Thursday Jan 05, 2006

Goodbye Windows XP Professional x64 Edition

It's time to say "Farewell" to Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. When I bought my Acer Ferrari 4000 Laptop, it seemed the obvious choice - have 64 bit AMD processor; buy 64 bit operating system. I also have Solaris and Suse Linux on the laptop so why do I need XP? Well, I'm doing benchmarking on Windows so it helps to have a sandpit to develop stuff but I have to protect myself in the face of those anxious to promote Solaris on the desktop (i.e the other 400 people in this building) by repeating this mantra.

Many things work OK on XP 64-bit as you would expect; Macromedia Flash, Mozilla, NetBeans, OpenOffice, Quicktime, even more arcane things: PostgreSQL, R, Ptolemy, Vim. So in general, binary compatability was fine, at the application level.

However there was a list of things that just didn't; some didn't attempt to install; some got to the end of the install and then showed their disdain for their new home; some installed but would not run.

Most spooky of all was Microsoft's Windows Utilities for Unix. This is developed for the server market so you would think...but no. Also, there is no Realplayer for x64 or any sign of there being one in the near future; you have to make do with a similar but less functional alternative.

There are no drivers for my scanner - a very popular HP model. This was when doubt began to set in. If these are not available from HP, is there a real problem? Yes of course there is. Yes of course there isn't. ("You work for who?") Solaris got around this when it moved to 64-bit in Solaris 7; it was 64-bit but retained the 32-bit framework and loaded appropriately; also if you didn't like one flavour of addressing, you could simply boot into the other.

Microsoft could have gone down this road but haven't and the reasons are not hard to guess. Many if not most of the drivers in that world are written by 3rd parties and also there are good business reasons for a firm distinction between the 32 and 64 bit products. Its also only fair to say that take-up of Solaris 7 within the installed base was not immediate by any means (Y2K forced the pace eventually) so looked at in those terms, Microsoft are simply where Sun were, about 8 years ago.

Continuing on down the list, I thought the new XP was responsible for the failure of Apple's iTunes to make contact with the iTunes store site. In fact hundreds of new iPod owners thought the same and mused about firewalls, virus protection software and all manner of other possible barriers to their enjoyment on Apple's self-help forum (note singular absence of input from Apple!). Amusingly it never dawned on any of these people (and I'm sure Apple would never admit to the notion) that as it was December 25th and the whole world had just unwrapped their new Christmas present and installed the software, eager to make their first iTunes purchase. The iTunes site might just have gone completely and utterly tits-up and be refusing any further custom due insufficient advertance to IT capacity planning on the part of its owners (who are, er, an IT company). Its one possible explanation but I'm sure Apple can provide a more rational one.

I had already predicted the final nail in the coffin when the HP scanner drivers failed to exist. If Cisco's VPN drivers were not available, I would not be able to work from home; there's not much point in having a laptop if you have to leave it at the office - and VPN drivers are pretty low level stuff and might take a while to write and test. The good news is I will be able to work from home. The bad news is it won't be until the courier van turns up with a shiny new copy of the 32 bit version of Windows XP.

It would be tempting to reiterate the advice given to those contemplating marriage ("Don't.") but the actual moral of the story is that drivers in this world don't ship with dual 32/64 frameworks as Solaris did and you can't just reboot your way from one world to the other - if you wish to go down the XP x64 Edition route, take advantage of the evaluation program and make use of the repository of drivers at PlanetAMD64. What I really hope is that the vendors will co-package the 32-bit and 64 bit versions and detect appropriately at install time (or even runtime). Chances?

And now a word from our sponsors.

Friday Sep 09, 2005

Letter to The Chef

Thanks for your kind offer of free alcohol in one of London's top hotels via SMS. Thats not an invitation I get often, especially from the head chef. Unfortunately it arrived just as I had turned in for the night 60 miles down the road on the coast. I could have used a pint though. How long has it been now?

