Sunday Aug 30, 2009

Au Revoir

This is my last blog article here; Friday was my last working day at Sun Microsystems, and Monday/tomorrow is the last day they're paying me. Its been fun, most of the time, but I am looking forward to something new. I have not yet set up a new blog, and am unsure what I am going to do about it. I hope to set up a wordpress blog inside the domain, where I have a place holder at but until then you can follow me at

Interestingly the English have difficulty with “Hope to see you soon”; unlike our European colleagues we don't have a single word but I am sure this is not Goodbye, merely Aurevoir.

Thanks for reading this blog over the last five years. I wish my friends who are staying to work for Oracle and Sun's customers all the best over the coming future. Finally, thanks to all the customer's I've worked with in making their IT better than it was.

tags: aurevoir ciao aufweidersehen seeyousoon people news

Free, the right price for software

Economic systems are about how to use scarce resources and the Price Mechanism is the way in which a optimal resource allocation occurs. Economists use a branch of theory called “Welfare Economics” to analyse and model the efficiency of the productive economy, and a theoretically maximally efficient set of states can be defined within a model, known as the Pareto-efficiency frontier. A perfectly competitive market meets the efficiency requirements, imperfect or distorted markets do not. Distortions can be caused by the existence of monopolistic markets, taxation, externalities or missing markets.

Traditional Welfare economics rarely considers how copyright and patent law create barriers to entry to markets and thus husband the growth of monopolistic markets, where supply is restricted and prices driven up. It needs to be born in mind that overpricing products such as software which are inputs to the economic process as well as output, means that some otherwise efficient goods will not be produced; they cost too much.

It should also be born in mind that the majority of the world's software is not licensed or charged for, although much of this free to use software is not traded at all, remaining the proprietary goods of their owners who use them to produce other goods and/or services. Benkler in his book, “the Wealth of Networks”, suggests there are nine business models for pursuing value in software, of which only three of them involve trading rights i.e. charging for software. If there was no software copyright i.e. copying was legal and free the only price, software would still be written. The overpricing of software distorts both today's market and the innovation creating tomorrow's. The price mechanism should ensure that resources that are scarce and consumed should be payed for. Software is not scarce, although the people that write it and the machines that run it are. Resources such as software should be free.

This was meant to be an essay based on some slides I have been trailing inside the company, but I discovered how hard it is and how much time it takes to actually put ideas into essay form while preparing the paper behind what became Monopoly & Prices, see below. So this is more of an abstract, I shall upload the essay when finished to my personal site downloads page.

Thanks once again to Beggs, Fischer and Dornbusch, whose Economics 8th Edition reminded me of my Welfare Economics.


Three dimensions of Virtualisation

Another piece of, what I hope is wisdom, coming from my last three months of customer conversations is that virtualisation has three dimensions.

We use virtualisation to make large systems small. I call this “Atomisation”. We can also use virtualisation technologies to make many components seem as one, this is of critical use for horizontally scalable services, and I call this “Aggregation”. The third dimension is “Longevity”. Maybe I should play around with “Age” as a word, so each dimension has a mnemonic starting with “A”, but by using a Type II hypervisor, one can protect old software against platform innovation and continue to run it until its business case changes or expires.


How new is Cloud Computing?

I have spoken to several of Sun's customers over the last 3 months about Cloud Computing and have often used the following quote.

“When we build a distributed computing platform and run one application on it, we call this HPC, when we build a distributed computing platfrom and run many copies of one application on it, we call this Web 2.0, and when we build a distributed computing platform and run many applications on it, we call it Cloud Computing.”

Who said it? Me!

Its not quite true, but the difference between the platforms is not necessarily as great as some might like to make it seem. Web 2.0 platforms are rarely as economic as running many copies of one application but its a pretty small portfolio often supporting only one end-user application. I accept that elasticity and metering are important, unsolved, or not well solved problems in the cloud world but I think the quote is worth publishing here and repeating and offers insights into planning an evolving the next generation of IT platforms.


Saturday Aug 29, 2009

url aliases

I mention in the last article, that url aliases/shortners make calculating an inlist sort-order harder, it's curious to me that Google don't have a url shortening service. (I suppose the domain name google doesn't lend itself well to being part of a short name.)


Are blogs losing their infuence?

