Amazon and AWS

There have been a lot of rumblings over the past year or two suggesting that Amazon needs to spin off Amazon Web Services (AWS). These rumblings have waxed and waned as various pundits attempt to prognosticate on what Amazon is going to do next.

I find it increasingly difficult to parse the suggestions given in articles when trying to match it to the reality of the world at this time.

Amazon will decide to split off AWS, because it makes a lot of sense and market forces will dictate it.

Scott Galloway The business school prof who predicted Amazon would buy Whole Foods now says an AWS spinoff is inevitable.

I completely understand that spin offs are designed to unlock the value in a company, I don’t think it’s nearly that simple in this case. There is far more to it than just making the numbers work as part of a business case. If you read the backstory as chronicled on TechCrunch, the idea behind Amazon launched from previous integration nightmares the company had experienced in the past. Amazingly, this was 15 years ago already, long before most developers were even thinking of integration at a scale like this.

The feasibility of a spin off is not the question here. Of course AWS could be spun off into a separate corporate entity, and it absolutely would do quite well. The reason it seems unlikely to me that they would do so is that Amazon would lose a lot of the flexibility that they currently enjoy from operating the AWS platform.

The principals at AWS most assuredly look at the needs of all of their customers; just a casual glance at the list of product announcements from AWS re:Invent 2018 should provide ample evidence of their intent. Ensuring the ease of integration as well as a convenient ability to quickly harness a large number of tools continues to help businesses of all sizes.

But, I’d be shocked to learn that Amazon proper doesn’t have the ability to put their thumb on the scale to push feature development as part of AWS development timelines. That alone indicates that the value proposition of retaining control of AWS hasn’t been fully considered, suggesting that the cost of an AWS spin off is higher than previously calculated. Considering how Jeff Bezos approaches, well, everything, it seems to be a stretch that relinquishing control of a well-run division of Amazon, when the company itself depends so much on it, would be something considered unless an unexpected hardship were to occur.

The conclusion that Amazon and AWS aren’t co-dependent seems quite short-sighted when considering the technical aspects. Sometimes the math is only part of the equation, and further investigation is required.

In the end, arguably the most compelling reason to split up – and the most meaningful end goal that can’t be achieved in another way – is to avoid government regulation.

John Divine, U.S. News and World Report Should Amazon Split Up? 3 Pros and Cons.

The idea of avoiding government regulation is an interesting one, but I doubt it’s a concern the company will need to face in the near future. It seems much more plausible that an entity like Facebook would need to worry about this. The Department of Justice took on Microsoft with little to show for it; for all of the bluster of the day, Amazon seems well positioned to avoid the scrutiny of U.S. regulators.

Of increasing concern could be the European governments with the implementation of GDPR, but AWS is well ahead of this. It’s always possible that Amazon could run afoul of the GDPR privacy rules, but a company with resources like Amazon should have that well in hand. Furthermore, while I haven’t read GDPR in its entirety, it seems more likely that Amazon would be charged with hefty fines than find itself burdened by regulation it can’t keep up with.

Ponzi Schemes Need Docs Too

Documentation in code is extremely important, even if developers hate doing it. We’ve all been there, stuck debugging some confusing code that has zero code comments. It made sense to the dev at the time, but they’ve long since moved on and you’re stuck supporting that bad boy.

GitHub recently released the results of their Open Source Survey, which polled active users to better understand how they were using the software. One of the primary insights they learned?

"Documentation is highly valued, but often overlooked."

I just recently finished listening to Ponzi Supernova. This podcast provides some interesting backstory around the Bernie Madoff investment scandal that he confessed to in late 2008.

I won’t give away many details from the podcast, as it was very well done (and you should go listen to it immediately). But, I couldn’t help but to reflect on a very important point. In the podcast, it was suggested that the code comments from the application(s) used to generate the fraudulent transaction statements and other corroborating documents were used to confirm that the trading programs were specifically constructed to target or avoid ongoing audit activity.

