 and 2003, actually had two of these same Lexmarks, slightly newer with some tweaks that seemed to fix the paper tray issue.

By about 2004 or 2005, Lexmark had a new personal laser printer, which I picked up for about $280. It could print straight and it was fast. Great printer.

In 2007, I moved to Boston and gave that printer away and bought a Canon all-in-one. It could scan to email or USB stick and create PDFs, photocopy, etc–it was fantastic and it was only $400 or so. Except that the fonts and text quality were quite bad, but other than that…

In 2009, I was preparing for and stressing over a set of presentations with millions of dollars on the line. I was worried about printing slides and bought a color Lexmark laser printer, I think for about $500. I printed my slides (50 pages or so) and didn’t use the printer for about 13 months. When I went to use it again, it had some internal error that apparently meant the printer was now a large boat anchor. I had kept the Canon and just kept using it.

In 2012, I had a job interview. I took my résumé printed on that Canon printer with me. I was so embarrassed at the text quality, I didn’t hand it to the interviewer. On my way home, I bought a beefy Brother color laser printer and eventually added the second paper tray and upgraded the RAM to 384 MB. The print quality for graphics was good (not great), and for text it was awesome. The Brother system cost me about $650.

The only issue with the Brother was that it often could take 2-5 minutes to warm up before printing. So if I was on the phone and wanted to print something and write down notes, the call could be well on its way by the time I got my document out of the printer. The other issue was that the Brother was a printer only and the Canon was getting long in the tooth–5 years of poor quality copies, no support for TLS-protected emails made it difficult to use for scanning–it was time to upgrade.

So I bought a monster HP color laser all-in-one with the huge extra paper tray and rolling stand. It cost about $1500 all told. When I printed a color document and compared it to the Brother, I was blown away–the HP graphics are just awesome. It can print 30 pages before the Brother wakes up to start printing 1. (No kidding!) It works with the Mac Image Capture app for both the flatbed scanner and the document feeder.

But… the HP doesn’t reliably wake from sleep over the LAN. It has issues with Chome and PDFs from time to time. The paper tray design is the opposite of what I want–it can hold 250 8.5×11 sheets and 500 8.5×14. I want 250 8.5×14 and 500 8.5×11. Seriously HP, get it together. Its 256 MB of RAM isn’t upgradeable (unreal, I couldn’t believe that). I’ve ended up stringing a USB cable across the office temporarily, since the networking doesn’t work (essentially).

During this time, due to the cost of the HP color toner, I bought a $150 Brother laser for my family to use. It’s black and white, takes up minimal space, it’s fast as heck, uses little electricity, and the text quality is better than the Canon–it’s a great little printer! I kind of want one for my office! But of course, no color, copier, or alternative paper trays.

Let’s review the issues for a device that is supposed to print:

  1. Doesn’t print straight [Lexmark #1]
  2. Poor text quality from a b&w printer [Canon]
  3. Total cost of ownership was $10/page, then required to throw away 60 lb of metal and plastic [Lexmark #2]
  4. 2-5 minutes to warm up! [Brother #1]
  5. Unreliable networking on a workgroup printer, stupid paper tray design, etc. [HP]

Is this so hard? I’ve bought 7 laser printers in the last 15 years and only 2 of them seemed to be good…and they were at the bottom of the market. It makes no sense and it’s frustrating.

My 3 Year Bookcase Project

Posted by mitch on May 20, 2015
home, productivity

Back in 2011 over the Thanksgiving break, I was playing with learning how to do things in SketchUp and drew a 3d model of a bookcase idea I had for my office. My office is in the “1/2 story” (the third floor) of my house, which means low ceilings. In my 2008 remodel, I gutted it, rewired it, vaulted the ceiling, and so on.

About 16 months later in early 2013, I drew this picture and sent it to my architect, Carl Oldenburg:


I have a lot of heavy books and wanted short spans to avoid bowing. Carl whipped up this awesome SketchUp rendering:

Haile Bookcase 2013-03-09a

Who could say no to building that? Inspired by Carl’s skills, I spent some time practicing and playing with ideas. I really wanted to know what this was going to be like:



After various distractions, we had the design finalized by December 2013:

Screenshot 2015-05-20 23.44.05

In early 2014, I got in touch with Aaron Honore, who is the most serious, hardcore, and awesome cabinetry carpenter I’ve known (and I’ve known more than one). Aaron was booked for 6 months, but I was willing to wait.