Richard Morgan sent me this article, "Are Blogs Losing Their Authority To The Statusphere?" dated March 10th 2009, which argues that while blog authority ranking according to Technorati remains fairly static, the scores of the various blogs are declining. Technorati uses an inlist scoring algorithm which may be part of the problem, but it would seem to me that micro-blogging is impacting the strength of the voice of blogs as a communications tool, which is what the article argued. In some way's not just micro-blogging, but the various places where people can and do record what they do and think. When I started this blog 5 years ago, I chose to restrain what I put here but other media have grown in popularity, and so people's ability to express themselves have grown. There is a diversification of publication sites which makes following people harder, although technorati only set out to capture blogs, not people, blogs seem no longer to be at the centre of how the internet records what people think. I know that I have been writing less frequently.

Internet messaging is built on a growing distributed architecture, consisting of

  • publication,

  • distribution,

  • aggregation and

  • consumption.

Different sites and technologies seek to perform and excel in different parts of the chain. The aggregation stage permits people to view people, if they permit it, or subject matter and most importantly control their own entry points to the mess that is today's content, by which I mean choose to follow people of look for specific expertise. I think that authors should seek to co-operate with this consumer control of the reading process. It should be noted that the behaviour of individuals and corporations will differ. In particular most media companies want to capture the reader/viewer but individuals have no need to copy this behaviour. I try to post content and let people find it; I hope I have developed a reputation for expertise in some subjects over my career.

By keeping the architecture in mind, one can try and avoid annoying your readers, who, if one has any, are likely to be your friends. Bad habits I see are people who syndicate their tweets into facebook, so I, and others, get to know about their breakfast twice, and I am not a fan of syndicating one's feed into blogs using the APIs. This latter habit annoys me because I don't see the blog as an aggregation tool, but a publishing tool, and so I expect original work, of some description in people's blogs. This can be even worse when people then publicise the blog, containing bookmarks using a micro blog. That's three clicks to read something written by someone other than the person who's views you've subscribed to, and if using a wireless device that's a real pain. NB This is also true if you subscribe to Digg feeds, you get to 'interesting' content via the Digg page, so three clicks, three tabs or windows to read content you want. Another offence which I wish I could deal with more easily is the microblogging incontinent. The only way I have discovered how to deal with those, is to unsubscribe.

One can, and I do aggregate my feeds into one place. I originally created a personal planet, which aggregates some of the feeds I create. I have tried to create an everything feed at, which also has a nice key of the feeds I contribute to. This means that my readers can construct a feed that interests them. I know that some friends are interested in the technology, but not the politics. I commit the offence of subscribing my friend feed to face book, but I consider Facebook to be mainly a consumer. I need to think about this. Its not great, but I don't syndicate my tweets directly to my face book statuses (sic), nor do I copy them back into friend feed. Manging my facebook feed is not easy and is compounded by Facebook's desire to perform all roles in the architecture while being 'open'. Its this open-ness which has enable site specialisation around, for instance, travel, books, restaurants and even at living social, iphone apps.

I suppose I am appealing for people to consider what tools they use to perform a specific role in the the personal content architecture. Don't over aggregate, if people are interested in your thoughts they'll find them. Don't shove it down their throats.

When I first considered writing this little essay, it seemed interesting to consider, “Is the status-sphere replacing blogs?”, others including Tim Bray have written about this since and argue Not. I hope that the evolution of easy micro-blogging, will free blogs to become deeper and more interesting. I know that I have produced less frequent blog article since I took up with Twitter, but I also considered my feed, to be a microblog of sorts. Another key development is that the use of sites like has turned in-list search ranking from a vote of web authors, where you needed the technology skills and resource to have a web page in order to influence the sort order, into a vote of web readers and authors. The ease of micro blog adoption means that an even large crowd should now be participating in the construction of in list search orders. I am unsure how url shortner's impact the search engines in-list calculations. They make it harder, I 'm sure, as does the fact there's more than one. Many argue that Twitter's best value is as a search engine and that it, and other micro-blogging systems won't replace blogs because there are too many subjects that can't be accurately discussed in 140, characters. Techcrunch published further thoughts on twitter, and it chances of supplanting the blogs, however it takes less time to tweet, rubbish gets lost easier, and twitter in particular is designed to be used by handheld devices. (I don't think I'd like to have written this on my new Nokia 5800, or even my ipodtouch.) It should be noted, that while its very easy to create a 140 character message, it should be easy to create a podcast or even a video, but its not. They are both difficult to create, especially if you don't just record a chat amongst friends but try and 'deliver/perform' a report. This is a skills issue. They wouldn't pay Steven Fry all that money to make audio books if it was easy.