That caught my attention, so I did some searching. Sure enough, I came across an article that detailed that the RPG programs included code comments specific enough to convince a non-technical jury that the application was indeed built and subsequently manipulated in a way to pass various audits:

So the pair resorted to what any normal RPG programmers would do: They added comments to the code.

"The programmers nicely commented the code, which made explaining some things easier, because they said this is what they’re doing," Diedrich says. The jury didn’t have to try to read the code. They said ‘This is how we’re generating these numbers.'"

Perez and O’Hara also added comments to ensure their audit preparation was up to snuff. "There were comments in the code hat indicated, for this kind of audit we need this kind of information," Diedrich says. "The code would say, ‘We don’t need this for this audit,’ so they commented it out from the code at times, then they would put it back in for the other audits."

So, there you have it. Code comments are important to everyone, because you never know when you’ll be involved in a high stakes Ponzi scheme designed to defraud people of over 65 billion dollars.

Personal Retrospective

As part of Agile development, one of the many important processes is the Retrospective. This is a meeting held by the team at the end of a sprint or a release or some such other important milestone. The intent is to allow the persons involved the ability to comment on what went well, what went poorly, and offer suggestions on what could be done to improve things in the future.

One year ago, I elected to make two significant life changes on the same day. It was completely terrifying time in some respects, yet it was also exhilarating in others. On that day, I decided to both tender my resignation to my employer and advise that it was time to end my marriage. After it was done, more than a few people thought I was a little crazy to be making such big changes at the same time. I plan to discuss some of the things related to my employment changes on this site in the future, but will refrain from discussing anything related to the divorce as that’s private and only two people will ever understand those dynamics.

So, on to the retrospective. I’ve become much more active, have been making better choices when it comes to the food I prepare and eat, and have made significant improvements to my financial situation. I’m sitting down less, I’m reading more books, and I’m getting a consistent amount of sleep. I’m pushing myself to stay organized, and I’ve finally begun posting things on this site again.

In the negative column, I’ve somehow managed to lose contact with a few people who are really important to me, and I’m not sure how to get that back. I would never have expected that a year ago, and it’s still painful today. I also realize that I’ve been more moody and introverted as I deal with the fallout from some things. But I’ve always been like that, so I’m not really surprised.

In some ways, I hardly recognize myself from a year ago. I’d definitely do a few things differently given the chance, but in most respects I’ve made a lot of progress over the past year. There are a few more things that I’ve realized as well, but I have no plans to put EVERYTHING up on this damned site.

Standing Desk

As I stated in an earlier post, I’ve been struggling with back pain for quite a long time. Last year, I purchased a new mattress from Verlo, and that definitely helped. But I knew I could do more. I decided that I needed to figure out a way to try the option of working at a standing desk to see if that helped.

From what I can gather, standing desks are by no means a new idea. They’ve been utilized off and on for at least a few hundred years, but I couldn’t find any citations to confirm that. Supposedly, it is a healthy way to work compared to sitting at a desk all day, but that seems to be more supposition than confirmed fact. Personally, I’ve seen a few of these in use, and even had a few coworkers who had one. But, since I had never had a chance to use one myself, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to like it or not. So I knew going in that I needed to have a way to convert back and forth, and I also wanted to keep an eye on the budget.

There are a ton of articles on the Internet proclaiming various “do it yourself” methods of building a standing desk. Some of the ones I found were quite ingenious, but hardly any of them allowed for the option of converting back and forth.

Searching the web, it was no surprise that I found a ton of different vendors hawking their wares. The price ranged from as little as $249 to over $3,000 depending on the selected options and gadgets and widgets. I finally happened upon Varidesk, and decided to purchase their Pro Plus 48 unit. It was priced at $400, but because it weighs 85 pounds shipped, there was another $110 of shipping tacked on. This was a bit more expensive from what I had originally wanted to spend, but the mechanical operation coupled with the fact that I could use it with my existing desk was quite tempting.