Construction finally happened in September 2014. I worked out of my workshop during this time:


In 2008, before moving into the house, many rooms were gutted, the house was rewired, etc–this is what the front wall of office looked like about 4 months after moving in:


The below picture is what it looked like by the time Aaron was done with it. I think the install took about 2 weeks, I don’t really remember–certainly Aaron took his time and made it perfect:


For such a small project, it was still quite an outlay of time and a bit of stress. But having had the bookcase now for 8 months, I have no regrets. I certainly took my time and thought it through in great detail. There’s a built-in stereo section that connects an amp to the old speaker wire drops I put in during the 2008 remodel, LED lights under the eaves and the wall lights in the ‘A’ are wonderful.

My house is small. I highly recommend built-ins for small living. You can use every bit of space, and there’s no gap between the storage and the wall, which in some cases, saved me 2-3″. By customizing the depth of built-ins to narrower-than-usual in some cases (my living room has a 10″ deep bookcase that is 14 ft long), I’ve saved an effective 5″ of space in a room. If a room is 12 ft across, that’s significant.

What’s the point of this post? Beats me. “Take your time and do it right,” perhaps.



Update: I realized after posting this that I didn’t mention some of the non-obvious features of the bookcase. Sure, you can tell from the photos there are lights and doors. For anyone thinking about doing this, here’s a few things I did that I really like:

1. The deep shelves under the eaves have glass shelf insets to let in light to the back of the lower shelf. I’ve doubled up books on the bottom shelf, and this lets me see what’s back there if my eyes are aligned with the roof angle. The light spilling out above the books below makes the space feel more open that it would if it was dark:



2. The speaker posts, Ethernet ports, and power are in the back of the lower shelves where I thought I might want audio equipment. I also ran a 50 ft TOSlink in the bookcase from one end to the other, just in case I ever wanted it. One thing I did not consider was how difficult it would be to do the wiring because the shelf is fixed and only 10″ high. Having the removable glass panels turned out to be quite handy for that.



3. The light switch for the eave LEDs and the ‘A’ lights is hidden behind one of the shaker panels. It’s a double switch in a 1-gang box.


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Your Data Center Will Be Smaller Than Your Childhood Bedroom

Posted by mitch on May 19, 2015
business, hardware, software

I saw a tweet from Chris Mellor referencing a Gartner conclusion that mid-market IT will go to the cloud:

Today, Storage Newsletter‘s headline quotes an IDC report that personal and low-end storage sales (less than 12 bays) have declined 6.4% y/y. Some dimensions of the business sank 20% y/y.

What happened in the last year? Do people create less data than they did a year ago? Isn’t data storage growing tremendously?

What is changing is where people create and keep their data. As applications move to the cloud, the data goes with it. From Salesforce to consumer photos, from corporate email to songs, all of this stuff is in someone else’s data center.

I have about 100 TB of disks in my house across six fast hardware RAIDs, but all of my critical working set lives in the cloud. The cloud pricing for large amounts of data (e.g., 1 TB) is so cheap that it’s free or bundled (Office 365, Flickr). Dropbox stands alone as an outlier to a priced service and it’s not that expensive–certainly I cannot buy a 1 TB drive and operate it for 1 year at the price point that Dropbox offers.

Generally, IT vendors fail to deliver on simplicity; it’s not in their vocabulary. I’ve been in those meetings–hundreds of them, actually–where engineers want to offer every option for the customer and for some reason (lack of vision?) the product manager lets it happen. The problem with these meetings is that everyone in them usually forgets that while the product is the most important thing in the lives of the folks creating the products, the customers have other things on their minds.

So we end up with these overly complex IT products that are impossible to use. Quick, how do you set up Postgres database backups with Tivoli? I have no idea but I know it will take a few hours to figure it out (if I am lucky). The brilliance of Amazon’s cloud user interface is that (1) the details are hidden and (2) the user is presented with just the critical options. Do you want to back up this database? Sure! Great, when? Hey, you know, I don’t really care. Just keep the backups for 30 days.


One of the most powerful things about AWS is that significant infrastructure is under a single pane of glass. This has been the Holy Grail of IT but never realized. OpenView, System Center, vCenter, TSM–everyone wants to do it, but few organizations pull it off, likely due to a mix of political, technical, and economical reasons.

The best part of Gmail going down is that it’s not my problem to bring it back online. Remember when you worked at a place that ran Exchange and the guy in charge of Exchange was always on edge? The only reason that guy is on edge now is that he is waiting for a call to see if he got the job at a place that has switched to Gmail.

The data center of the future for most mid-market companies is a single rack consisting of network connectivity, security devices, and WAN acceleration devices. No servers or standalone storage–with applications in the cloud, the only thing needed locally is data caching to augment the WAN overhead and maybe provide short-circuit data movement among local peers. This single rack will fit into a closet.

IT will still exist; these cloud applications will still need support, maintenance, and integration–and the network issues will be as challenging as ever.

But anyone who is building IT products for on-site installation is facing a significant headwind if you’re not enabling the cloud.