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authorLars Wirzenius <>2017-01-12 22:00:00 +0200
committerLars Wirzenius <>2017-01-12 22:00:00 +0200
commite4323f18ea539316b3ccdb043b8dc409bb0726f1 (patch)
parent120140703893b8df0a5fc7b4a5b459fd693f0d61 (diff)
Add Origin
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[Lars Wirzenius]:
[Lars's blog]:
+# Origin story
+This is a practice story set some years before Hacker Noir happens.
+Ther may be contradictions. Retonning in the future is possible.
+* [[Origin]]
# Chapters
* [[Negotiation]]
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+<!-- -*- mode: markdown; fill-column: 60; -*- -->
+[[!meta title="An origin story"]]
+A Friday gripe session
+I'm sitting in a booth at my usual Friday joint, nursing a
+double Scotch single malt. It's a neighbourhood restaurant,
+not classy in any way, but comfortable. It's very late for
+lunch, quite early for dinner, and the place is mostly
+empty, which is the perfect time. I'm looking forward to
+food, drinks, and a weekly gripe session with Robin, before
+I go home to forget about work for a couple of days.
+Robin and I go back a long time. We've worked together for
+various employers over the decades. Even when we don't share
+an employer, we keep in touch. The Friday dinners have been
+going on for a couple of years, ever since her disastrous
+divorce. Over the past few months, they've morphed from
+bad-mouthing men and relationships to griping about work.
+"There you are."
+A tall, large woman comes in through the doors. It's Robin.
+Middle-aged, graying hair, tired walk. She lumbers to the
+booth, and collapses on the other side of the table from me.
+"RUDE WORD I'm tired of Arnold. He's been especially
+tiresome this week."
+No surprise there. Arnold's a regular target of Robin's
+griping. To say they do not get along is like saying sodium
+and water may have a bit of a reaction.
+"Here, let me get you a drink. Your usual?"
+I wave to get the attention of the chirpy waitress, and
+order Robin her beer. After a short minute, the pint stands
+in front of Robin, condensate glistening on the outer
+surface. A narrow ray of late summer evening sunlight lights
+it up, having navigated between tables, window ads, and
+potted plants to our gloomy corner booth. The effect is like
+a carefully manufactured beer commercial.
+Robin takes an unladylike gulp. "I needed that. Shall I
+begin or do you have some urgent griping of your own lined
+"No, I'm just in the same rut as always, fighting the same
+battles, and slowly losing my will to live."
+Robin nods. She's heard my gripes enough times.
+"Today is the last day of our four-week Scrum iteration. You
+know what that means. Arnold runs meetings all day, just to
+so he can listen to himself all day. I swear he lives for
+this one day every month."
+I've met Arnold a few times. He's handsome, and thinks his
+condenscending way of treating others is the same as having
+charisma. Even so, Robin hates him more than I can really
+"That's his one single talent: listening to himself talk."
+I'm goading Robin on. She needs to let off some steam, and
+this isn't the time to be fair to anyone else. I fear that
+if she doesn't get to vent enough some Friday, the next week
+there'll be an explosion. I also have an ulterior motive
+"Ain't that the truth. He certainly can't do anything else
+well. Like run meetings. We had the usual five today,
+starting at oh nine hundred hours. Guess how long he stayed
+on agenda? I give you one guess. Go on!"
+"Fifteen minutes?"
+"Hah! Your naive belief in your fellow man will come back
+and bite your ass some day. Zero! He didn't stay on agenda a
+single minute today. He started the first meeting by saying
+he's going to talk about something entirely different."
+"No! Really?"
+"Yes, really. It was supposed to be the retrospective
+meeting, to go over what we've done over in this iteration.
+Instead, King Arnold the First started talking about the
+state of the loos and that time in that other company when
+the men's toilets were in a disgusting state and he had to
+physically haul the janitor in there to get them cleaned up.
+Toilets! Who the RUDE WORD in all the RUDE WORD world wants
+to hear about toilets in a work meeting? For an hour!"
+That's two RUDE WORDs in one sentence. Venting is well
+underway and getting close to ranting. This is good, since I
+want Robin to get the past week out of her system before I
+make my move. I want her steam to run out, and her relaxed,
+to start enjoying herself before I suggest to her the
+thing I've been thinking about all week.
+I'm amused by Robin's use of RUDE WORD. She's definitely not
+a prude and through her twenties she'd often swear in the
+most vulgar ways. Then our friends started sprogging, and
+getting worried that Robin would inadvertently teach their
+offspring most of the F dictionary. After a couple of
+dust-ups, a pact was made and she's been saying RUDE WORD
+instead ever since. I'm not sure that RUDE WORD is a
+thing small children won't enjoy saying very emphatically in
+kindergarten. I am looking forward to hearing what the
+teachers think of it.
+We order, a steak with pepper sauce for me, fish and chips
+for Robin, and eat. Robin continues to vent, but slows down
+towards the end of the meal.