On Wednesday, I received the behemoth. I was able to manhandle it up the stairs (they suggested team lift, of course, but I didn’t have anybody to give me a hand). The unit is fully assembled; all you need to do is remove it from the packaging and place it on the desk. I took a few pictures as I got everything set up; it only took me about 45 minutes to get everything situated and ready to go.

Empty desk, before adding the Varidesk Desk with the Varidesk standing desk on top Full desk, in the sitting position Full desk, in the standing positionVaridesk

The only concern I have with the desk is that when it’s in the standing position, it feels a little wobbly. I suspect this really isn’t an issue with the Varidesk itself, but rather the cheap desk I have it sitting on. For purposes of style, the desk has only two legs coming up from the floor, mounted on a horizontal crossbar which makes it almost like a wide I-beam from the side (you can see this pretty clearly in the first picture). So, when the desk is raised, I have to be careful not to lean on it, but that’s probably better anyway.

All said and done, I really enjoy using the desk. I’ve written this entire article in standing mode, and I can feel it in my legs (which is a good thing). Standing has also made it easier for me to take short breaks and walk around a bit, or at least has given me the illusion that it’s easier. If I decide to continue using a standing desk, I already am starting to suspect that at some point I will need to make a decision and either replace the cheap desk that I have the Varidesk sitting on, or possibly purchase a more expensive electric standing desk like an Uplift desk.

But I need at least a month before I make a decision either way.

Back Pain

I have struggled with various levels of back pain for years. Sometimes there’s none at all. Other times, it’s been so bad that I can’t even get out of bed. Granted, usually that seems to happen after I’ve done something pretty stupid, but that’s besides the point.

A few years ago, I discovered heat. Putting heat on my back seems to help reduce the number of occurances. Since that discovery, I have been know to do such crazy things as use the seat heater in my car on its highest setting during the summertime. Some would scoff, and I would definitely have the air conditioning on or windows down, but I’d push as much heat as possible to my back in an attempt to forestall whatever pain might have been coming.

I have been making a number of life changes recently, including getting much more active. But through all of that, I’ve continued to struggle with occasional back pain that I can’t quite pin down. Previously, I had generally attributed much of that pain to less than adequate sleeping arrangements. For every night I would spend in a bed that was not my own, I would spend the following day trying to prevent my back from hurting me.

Lately, heat hasn’t always been enough. I purchased a new bed last August that definitely helped, but every once in a while I’d still feel that familiar twinge of a back that was crying out in pain. Now, I’m not really a fan of general pain. To help frame things up, understand that when it comes to back pain, I would do just about anything to try and prevent any painful sensations that could be generated from my back. Much of that stems from the simple fact of not really knowing what level of pain I would receive. It could range anywhere from a simple annoyance to completely dehabilitating.

I made the decision last week to acquire a desk that I could stand at as well as sit. In the corporate world, there are options aplenty to facilitate every possible option. Usually you need to undergo an “ergonomic assessment”, where some person comes in and identifies all of the things you’ve been doing wrong, then proceeds to issue a series of “corrective actions” that you should undertake to prevent that pain. These actions include simple behavior adjustments such as sitting up straight, to environmental changes like getting a taller desk.

I underwent one of those ergonomic assessments a few years ago. Turns out my height exceeds the normal or standard range that most desks are set up for. So, I generally need to hunch down when I use a standard sized desk. No problem, but it was recommended I do a few simple things like elevate my monitors and sit up straight (flashbacks from Assumption Grotto suddenly appear in my mind).

I spend a lot of time working from my home office (which doubles as Toliver’s bedroom when he’s here). I’ve recently made some personal decisions regarding things I want to accomplish, which will require even more of a commitment to working from there. As such, I’ve committed to evaluating various options for improving my working environment, and intend to document those exploits here.