My cellphone didn't wake the baby. Did I tell you we had another? Thats 3 now. No more. Also we have a spanking new kitchen so I can get on with my baking without swearing all the time. Did I tell you I'm a bread baker? Probably not. I'm thinking about doing it for a living but am too scared to open a boulangerie even though I have the capital to do so. I was inspired by The Handmade Loaf What else is new in Kays' life?

\* My stepfather died at the end of 2003; My dad died at the end of last year; My mum died 4 months ago. I think my family is done with funerals for a while but we have several house jokes which the children are required to recite, one of which is

Q: What makes God laugh?
A: People with plans

Talking of which....

\* I lost my job last week after 7 years. My last day at Sun will be 14 October. Guess I'll need a new email address and blog site, huh. It was nothing personal - I was just amongst the number and so am looking for work, principly in the areas of system performance, capacity planning, benchmarking, system and network architectures, and secondarily in technical team leadership and project management.

My resume is here though for reasons of brevity I have left out all the work I did on fishing boats, in French restaurant kitchens and fighting Argentina (for reasons that are still not clear to me, 13 years later). Some papers I have written are here and here. I'm sure you will offer me a start in your kitchen (as Plongeur de Maison, naturally) but hopefully the world of IT has not yet had its fill of me.

\* We are going to buy a house in France ( with a BIG old stone bread oven ). There is symmetry here: My Mum loved the place and her old friends first talked of selling it to me as we drove from the crematorium. Another coincidence is that it is in the town of Descartes and I am hopeless at maths.

\* We now have 3 Mercedes with a combined mileage of over half a million miles. The secret is frequent oil changes. Being heir to an oil fortune would also help with the bills. If you hear people saying they don't make them like they used to, believe it. They're still a whole lot more robust than any other brand though.

\* Out of the dozen vines in my vinyard in the garden, 4 have fruited. This is year 3 for them so thats not so good. Fortunately the proposed purchase in France has a big field out back so I can desist with this fools' errand and grow them in the climate God provided for the purpose.

Keep in touch. Must run now - I have revision to do as one of my prospective employers expects me to have more than a passing knowledge of TCP internals (never mind).


Tuesday Jul 26, 2005

On Blogs and Bloggers

I am gratified to learn that it isn't just me who is banging his head against the wall with the blogging infrastructure, Roller.

Phil Harman, who few would describe as a technical slouch, is also vexed. Ditto Richard McDougall. The concept of blogging is brilliant and the way it's been executed on in Sun is marvellous. The gripe is that Roller is a web application. Its a fine effort but it's simply not finished. A keen knowledge of HTML and CSS is required to make forward progress on any but the most minor formatting issues. To which I hear you reply "If you can't even master a trivial markup language and meta-language in order to create your glorified post-it notes, why on earth did they give you a job?" Quite right. Given that I've told my children they can only play computer games if they construct them with the editor and assembler I've supplied, this is hypocrisy of the worst sort.

Another observation is that when initialising a blogspace you get a number of links to other peoples' blogs "for free". These are, I'm told, the great and the good of the Roller project and so forth and I'm advised to retain them as a mark of respect. No. Nor will I link to Jonathan: Every one else does - he really doesn't need me. Instead I shall save my sycophancy for a select few (several of whom I've never physically met - the joys of iWork!). I will only entertain a few links to other bloggers and the criteria are

  • stringent.
  • completely subject to whim.
  • only discernible by reference to worked examples.

but broadly, they have to be people who have changed the way I think.

Dave Levy

  • Dave convinced me that if I did not blog, my career would never amount to a hill of beans. Amazingly, since I started, I have become as rich as Croesus and am besieged with offers to join fascinating projects. Due to his blogging, no-one ever confuses him with anyone in the Knesset anymore.
  • He makes me work very hard at being a better technologist. He fails because I fail to realise it involves being less "techie". But that's not the point; its good to work with people who stretch you intellectually and think you are worth bothering to argue with. Here is a picture of him taken in the basement of our building, looking on as his henchmen torture me until I confess the three meanings of the keyword static in C or something; I blacked out at that point. Smile not shown.
  • .

