Sunday Jun 22, 2008

Bloggers and the MSM

In the online age, does print have a future?  I mean real ink-on-paper print, not just text. I sure hope so, because lately I've been managing to get my name in the Mainstream Media papers, and not by holding up liquor stores. 

I've found that the same skills we use in blogging to make our entries concise and interesting translate well to writing print articles. Here's the latest one of my masterpieces to appear on a piece of pulped pine tree:

The next time you feel you've written a nice blog entry that might be of general interest, you might try sending it to your local paper's editorial page. Just make really, really, really sure you've got the facts straight, because the MSM still maintain standards of factuality that are far higher than the expectations of the blogosphere.

 Good luck! I have to tell you, there is a thrill you get from holding the piece of paper in your hands with your name on it that is quite different than seeing your name on a blog. 

Thursday May 29, 2008

Gee, maybe Peak Oil isn't a myth after all

World oil exports DROP in the face of a 57% price rise: 

Who do techies like for President?

I endeavor to answer this question in an op-ed published in our local paper:

Also available in podcast format here:


Tuesday May 27, 2008

Cool feature on Sun/Texas supercomputer

Check this out. I love the longhorns on top of the Sun box. 

Tuesday Apr 08, 2008

Solaris, my evil girlfriend

Ever have girlfriend you can't live with, yet can't stay away from? Mine is trying to run Solaris on an obsolete Dell 1100 laptop, a topic on which I have blogged more times than I like to think about. 

I went to visit her again recently, after resolutely staying away for several months. Staying away was easy for a while, because I had a voluptuous new girlfriend, Mac OS X aka The Leopard Girl. She had been keeping me very happy for months, but one day last week I felt a need to take a walk on the wild side, and, feeling guilty yet excited, went back to Mistress Solaris.

Back in the day when our relationship was still working, we had been happily cohabiting on Build 57. We had even taken our relationship to the next level by downloading and installing applications from Blastwave. We had a few laughs, but then I wanted more....

A few weeks ago, I downloaded Solaris Express 1/08. The Leopard Girl, my enabler, made it all too easy to download and burn a DVD. I should have seen the warning signs of a sick menage a trois developing. 

Solaris Express (Build 79b) installed easily, up to a point. I thought there might be a chance to revive our relationship. Then, with a pouty grin, she refused to start the X-server, sticking me with just a command line. I checked her xerrors file, and she claimed she was missing a config file. A likely story. 

Last week, against my better judgement, and again enabled by The Leopard Girl, I downloaded and burned OpenSolaris Build 85.  Then our relationship really fell apart. The install hung after only a few minutes with "Extracting windowing system. Please wait...." And I waited... and waited....

Sigh. Now, like a fool, I'm sitting by the phone, I mean the computer, waiting for Build 86 to come out. I can't stay away. 

Wednesday Jan 09, 2008

White box hackers and Solaris Express Developer Edition

Especially here in Southern California, white box hacking is a way of life. With resellers on every corner hawking semi-underground components out of Asia, gamers building water-cooled monsters, and right here in the OC, it's a definite scene. My buddy Tony Vigna, uberconsultant and freelance CIO, is a white box guy from way back, although his interests run more toward developing enterprise Open Source configurations that he can recommend to his commerical clients. Lately, I've been singing the praises of Solaris, and he perhaps unwisely has actually been listening to me. Unfortunately, he's encountered a lot of frustration for his pains.

First he tried Solaris Express Developer Edition on one of his white box configurations with a four year old video card. Didn't work. He was willing to let that go. Undeterred, he built up the following white box configuration of the following very mainstream, modern components:

Video  ATI Technologies  R430 [Radeon X800 XL] (PCIe)

Firewire  Texas Instruments  TSB43AB22/A IEEE-1394a-2000 Controller

USB  nVidia Corporation  MCP55  USB Controller

USB   nVidia Corporation  MCP55  USB Controller

Storage   nVidia Corporation  MCP55  IDE

Multimedia   nVidia Corporation  MCP55   High Definition Audio

Network   nVidia Corporation  MCP55  Ethernet

Storage    nVidia Corporation  MCP55 SATA Controller

With this configuration, SXDE 9/07 would not install, even though every device listed above was verified as being supported by the Solaris Device Detection Tool. The install bombed in the middle when it switched over to X11-based graphics, so the problem is probably with the video card, even though it is listed in the Solaris Hardware Compatibility List.

