Tuesday Apr 19, 2005

SUPerG - Chips and Salsa

Wow, Marc Tremblay rocks. From a medium to high level of detail, an excellent hour of explaining just \*why\* chip designs are the way they are. Instead of bragging about how cool, small, and fast some chip is, he takes the time to explain how caches work, and how they don't work. His presentation included some great visuals showing cache hit latency measurements, and penalties for cache misses. He then tied that all back to decisions made in SPARC chip design, and showed where the chips meet the code moving forward (nice trending).

bill.

 

SUPerG - Off to a Good Start

The Sun Users Performance Group (SUPerG) conference is in Arlington, VA this week. I have presented at many of these biannual geek-meets, and attended almost all of them over the past 7 years or so. If you have the chance to attend, and have any interest in performance topics (from architecture to chips to grids to storage), you should consider attending this geek-fest.

SUPerG is historically (to quote Shahin Khan) intentionally very low in marketing content, and intentionally very high in good technical content. This high signal to noise ratio is a welcome change to the standard vendor sponsored conferences filled with warm fuzzies, and thinly veiled sales presentations masquerading as technical content.

First on stage in the morning general session was Steve Campbell. A rehash of the standard Sun vision presentations, but he kept it moving, and put it into context very well. No "rah-rah, Sun is great" stuff here, just "this is how the geeks in the audience and Sun's stuff fit into overall architectures in the past, the present, and looking forward.

Andy Ingram was second on the stage. Andy kept things at an "architecture" level, talking about trends, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), the Service Oriented DataCenter (SODC), and drilled his way down to the (slightly marketing fluff) capabilities and features provided in the Sun components of the stack. Andy is \*brilliant\* at presenting technical details as similes and metaphors. This makes complex ideas seem familiar and "safe". The idea of multi-threading as a waterfall, and large parallel processing as Niagra Falls versus some small (but incredibly high and thus quickly flowing) jungle waterfall. Great slides with simple blobs of needs, categorizations of business needs, and processing capabilities.

bill.

 

Tuesday Mar 15, 2005

Java Powered Lawyers and Geeks

I was reading through Mary's blog, and clicked through the "Get Java Powered" link. Very cute marketing idea, you answer three little amusing questions, and you get your very own pet Java logo to show the world that you have a decent Geek Factor, or at least a greater geek factor than Strom Thurmond.

For those who might be interested, my Geek Factor is:


You are 55% geek You are a geek. Good for you! Considering the endless complexity of the universe, as well as whatever discipline you happen to be most interested in, you'll never be bored as long as you have a good book store, a net connection, and thousands of dollars worth of expensive equipment. Assuming you're a technical geek, you'll be able to afford it, too. If you're not a technical geek, you're geek enough to mate with a technical geek and thereby get the needed dough. Dating tip: Don't date a geek of the same persuasion as you. You'll constantly try to out-geek the other.

So back to the story at hand...

I thought that having the Java - Get Powered logo in my blog was pretty cool. It sounded like a decent way to promote Sun, and Sun's technologies, and after all, how painful could three little questions be? I was guessing that after answering the questions, I would get a magic link to the logo, and everything would just be kind of "wink nod", in the spirit of the quiz. But no, apparently someone called the lawyers in on this one. The zip file that I downloaded contained less than 70k of data (four little GIF and JPG files) and a 742k PDF file of legalese usage guidelines. That's a 1:10 signal to noise ratio for us geeky types.

Lawyers scare me. Some corporate lawyer decided that if I want to put this logo on my blog, I have to fill out a form with email address, web link to my blog, my employer's name, and my email address. I also have to agree to:

(1) You may use the Logo only as for one of the four listed purposes and for no other purpose. if it is used on your website (including your blog), the Logo must be used as a link to www.java.com, and may not link to other pages on your website or to a third party website. In addition to these four purposes -- website linking to java.com,desktop wallpaper, internal presentations, and school papers -- the Java Get Powered Logo is available for certain other, limited uses, but you must enter a separate agreement for any of these uses. Without entering an additional agreement,you may use the Logo only for website linking to www.java.com, desktop wallpaper, internal presentations and school papers, and not for any other purpose, including use on any products, advertising, marketing collateral, labels, packaging, letterhead, or business cards.