Richard McDougall

  • He's Australian and Australians make Brits seethe which is a good thing. These people not only make one of my favourite wines, they know how to have fun - because centuries ago the UK authorities deported anyone having more fun than they were and now the chickens have come home to roost and beat them at cricket. Their soap opera characters have clear skin and laugh off their improbable relationships: UK soap characters always look ill and spend all their time arguing and rueing their social ineptitude. [Soaps from both countries are content-free though: your time is better spent learning HTML and CSS, and only then, possibly, DTrace.]
  • He's a motivating force behind Filebench, more of which later.
  • He was kind enough to entertain (even encourage) the dozens and dozens of pages of fine grained critique of pre-release drafts of the book My wife characterised this "contribution" as "anal retentive carping criticism and hankering for a style of grammar and syntax dating back to Dickens". But as a result, I never had to read the book when it came out. Result!
  • A colleague described my banner graphic as "making me look like a gangster" but I was able to retort "If you think I look scary, take a peek at Richard..." I'm not saying this man is the Travis Bickell of the Operating Systems world but would you argue with him? Are you Luco Brazzi?
  • His car. What better evidence of certifiable insanity: Lots of Trouble; Usually Serious.

Jon Haslam

  • "There are no questions too stupid to ask; merely some too stupid to answer." This is my view. Fortunately it is not Jons' as he has to fend off a lot of these from me, most of which boil down to me being too lazy to re-read the segmap code on a daily basis (There, I've said it; now I'll never get into PAE).
  • Jon has triplets; small ones. I was blessed with children that arrived at evenly spaced intervals; the amount of sleep had in the Kay household far, far outstrips the Haslam quota. Somehow he not only manages to stay up later than me, but do creative stuff during that time as opposed Soap Operas (above). Whenever I feel like powering off the laptop and sloping off to my pit, I think of Jon.
  • I learned from Jon the importance of presentations as performance art. Dtrace is not in and of itself, a highly amusing subject. And yet....

Adrian Cockroft

  • Adrian and Jim, below, and Richard, above, used to write articles for a site called SunWebOnline, which I think has disappeared. At the time they were the only source of information on Solaris internals available to jobbing sysadmins like me. I liked them (and the whitepapers) so much I joined the company. Ironically, by the time I got there, Richard Pettit (co-author with Adrian of the SE Toolkit) had already left and Adrian subsequently departed, last seen for sale on eBay. His legacy is of course the Porshe Book and the Capacity Planning Blueprint
  • A shared interest in Performance and open source tools for measuring and modelling it.

Jim Mauro

  • For the reasons above: he wrote stuff that made my life before Sun more interesting. Had he not written it, I would not have used it and my employers at that time would not have been so wildly successful.
  • Co-author of the book.
  • He's the only person who has ever delivered a definition of "badabing" in an accent I could penetrate; i.e he wrote it down.

Phil Harman

  • His exactitude: (From an email thread, long discussion of direct I/O elided...)If an application were to decide NOT to turn on O_SYNC or O_DSYNC because it had asked of Direct I/O, it may assume that it is getting synchronous writes when it isn't if someone else turns off Direct I/O. That's all. It's very unlikely. But the question was about safety. I dreamt up the only scenario I could think of where safety was an issue. I can't imagine that Oracle would make this assumption, but I'm not the man with a business running on a 72 core system (I assume it's something bigger than an icecream parlour). And no, the customer involved was not Ben and Jerry.
  • Walking past my desk one day, he looked at what I was reading and then made me entirely rethink my methodology in only two words: "Hmm, Gunther. Quaint" with no further explanation. At all. The turmoil that resulted has filled a whole bookshelf at home. Bizzare - but in a good way.

    So thats it. No-one else. Not never. And I won't even link to these until the libel proceedings have subsided.

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