Nice guy that he is, Tony then downloaded  the Build 78 bits and tried again. Here's an excerpt from an email he sent me around 2 AM:

 "Found another problem with the SATA attached DVD ROM drives -- couldn’t find installation files.  He had to hook up an old Plextor USB DVD Drive to advance the installation.  Still DOA with the x800 though.  I might go out and get an NVIDIA 7300GT.  A crap card, but apparently it should work pretty easily.

"One thing the Open Solaris Community should do is publish a handful of reference configurations supporting the white-box hacker at different performance levels.

"A white-box Virtual Server, Database Server, Developer Workstation, CAD/CAM Workstation, etc."

Sounds like a great idea to me. If we're after developer mind share, we need to remember that developers don't just hack software. They hack hardware, too. A guy like Tony is in the position of being able to recommend hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware, software and services to his  clients. Something to think about.

Tuesday Dec 04, 2007

Rage, rage against the dying of the bandwidth

It's been a bad week. The Check Engine light went on in my car. I'm scheduled for painful dentistry tomorrow. But the capper was when my Windows laptop contracted a virus. This set off a cascading chain of events that had me tearing my hair out. 

The virus cropped up on Friday. Symantec could see it, but not erase it. A full scan of the machine tied it up for a whole day, but accomplished nothing. And I had things that needed to get done at work. What to do?

Luckily (I thought), I had just acquired a Sun Ray for home use. Excellent! I could use that for my Sun tasks. Hah!

I pay a fortune each month for cable Internet service, and lately it's gone to hell. Every time some kid up the block decides to download the latest X-rated epic, there's no bandwidth left for me. The 1.5 megabits per second I'm supposed to get drop to near zero. I've lived with this for a while, but the Sun Ray was the straw that broke this camel's back. A PC can tolerate intervals of low bandwidth, because it can process data on its own, and wait to transmit it across the wire. Being dependent on a server for processing, when a Sun Ray is faced with low bandwidth it just freezes. Shutting it off and trying to log in again makes it worse, because you have to wait for the cursor to start blinking again to type the next character. Works for your login ID, but not for your password, because you can't tell how many characters went through. I know this, because I tried it several hundred times before the psychotic break that left me in a dissociative state.

Fortunately, the cable company has 24/7 customer service, so there was someone there to take my screamed order to send someone to rip out the cable modem. I had to wait until Monday morning to get hold of AT&T to sign up for DSL. I'm going to pay $10 a month less for four times the nominal bandwidth. Why didn't I do this years ago? My new DSL modem arrived by UPS in one day, and the technician was in my backyard today checking the signal strength. So long, monopolistic cable company! Ain't capitalism grand?

Things are looking up on other fronts, too. I took my laptop over to the Monrovia office, along with a dozen bagels from Panera Bread as a bribe, and my buddies in the MIS department put me at the head of the queue. At last report, the virus had been cleaned out, though there was still a problem with erratic browser behavior. Sun Ray was still deadlined for most of today, but I hauled out my experimental Solaris laptop, booted Thunderbird, and found that the combination of Solaris and T-bird was very comfortable with low bandwidth. Sun has been benefiting from my services all day.

I'm resigned to my dental work in the morning, BW has been helpful in restoring my shattered equilibrium, and the DSL is supposed to be operational tomorrow. Now all I need to do is get the Check Engine light looked at.


Sunday Nov 18, 2007

Thunderbird annoyances - 1, 2

I spend a lot of time dealing with email, so Thunderbird's limitations are literally in my face. I thought I'd start cataloging them, with an eye to eventually sending them on to the T-bird community. I'm publishing them here first so people will have a chance to tell me if they are actually due to user error. Don't want to waste the T-bird developers' time!

Annoyance 1: Loss of context. If you move a message to a folder from your inbox, then move another one, the dialog box makes you start at the root of the tree all over again. On the other hand, The High-priced Product handily defaults the tree to the last folder you moved a message to. Since one usually moves several messages to the same folder, this is a great time saver.