One final thought is that communitarian aggregation is not well done at the moment. One of the strength's of Peter Reiser's approach, 'Community Equity', to knowledge management systems that at its heart is a personal rating engine. (See also They don't yet have this as truly n-dimensional, which I think is needed, so you can rate your own content, rate other author's expertise, rate & describe their interest to you. I may play with a Google App or Zembly, to experiment with some of how to make some of this work. A very rich inter-personal network with sophisitcated popular and machine calculated relevance scoring is something that can add value. Content could flow through your colleagues votes moving closer and further away from your viewing window and your friends and colleagues advice and hints would influence or determine what you find. Google reader's share facility is quite close, but there's only one dimension, you can have friends, and they can recommend stuff for you to read. (I think more can be done.)

I hint that one of Technorati's problems is its reliance on in-list. Searching the Workplace Web, written by Fagin, Kumar and McCurley, which I commented on, on this blog in an article called, The Shape of Internet, write about a number of relevance and ordering tests that could be used and specifically argue that within the corporate intranet other sorts and relevance tests may be more appropriate to help solve a number of questions such as authority. They also argue that intranet URL naming is less search friendly and it is clear that the dissipation of people's voice and advice over multiple sites with different naming conventions, often using surrogates or numbers and URL shortners means that the internet is catching up on the early intranet in the chaos of name space. It may be time to review in-list and begin to weight votes for relevance and sort-order.

Are blogs losing their relevance, maybe, maybe not. Well written opinions by disinterested experts will always be valued. As the dross moves to the microblogs, this may liberate the blogs to re-establish themselves as clear voices of expertise. Some of what was observed Richard's post to me may be failures in Technorati, its initial insights are aged and its being out innovated.


Wednesday Aug 26, 2009

Monopoly and prices

Monopolies restrict supply and offer their goods at prices above equilibrium price, the opportunity cost of the resources used to make the goods. I am writing a short paper about this since it is a piece of thinking I revisited while developing my thoughts on free software, but is not central to those thoughts. There remain those who still think that monopolistic domination of markets is a legitimate business goal and that public policy and regulation should not inhibit this "free" market tendency. A review of the theory of the firm shows that monopolies restrict supply, raise prices and make super-profits.

Firms seek to maximise profit. As prices fall, demand increases. As output increases, average costs fall and then may rise due to economies of scale and then diminishing returns. In a "perfect" market, all firms are price takers. Business failure means that expensive suppliers leave the market, and super-profits caused by the difference in a given price and superior cost structures of the survivors encourage new entrants to bid down the price. In a perfect market, there are no super-profits and prices are equal to average costs. In a monopolistic or imperfect market, defined as where a firm's output decisions affect price, a firm's maximum profit occurs where its marginal cost is equal to its marginal revenue. No matter if dis-economies of scale are trivial or important, this will always be a lower output and a higher price than the opportunity cost price/output position.

I am writing a longer essay about this, which I hope to post on this blog, but I shall mirror it on my personal site downloads page. I doubt that there's anything original in the essay, but having it one place is useful to me and it'll help me write my essay/presentation that I promised Dominc Kay on "Why free is the right price for software?".

Thursday Aug 06, 2009

Little Big Adventure

I have been struggling to get VRDP from Virtual Box working on my home network, of which more maybe later, but I took a break to install one of the greatest games ever on the home machines with the help of my younger son. We finally found a copy of Little Big Adventure that'll run on modern machines. This is hosted at LBA HQ. It runs native but recommends running under DosBox. So that is what I did...

LBA V1 running on the Alienware under DosBox

I now have two programs that run under DosBox and so place my command files in the Windows shortcut as -c arguments. For more see my bliki articles DosBox and Lba & dosbox. The downloaded archive contains a .iso but I have not worked out how to fool DosBox into thinking the .iso is a CD, but its probably possible so one wouldn't need the CD to be loaded into the cd reader, but unless you sort this out, you'll need to burn a CD.

Long time readers may remember that I put LBA2 on the machine a while ago.





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