business continuity as a service (BCaaS): an overlooked benefit of (rural) remote teams

Remote teams are becoming more and more popular for many tech companies. This structure can help save a company money on office space. It allows a company to access help from talented folks that don't live in the same area. It can provide flexibility for remote team members. It can provide a mechanism to construct more diverse teams to help build higher quality products. Folks from rural and urban areas. Folks from different parts of the world, etc. There are entire lists of pros and cons for organizing teams in this way. Those lists typically end up with more pros than cons. The item often missing from those lists is business continuity.

Earthquakes happen. Hurricanes hit. Businesses still need to meet the needs of their customers when real world chaos hits. I've worked remotely in a rural part of South Carolina for over seven years now. In addition to the typical duties, I've always wanted to make sure my team mates can count on me if they live at the coast and need to evacuate a hurricane (or they experience an earthquake). As I've looked for ways to improve my ability to keep systems running and code shipping in the event of an unexpected natural disaster, I worked with my brother to construct a relatively inexpensive off-grid solar powered battery bank on a repurposed four wheeler trailer. When hard times hit, we've got plenty of power to run cable modem, cell phones, and local computers for as long as needed. We use this set up during typical days to just offset the power we pull from the grid.

In constructing an off-grid solar powered system, I also realized it could be a (literally) powerful project to help educate others about solar power. We can also replicate it in various sizes for other folks looking to work remotely in other rural areas so that they can offer business continuity in addition to their tech skills. Since this off-grid solar power system also incorporates an onboard raspberrypi handling metrics collection for observability, we can also use it to help teach different programming and computer concepts to folks looking to apply their rural problem solving skills in technology. This side project to help out with business continuity will likely end up as one of the flagship projects for hub-ology.

If you're looking for a way to further differentiate yourself as a remote employee for a technology company, you can make your own solarshed and start advertising BCaaS!

If you'd like to build your own solarshed, you can find parts lists on Amazon: solarshed parts list or solarshed mini parts list If you order parts from Amazon, please consider making hub-ology your non-profit of choice if you don't already have another good cause set for Amazon Smile.

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pi-top is my laptop

My trusty 2011 MacBook Air has been through many computational battles with me. So when it began to stop charging toward the end of 2018, it was kind of like losing an old friend. I bought it when PokitDok was just starting up and used it for 24/7 work for quite some time before bumping up to a MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air got to take a bit of a break as the personal machine then. I really like the MacBook Air and did consider getting another one to take over for my 2011 model that's provided outstanding service. However, I've been working with the Raspberry Pi more and more for different projects (personal projects like shadetree and solarshed as well as work with hub-ology) and I started wondering if there might be a decent laptop enclosure that would allow me to have a Pi power my personal laptop. After a bit of searching, I ran across the pi-top.

From the pi-top website:

pi‑top is a modular laptop that gives you the tools to complete amazing DIY projects and bring your inventions to life. It’s the perfect tool to help you learn to code, create awesome devices, and take your knowledge to the next level.

I decided to pick one up for evaluation from Adafruit and have been using it for over a month now as my full time personal machine. The pi-top is indeed all of those things that they describe on the official web site. It's also proven to be quite capable for handling all of the tasks I've thrown at it. My pi-top is currently running with the Raspberry Pi 3 - Model B+. While I started my evaluation using the provided SD card running pi-topOS, I ultimately moved to a 64GB SD card with a minimal Raspbian Desktop installation and then added these applications:

  • 1Password : Gotta have my passwords ... and they provide pre-built ARM binaries for their CLI and 1PasswordX works great in Chromium.
  • keybase : keybase helps me encrypt and decrypt ... and send messages, too. I built the keybase client from source after bumping up the swap size.
  • Resilio Sync : I sling files between machines and my phone with some of those then offloading to S3 for safe keeping.
  • VSCode : I just wanted some basic editor functionality for Python projects when not using vi. I installed it via https://code.headmelted.com/

I like having a personal machine that allows for easy upgrades. A new system (Pi) comes out... you slide the keyboard down and swap it out. Ethernet is included and I don't have to worry about carrying all of the extra adapters. The Wifi has been rock solid so far. Battery life is as advertised. If I need more computing horsepower, I fire it up as needed on AWS. It did take me a couple of days to adapt to the keyboard's layout and a smaller shift key on the left side. Having a touch pad with a left and right mouse button also was an adjustment for me. I'm back to full :tractor: :computer: mode now though. The pi-top price is inline with what you might pay for a Chromebook or equivalent machine but it feels so much more capable to me. The slide out keyboard is outstanding when working on wiring up a project with the Pi. I don't have to carry around debug cables and extra Pis along with my laptop anymore. pi-top _is_ my laptop.

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One of Westall's Laws

While cleaning up around the house today, I ran across some notes from grad school. I took a networking course from Mike Westall while I was at Clemson. I never took that many notes (probably should have) but I ran across a piece of paper where I had written this:

for any theory there exists a workload that will prove it correct and other theories wrong

—Westall's Law

I thought Westall was the man back then. A true hard core computer scientist. After almost a decade in industry, that quote reminds me that he's still the man.

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