Annoyance 2: If you sort on an alpha column, such as Sender or Subject, you have to manually scroll down all the entries to the place in the alphabet that you want. The High-priced Product handily takes you there when you type the first letter of the section you want to go to. Since this feature is part of most drop-down lists on the planet, it's hard to understand why it's not in T-bird.

To be continued....

Wednesday Oct 24, 2007

Grooving at GOSCON

I was up in Portland, Oregon, last week attending the Government Open Source Conference put on by Oregon State University. This was my first Open Source convention, and it was a hoot. Sun and were ably represented by featured speakers Erwin Tenhumberg, Doug Johnson and Louis Suarez-Potts, so all I had to do was hang around and absorb the atmosphere.

There were some rather heated debates, including one I witnessed between Jason Matusow, Microsoft interop guru, and Arnaud Le Hors, IBM Open Source maven, on the merits of Open XML versus Open Document Format. Fun stuff! I was also impressed by the keynote by Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, who bears a striking resemblance in mannerisms, accent and intelligence to my hero Sen. John Edwards. Who knew Open Source could be so slick?

More than one speaker made a critical point that I think deserves some intensive thought. There are plenty of government agencies that would like to use Open Source software, but that are prevented from doing so by the procurement processes they have to follow. Typically, they have to issue a Request For Proposal that must be filled out by all interested vendors. These things often run to 100 pages of detailed questions. Microsoft and Oracle have whole teams dedicated to filling out RFPs. The Open Source world has no one. Result: the Open Source product doesn't get selected. There's got to be an answer to this. Maybe some civic-minded foundation would like to dedicate some resources to promoting the use of Open Source in government by responding to RFPs? Seems like a great way to save the taxpayers some big bucks.

Tuesday Oct 09, 2007

In the midst of life

It's always a shock to lose one of our number. One of my product management colleagues from my days on Java CAPS, John Hardin, died suddenly over the weekend of natural causes. He was about 40 and left behind his wife Meggan, and two children from a previous marriage. John was a good man and a talented product manager. He brought a lot to Sun, and he will be missed. A fund has been set up to assist Meggan with making arrangements. Contributions may be sent to Judy Myers in Mon01.

Update: If you are outside Sun, contributions should be sent to

Judy Myers

Sun Microsystems

800 Royal Oaks Drive

Monrovia, CA 91016

Checks should be made payable to Meggan Hardin

Wednesday Oct 03, 2007

AT&T digging up the neighborhood

A contracted telco crew put fliers on everyone's house in our neighborhood today. They said, "There will be buried utility placing operations in this community from 10-4-07 to 10-31-07 appx. This project is to provide enhanced offerings and services to customers of AT&T."  Egad! Could this be the advent of fiber optic cable in our neighborhood? One can only hope. I called the contractor for confirmation, but they haven't called back yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Update: I went outside just now and talked to the young guy running the jackhammer. He pulled his earplugs out, and confirmed that they're laying fiber optic cable. He said he has it in his house, and it's like lightning. Awesome. I can hardly wait. It also shows that fiber isn't just for geeks.

Monday Sep 10, 2007

The ecosystem and the StarOffice distro

People often ask what the difference is between and StarOffice. This question has been popping up more often after Google's announcement that it would distribute StarOffice for free as part of the Google Pack of desktop applications.

Here's my take on this, gathered from my colleagues on the OpenOffice and StarOffice teams, especially Louis Suarez-Potts, Community Manager. is a community Open Source project, released under the Lesser General Public License. Anyone can download either the binary or the source and redistribute them, at no charge, subject to the restrictions of the license. Sun is the biggest contributor to this project, but by no means the only one. Sun's contribution to this project is its gift to the world.

Like the Linux community, the community encourages others to develop their own distributions -- “distros” -- of the software by picking and choosing from its modules, and by adding their own modules. StarOffice is such a distro, created by taking the core, and adding various commercially-oriented modules, such as an advanced spellchecker licensed from a third party. The fact that Sun Microsystems created the StarOffice distro, and charges for it, does not mean that Sun considers StarOffice to be more “official” that, any more than Debian or Ubuntu is more “official” than the Linux kernel. StarOffice is just oriented toward a particular market segment.

There are other distros that target other markets. Sun created another distro called StarSuite that is oriented toward the Asian market. NeoOffice is an independent distro that has been ported to the Macintosh Aqua user interface. Novell created its own distro as well. The Google Pack StarOffice distro is a non-commercial version that is limited to Windows platforms.

