Monday Mar 16, 2009

Is the recession accelerating OpenSolaris adoption?

This Slashdot article points to an IT Manager survey indicating that Linux adoption is growing during these difficult economic times. It does make sense that companies and governments which normally spent freely on proprietary software might begin to consider unorthodox, but much more cost effective alternatives now. What does this mean for other opensource operating systems such as OpenSolaris? I think the Google trends graph says it better than I could. Anyone looking for the root cause of this economic mess only needn't bother about property bubbles, dodgy investment shenanigans or massive increases in debt. Just look at the trend line of the third parameter in this Google graph ;-)

P.S.: I compared 'opensolaris' with 'economic downturn' instead of 'recession' because the magnitude of recession searches is so much larger that it pushes opensolaris towards the bottom of this graph. A similar scale issue makes it difficult to see that opensolaris seems to be gaining market share against Windows, Solaris, Linux and some of the most popular proprietary Linux distributions.

Google trends is an amazing tool, but it can't answer all psychohistory questions. Trends for some topics such as 'great depression' and 'great gatsby' are common topics in standardized U.S. school curriculum and therefore searches for these closely follow the school calendar. You'd think with so many students learning about Gatsby's 1920s hedonism and its unravelling during the 'Great Depression', it should be impossible to repeat this history.

Monday Nov 24, 2008

Good news about a bank

We often teased the shyest member of my family by reminding her of the bad joke about the kid who didn't speak a word until he was eating breakfast on his 7th birthday when he said, "My porridge is cold!" When asked why he never spoke before, he said, "Up until now everything has been alright." This is how I felt about the silence which followed my work on a project which installed and provided support for over 7000 opensource JDS desktops at a bank.1 We called the customer occasionally to see if everything was O.K. We helped them through one upgrade which was necessary because the Linux kernel needed to be upgraded to support modern hardware but didn't have a stable ABI so the entire application stack also had to be upgraded. After the upgrade, one of our customers gave us some upgrades/minute statistics that were well beyond what is possible given network bandwidth limitations so I'll just say that the upgrade went well.

Shortly after the upgrade, we helped solve a peculiar focus bug whose root causes were spread across gtk, Java, Firefox and Star/OpenOffice. But overall things were very quiet. Sun was also quiet about this deployment, first of all because we hadn't yet finalized the disclosure agreement and later because Sun decided to drop our Linux-based desktop product and focus on OpenSolaris. So between our "are you still there?" pings to the customer's 2 person technical support staff, I was left wondering if no news is good news?

Then when I gave my presentation at the Irish Opensource Technology Conference, I noticed that two knowledgeable IT managers from this bank were giving presentations on their opensource desktop (a.k.a. JDS) roll out. I finally had the opportunity to be the "fly on the wall" and hear how things really went. I don't have links to their presentations, but these gentlemen said that the project was a success, that the deployment saved money and IT support costs compared to traditional Microsoft Windows based desktop solutions. They said the project completed ahead of schedule and under budget and that they were telling other banks the secrets of their success. I don't know if the other banks were paying attention to the potential savings in deploying opensource alternatives back when easy money was still flowing, but I would think they should take a hard look at such cost-effective alternatives now. In any case, it seems likely that the number of successful cost-saving "invisible" opensource deployments is understated.

"The art and science of interface design depends largely on making the transaction with the computer as transparent as possible in order to minimize the burden on the user" -- S. Joy Mountford

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic!"
-- Arthur C. Clarke.

1 The deployment was of Sun's linux based "Java Desktop System." If we were to do it now, the obvious choices in Sun's product portfolio would be Solaris 10 or OpenSolaris. Since the customer's network is now fast enough to support Sun Ray over WAN, we could potentially save them another $500,000 in annual electricity costs by deploying their desktop via Sun Ray clients instead of X86 PCs.

Thursday Oct 30, 2008

$800 Billion burning a hole in your pocket? Spending ideas


Against the better judgment of hundreds of economists as well as the vast majority of the voting public (those annoying constituents), Congress approved Henry Paulson's bailout plan. Now Paulson's appointed "bailout czar", Neel Kashkari has $800 billion tax dollars burning a hole in his pocket and he is trying to figure out how to spend it. My wife was a loan officer and defacto credit counselor way back in the late 1900s when most banks and credit unions still carefully considered credit ratings, debt/income and debt/asset ratios. She often helped people understand how to prioritize their spending. Sometimes little changes such as forgoing the daily cappuccino were enough to lift people out of debt and improve their credit rating. Our bailout czar's job is slightly different. In order to efficiently bail out failing financial institutions, he must invest taxpayer's money on assets that no one in their right mind would buy with their own hard-earned money. I personally don't think this is a good plan. At best it is a temporary patch to a deflating asset bubble. If the bailout czar really wishes to use tax money to improve long term American economic growth and competitiveness, he should consider the following options for spending 800 billion dollars:

  • Bailout Chrysler 800 times (in 1979 dollars). This cash flow diagram indicates that, not so long ago, Detroit fueled a huge portion of the U.S. economy.
  • Repeat the Apollo moon lander program (including R&D from 1961-1969) 32 times (8 times in 2008 dollars).
  • Install photovoltaic solar roofs on 32 million homes (1/5th of all homes in the U.S.)
  • Pay full (unadjusted) tuition for their first year of Yale for 70% of 18-25 year old Americans. (Quoted tuition is for Yale medical school, but Yale has other specialties which could prepare students to become business leaders, presidents, senators, economists...)
  • Fund the National Cancer Institute for 165 years.
  • Provide microcredit loans for the world's $1 billion working poor.
  • Fund UNICEF for 266 years.
  • Buy every possible ticket combination in the Florida Lotto for 57142 weeks, which means Paulson could hold a winning Florida lottery ticket every week for 1098 years.
  • SETI. Wisconsin's former Senator and spendthrift William Proxmire once awarded his famous "Golden Fleece Award" to project SETI. Paulson's bailout money could fund project SETI for 160,000 years.

I'm confident that any of the items on my shopping list would give U.S. taxpayers more bang for their buck than the current plan to reinflate the property bubble, an asset bubble which caused a massive misallocation of financial and intellectual resources and actually works against U.S. global competitiveness.

Incidentally, $800 billion is a lot of money, but it isn't an infinite amount. Unfortunately it isn't enough for the following:

  • $800 billion won't buy enough Starbucks cappuccino to fill Lake Erie, the smallest great lake. However, if you combine all of the recent Fed and treasury bailouts, you could buy enough instant coffee to flavor the Great Salt Lake. You could also buy enough cheap off-brand root beer or Kool-Aid to fill Lake Okeechobee. Wouldn't this be a nice modern variation on the Boston tea party?
  • $800 billion could easily fulfill Herbert Hoover's promise of "a chicken in every pot" (in fact everyone's pot could contain 666 $4 chickens), but to put "a car in every garage" as he also promised, you'd want slightly more money unless we're willing to settle for a used or economy car in every garage.
  • $800 billion would fill a bag with about 80 billion decent ACE hardware hammers but apparently only 1.3 Billion military grade hammers.
  • If you sent $800 billion to the International Star Registry, they would only name 22 Billion stars after a loved one in their "official" book. But the Milky Way galaxy contains at least 200 billion stars and there are billions of other galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of nameless stars. So at best, only about one in every 10 stars in our galaxy could be named "Henry Paulson".

    Billions and Billions of stars

Wednesday Sep 24, 2008

Is Wall Street welfare a good idea?

While discussing the U.S. government's relatively harmless economic meddling (Cheese subsidies) during the Reagan/GHW Bush years, a friend suggested that the government should buy computer chips and bury them in order to prop up the falling domestic chip market. Since then, inexpensive imported chips led to the personal PC market, the cell phone market, the video game market, the associated software markets and the internet economy. None of this might have happened if the government had imposed tariffs or burned chips in order to prop up that part of the economy. A few years later, this Bush administration tried and failed to meddle with WTO-defying steel tariffs which theoretically might have saved a handful of steelworker jobs while irritating the US's staunchest allies and endangering hundreds of thousands of domestic auto industry jobs.

[Read More]

Tuesday Apr 22, 2008

All time environmental boondoggle awards

It isn't always obvious to people outside of the U.S. why Joe-sixpack seems to have such a powerful allergy to conservation, efficiency and sensible environmentalism. The reason is that pseudoenvironmentalists have tried to pull the wool over his eyes many times in the decades since the first earth day, and because of the abysmal level of Joe-sixpack science literacy, they've usually succeeded. Wisconsin's Bill Proxmire was known as the founder of Earth Day and for his "golden fleece" awards for wasteful Congressional spending. In his honor, here are my nominations for the all time greatest environmental boondoggles:

  • Magnetic gasoline mpg enhancers. (Add to this the German device which detects the "tachyon signature" of nuclear generated power and stops such energy at your outlet.)
  • 1970s rooftop solar heating. Perhaps I'm being a bit unfair here. Some of these actually did produce heat, some even produced enough to pay for themselves over a decade or two. But because the qualification standards for President Carter's eco-subsidies weren't well enforced, many hideously inefficient devices were constructed. Sometimes the cost of the electricity to run the water pumps, the leakage of home heat on winter nights and other issues caused these devices to waste more energy than they saved and gave solar a bad name which hasn't yet been overcome in many parts of the U.S.[Read More]

Monday Jul 09, 2007

Avoiding government "abandoned property" seizures

Those who live abroad should be aware of abandoned property laws in their home country. A recent article in the San Fransisco Chronicle (found by The Consumerist) explains a California law allowing the government to seize property in safe deposit boxes which haven't been checked in three years. [Read More]



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