So far so good. I linked the graphic to java.com's website.

(2) You may not give away the Logo or otherwise provide, in any way, access to the HTML code for the link.

Uh-oh. This one could be trouble. All browsers that I have ever seen contain a "view source" function that would expose my top-secret HTML code!! They might even allow a user to "Save image as..." and steal my actual graphic file!! Yeesh. Like creating a graphic blob in a webpage that links to some website is a trade secret or something.

(3) You must use the Sun supplied artwork in accordance with this Application/Agreement. The artwork includes the phrase "JAVA GET POWERED" indicating the purpose of the Logo, which is to express your support of the Java platform and to serve as a link back to Sun's java.com website, and is not an endorsement of your or any website or blog, your or any PC or PC desktop, or your or any presentation or paper. The Logo does not indicate the presence of any particular technology on your or any website or PC.

Yes, I absolutely, positively want everyone reading this to know. I support the Java platform, and want everyone to visit Sun's java.com website. Did you get that?

I want YOU the reader of this blog, to visit Sun's java.com website.

(4) You agree to abide by the Sun Trademark & Logo Usage Requirements located at http://www.sun.com/policies/trademarks. You may not alter the Logo in any way, including its size, proportions, colors, or elements, or otherwise change its appearance. The Logo must appear by itself; it may not be combined with any other graphic or textual elements and may not be used as an element of any other logo or mark.

Great, more legal stuff to read through before I click the "Accept" button.

(5) The Logo may not be a prominent feature on your website, presentation or paper. This means (at a minimum) that it must appear smaller than your web page title or presentation/paper title and any other name or logo, it may not be displayed larger or more prominently than other third party logos. On your web page, it should appear at the bottom, along the sides, or in some placement less prominent than the top. On a presentation or paper, it should not appear a the top or in the center of a title or chapter page, and should be placed in less prominent positions.

Hmmmm... I might have a problem here, in that my blog is about the logo and the process by which it is acquired for use. Since I buried the logo after my geek factor entry, I suppose I could argue that it wasn't exactly "featured" or "prominent".

There, I included another logo that is bigger, and just as "prominent" as the "Java - Get Powered" logo. It even takes you to the Ludlow Sausage Company in the UK. I chose this website because of the quote:

If you're looking for an unsual gift - why not "Say it with Sausages!"

(6) Your use of the Logo must be truthful and not misleading nor may it imply any relationship with, or endorsement or sponsorship by Sun that is not true. You may not use the Logo in connection with any statements or materials that in Sun's judgment are in poor taste or reflect poorly on Sun, its products, technologies, or services. Additionally, you may not use the Logo on any website that is in violation of any applicable laws or government regulations.

My materials in this case would be a blog, or blahg in my case. I believe all statements in this blahg are truthful, to the best of my knowledge and experience. Verbally abusing lawyers has always been a source of entertainment, from Shakespeare to web humor. This blahg is in no way intended to reflect poorly on Sun, whose technologies, products, and services all most definitely rock.

(7) You agree to use the following legend on the webpage where the Logo appears or on an attribution page accessible from the webpage or blog where the Logo appears, or on the page of your presentation or school paper where citations or copyright or other legal notices appear: "Java, the Java Coffee Cup logo, and all Java based brand designations are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sun Microsystems, Inc. in the U.S. and other countries."

A self-fulfilling prophecy there. By quoting the agreement, I have quoted the legal notice contained within!

(8) Sun reserves the right to approve or disapprove the use of the Logo on your website or blog (including size, surrounding text, placement, etc.), desktop, presentation or school paper to ensure compliance with these terms. Sun reserves the right to modify these terms, the Guidelines, or the Logo or create a new Logo at any time. You agree to modify your use of the Logo within thirty (30) days of Sun's email notice. Sun further reserves the right to terminate this Agreement without cause at any time and any permission granted by it. You agree to stop all use of the Logo within 24 hours of such termination notice. Sun also reserves the right to take any action against any misuse or unfair, misleading, diluting, or infringing use of Sun's trademarks and logos.