The ecosystem encompasses all these distros, and also includes many indpendent vendors who provide support, training, consulting and other services for the various distros. Sun sells support and other services for, StarOffice and StarSuite, and cooperates with independent support vendors in various markets. We take pride in our major contribution to this ever-growing, open ecosystem.


Thursday Aug 30, 2007

Free software and the Blade Runner strategy

Now that I am part of the services team, I've been thinking more about free and open source software, and about intellectual property in general. Clearly, one place where free software has the potential to help people is in the Third World, the developing countries where increased access to software and the Internet is a vital component of the effort to lift whole societies out of poverty. Ironically, experience seems to show that free software has not had the impact that it should have in the Third World, and the reason is that there is another low-cost alternative: pirated copies of Windows and Microsoft Office. 

My son in Shanghai told me about going to a black market technology bazaar right out of Blade Runner or Neuromancer, where hundreds of tiny shops were busily constructing whitebox desktops, and happily loading them with bootleg Windows. A similar black market exists in Mexico City, and I'd be willing to bet that one exists in most countries outside of the First World.

Piracy is obviously wrong, but it's also clear that failing to enforce intellectual property laws is a workable development strategy often pursued by countries to spur economic growth. When Taiwan was struggling to develop, it refused to sign international copyright conventions, making it possible for students to buy pirated technical books very cheaply. Back in the day, my brother brought me a bootleg technical manual from Taiwan that cost maybe a tenth of what it would have cost in the US at that time. As it grew richer, and sought to join the World Trade Organization, Taiwan brought its intellectual property laws into line with the First World. Perhaps enforcing copyright is a sign of a country's increasing economic maturity. Morality is for those who can afford it.

This suggests that free software may actually play a greater role when a country rises a bit above complete poverty, and starts to crack down on piracy in order to enjoy the benefits of more trade with the First World. At that point, free software will have more of a price advantage over the outrageous monopoly pricing imposed by First World software companies operating in the Third World.

Thursday Aug 23, 2007

Other cool ticker symbols

By now, everyone has heard about us changing our stock symbol from SUNW to JAVA, a very shrewd move, very smart in my opinion. And it's not a new idea, either. Smart companies have been doing it for decades. It's very prestigious to have a single-letter symbol, for instance, so Citigroup grabbed C when Chrysler let go of it. US Steel was always X, symbolizing power and uniqueness. And using your flagship brand as your symbol has a long history, too. Perhaps the most famous: Anheuser-Busch's ticker symbol is BUD.

Some other cool tickers:

Southwest Airlines -- LUV

The Cheesecake Factory -- CAKE

The Boston Beer Co. (maker of Sam Adams beer) -- SAM

I got this info from this excellent 2005 article by Dan Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Wednesday Aug 22, 2007

Kotatsu vs. SunRay

I've been working at home this summer, and it has been hot. We try not to run the air conditioner too much, out of ecological guilt. This afternoon I was really sweating, and had to put the air on in the room where I work. BW was kidding me gently about the room where she was not feeling warm at all, and suggesting that maybe my overeating at lunch was making me sweat. 

Later, I had to call one of my colleagues up in the Bay Area, and while I was complaining to her about the heat, I began to realize that most of the heat in the room was emanating from my laptop. It was actually quite painfully hot in some spots. I told her about it, and she smugly replied that her SunRay draws very little current, and thus is quite cool. This is what happens when you complain to a female engineer.

Anyhow, she got me thinking about my laptop's excessive power consumption, and the heat it throws. I started looking at it closely, and it appears that the heat is vented to the front, directly under my chin, whence it rises to bathe my face in extra warmth on a hot day. Gaahh!

It occurred to me that in the winter this would be quite pleasant, rather like a kotatsu, the Japanese combination of card table, heat lamp and quilt that my sister had told me about. She goes to Japan every year, and is quite fond of the communal kotatsu, where everyone gathers in the winter to play cards, talk and stay warm in poorly heated Japanese houses. So I guess I should switch to a SunRay in the summer, and save my laptop to serve as a kotatsu in the winter. Might save on the heating bill, but it lacks the conviviality that a true kotatsu would provide.




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