+"I don't know, I really don't, how long I can continue like
+this. And it's not just Arnold, of course, nobody in the
+firm knows anything about making software. If I could afford
+to, I would just quit, but you know the divorce left me in a
+bad state, financially."
+"Mmm, yes, it's a bind. I wanted to talk about that,
+actually. Would you mind staying a bit longer and have
+another drink?"
+"Are you buying?" Robin usually has a strict one-drink
+limit, partly for financial reasons, but also because she
+tends to not like getting drunk, even tipsy. She's made
+enough mistakes when under the influence.
+I wave the waitress again and we get refills.
+"So, what do you have in mind?"
+"I know you're not happy in your job, and you know I have
+reservations of mine. I want to fix that."
+"Oh yeah? Do you have something concrete?" She is in the
+perfect state for this. She's calmed down, having gotten the
+week's frustrations out of her system, and is in a relaxed state
+and hopefully has an open mind. I'm about to suggest
+something that may upset her entire life, and I don't want
+her to reject it while upset, or take a leap with me
+into the unknown without weighing the risks properly. If
+there's sharks in the water, I don't want to be blamed for
+luring her into the sea.
+"We've both worked for several different companies, and
+there's always some jerk or idiot ruining everything, right?
+Or several. We're also getting old enough that having to
+deal with same incompetences over and over in every job is
+getting tiresome."
+"I've thought about this a lot for a while, and I think I
+want to start my own company. A small company, with a
+handful of carefully picked colleagues, a team that works
+well and can avoid all the usual bullshit."
+"That sounds too good to be true. And therefore it is."
+"Perhaps, but I think it's possible, especially now. I'm
+thinking specifically of doing something in the IoT space."
+"Insecurity of things? You're not serious. All that stuff is
+just a disaster waiting to happen."
+"I am completely serious. It's already a big market, but a
+young market, and there's a lot of wrongness there,
+wrongness that will be a business problem in the long run.
+Such as everything being horribly insecure. If things don't
+change, the market may collapse after another few PR
+"Like the home heating system that was dependent on the
+manufacturer, who decided to discontinue the product line
+and shut down the servers? Thus making people's houses cold
+and unlivable?"
+"Like that, yes. I think there's a real business opportunity
+"Maybe. It would at least be good to build those things in
+sensible ways."
+I've got her nibbling on the hook. We sit in the restaurant
+a long time, while I sketch the idea I have to start a
+business to develop tools and services for building high
+quality IoT products. I don't want to build the products
+themselves, but help those who do build them.
+"OK, Anna, I believe you may have something. You're telling
+this to me beause you want something from me."
+"Yep. I want you to join me. You're wasted in your current
+job, building web sites to help deal with government
+bureaucracy. You're a great developer and you think at the
+system level, like a good architect. I'm not a techie, you
+know that, so I want you."
+"I don't know, Anna, you know I'm in a squeeze and can't
+take financial risks. As much as I hate my current job, they
+they pay reliably, and I can't afford to not be
+"I know. I don't want you to take risks you can't handle. I
+think you should find a new job anyway, somewhere that still
+pays on time, but where you enjoy yourself. But I'd like to
+work together again."
+"I'd like that too, but it's damn hard to find another job.
+I'm middle-aged, which is bad enough in this industry, and
+I'm a woman, which makes it so much worse."
+I sighed, since I knew exactly how that is.
+"Here's what I propose: if I can say that you'll be on
+board, assuming sufficient financial security, I can talk to
+a few people I know who could fund us initially. If it's
+just me, they won't talk to me, but if I have a credible
+tech expert, I have an in."
+Robin sits quiet for a while. Takes the last gulp from her
+pint. Looks at me hard. I sit and wait while she makes up
+her mind.
+"OK. I'm not committing to anything right now, but I'm
+interested. Go talk to a few people."
+Bad news
+It's the same joint. It's even the same booth. I nurse
+another double Scotch. I've arranged with the same chirpy
+waitress to serve a beer as soon as Robin comes in.
+Robin is subdued. The waitress comes with a pint, and Robin
+puts her hands around it, fingers laced, but doesn't drink,
+just looks into the foam. There's no ray of sunlight today,
+the weather is gloomy making our gloomy booth gloomier than
+"Robin, what's wrong?"
+"I'm going to be fired. Probably. Next week."
+"It's my own fault. I blew up at work, at Arnold. They're
+used to that, but then I went and said that I'd rather
+resign than work with him anymore. You know what they're
+like. They're owned by an American corporation who think
+that looking for a new job is grounds for terminating
+employment. RUDE WORDers. They've set up a meeting with HR
+on Tuesday. It'd be on Monday, but there seems to be a queue
+of unhappy people for HR to intimidate."
+"Oh, Robin, sweetie, that's awful. How are you holding up?"
+"I'm angry and afraid. Mostly afraid. I was stupid."
+"Maybe, but I don't think you did anything wrong. They're
+not the kind of people anyone should have to work for."
+"If I'm fired, I don't know what I'll do. I hate looking for
+"Well, I may have good news for you."
+"Oh yeah? Your crazy IoT idea?"
+"I met with someone who'd be willing to be an angel investor,
+and fund us for a few months. It'd not be a lot of money,
+but it'd be enough to get started."
+"You're not quite filling me with enthusiasm."
+"Sorry. I was hoping you'd think of this as good news, but
+you're clearly not in the right mood for that. If it helps,
+he knows me, and was impressed by what I said about you, so
+he'd be willing to put in enough for the first three months'
+expenses and salaries, for a fifth of the company."
+"How much are we talking about?"
+"You'd have to take a small pay cut, to start with."
+"I don't know, I'm in debt, and I can't afford to ruin my
+credit rating any further. Sorry, this doesn't sound good to
+me right now."
+"Let me see what I can arrange, please? Can I continue to
+talk to the guy?"
+"I guess. I don't want to kill this, it'd be fun if it
+worked out, but my head is full scary visions of the future
+right now."
+We change topic. It's time to not dwell on problems. We
+don't stay late.
+Is that a train coming at us?
+Another Friday. Another double Scotch. Another beer
+scheduled for Robin's arrival.
+"Hey, Anna!"
+Robin flounces into the booth. Moody, depressed Robin is
+clearly not with us tonight. The weather has improved since
+last week, and the sun is shining outside. There's no ray of
+sunlight, since a beer lorry is parked in front of the
+"Don't you look like a cheerful person! What's happened?"
+"They didn't fire me! I'm going to have to attend some
+workplace behavior training, but I get to keep my job."
+The waitress visits us, and places the pint in front of
+Robin, who smiles back and nods a thank you.
+"That's good news, sweetie!"
+"I hate it actually." She grins, and takes the first gulp of
+beer. "I am going to be so angry after that training, but
+the black cloud of bankruptcy has passed, at least. I'll
+live. And Arnold is livid, he thought he'd finally be rid of
+I grin back at her. "I'm so happy and sad for you, both at
+the same time. Those HR training courses are boring as RUDE
+Robin giggles. It's like she's a twenty-year-old CS student
+"I know what you mean, A."
+"I almost hesitate to tell my IoT news."
+"Oh yeah?"
+"I talked to my angel investor again. He's a bit upset, since
+he thought you were in the bag, so to speak. He was all
+ready for us to start this week."
+"And now?"
+"He'd be willing to up his funding, so that you could keep
+your salary, but he'd want a third of the company. And he
+wants to start as soon as possible."
+"Wait what?"
+"You heard me."
+"You're kidding me."
+"But that's for three months. What happens after that?"
+"After three months, we need to either have a paying
+customer, or enough of a product or service that we can
+attract real venture capital."
+"That sounds risky."
+"Of course. It requires us to trust ourselves so much we can
+bet that we can produce something useful to a customer in
+three months."
+"Isn't that optimistic? Three months for a product that can
+be sold?"
+"No, no, you misunderstand. We don't need to have a product
+in three months. We need to have a paying customer in three
+months. It's enough to have enough of a product to show a
+customer that they're confident we're going to get it
+finished in time."
+"I guess."
+"Trust me on this. This is where I am good. You make it, I
+sell it. I'm confident I can find a customer in three
+"If you say so. I'm still scared."
+"Here's what I want to suggest: I'll set up a meeting with
+you, me, and the angel, for next week. We'll prepare a
+sketch of a spec for the product for that, and discuss it
+with him. Afterwards, you get to decide if this is a train
+you want to jump onto. What do you say?"
+"I can commit to a meeting."
+"Great! Shall we order food?"
+The rest of the evening we bounce ideas off each other for
+what the product should be, and should not be. Reliability,
+security, upgradeability, software freedom, performance, all
+the usual technical envisioning that happens at the start of
+a software project, when everything seems easy and possible.
+It's a fast train!
+I throw the office door open, with a flourish.
+"What do you think?"
+"It's an office."
+"It could be our office. Do you want it?"
+It's an office, all right. A front room, with windows in the
+wall towards the corridor, and enough space for a
+receptionist. Two back rooms, with outside windows. It's an
+old, red-brick building from the era between the world
+wars. A bit run-down, not entirely clean, borderline dingy.
+It'd make a great film noir detective office.
+"How much is it? Seems a bit large for us."
+"We're getting our first client signed up next week. We'll
+need room to hire a couple more people. You've worked
+wonders, the past two months, but we need a team."
+"Shouldn't we get the money first?"
+"Absolutely, but this is free now, and we need to decide if
+we want it, and if we do, we need to reserve it. Once the
+money is coming in, we can move in and start hiring."
+There's a desk and a chair in one of the back rooms. The
+windows have grime on them. I pull a bottle of rye from my
+backpack, and two glasses. I pour the liquid, sit down on
+the chair, lift my feet on top of the desk, and pick up one
+of the glasses.
+"What do you say, partner?"