Absolutely. If Sun asks me to remove the logo from my blahg, I will be more than happy to do so. Of course, I might have to throw in a replacement logo of some kind, promoting an annoying purple dinosaur, or something even more hideous to set up my insanity defense.

(All in good fun, I have many talented friends among Sun's legal teams, and they always have the best lawyer jokes)

bill.

Saturday Mar 12, 2005

Building Fences, the Sequel

As a sequel to my previous post on Engineer types, I was thinking what other folks, perhaps non-engineer types at Sun might approach the fence building challenge.

Scott and Jonathan wander into the field which now has a round fence, a square fence, and a neat pile of lumber. They ask the customer (farmer) what the original goal was. "To maximize the area I can contain given a limited supply of materials", he answers.

The Principal engineer asks what the real business problem was, not the tactical implementation problem. "I need to lower the cost of managing my cattle", the farmer explains.

The Farmer and Scott head off to the local golf course, while Jonathan and the Principal Engineer take inventory of the lumber, and list it on Ebay to recover some of the farmer's investment. They then start calling around, finding a huge farm with room to spare for the farmer's cattle. They negotiate on behalf of the farmer for a price to host the farmer's cattle, including feed, water, grazing, breeding (increasing the available gene pool for both the hosting partner and the farmer), market management (buying and selling the cattle at auction), transport and schedule regular "service management" meetings to discuss the status of the herd.

Four hours later, Scott and the farmer return, rested and relaxed from a day on the links. The Distinguished Engineer, Scott, Jonathan, and the farmer look out over the rolling green land. The Distinguished Engineer suddenly grins, and suggests that the farmer might want to reinvest his herd-management savings into building a golf course. The Engineer rents a Bobcat and starts excavating.

Welcome to utility farming. :D

bill.

Friday Mar 11, 2005

Engineers, Great, Principal, and Distinguished

We are in the process of revamping the Principal Engineer program at Sun. Basically a Principal Engineer is a peer-review position, granted to those in the Customer facing organizations who have demonstrated technology Leadership (see my previous post on Leaders) within Sun, through our customer base, and across the industry. There are other "Supergeek" positions at Sun, including Distinguished Engineer, and Sun Fellow. Someone once asked me what the difference was between a really good Engineer, a Principal Engineer and a Distingished Engineer.

<< With apologies in advance to whomever I paraphrased this from >>

An Engineer, a Principal Engineer, and a Distinguished Engineer are called out into an open field. In the field are three equal piles of lumber. Their objective is to build a fence maximizing the land contained by the fence.

The Engineer goes first. The Engineer surveys the field, finding an elevated "hump" of land to gain a few extra square meters of grass. The Engineer then proceeds to build a perfect square of fence, incredible tolerances on the corners, and master workmanship made to last a lifetime.

The Principal Engineer goes second. The Principal Engineer realizes that there is a depression in the field that results in a few more square meters of grass than the Engineer's hump. The Principal engineer goes on to construct a perfect circle of fence, taking the extra time to bend the fencing boards to that the fence is a miracle of woodworking that would make a master cabinetmaker jealous.

The Distinguished Engineer steps back, admiring the work of the Engineer and the Principal Engineer. He then walks to his pile of lumber, stacks it neatly into a nice pile, and says "I define my area to be that which is outside the pile of lumber."

There are those in our geeky community that are wonderful problem solvers, mostly linear thinkers, and execute with great precision. Those are Engineers, and they see a rock. There are those who think outside of the box, outside of the boundaries of conventional solutions, to stretch the boundaries of what is possible. Those could be Principal Engineers, and they look under the rock, and perhaps under the rock that is under the rock (recursively). Then there are those who ignore the box and the boundaries, and ask "Why?". Those could be Distinguished Engineers, and they see an environment, which may or may not contain one or several rocks, and want to know where they came from, why they are here, and how they could best be leveraged to favorably alter the environment under observation.

Proud Principal Engineer,
bill.

Thursday Mar 10, 2005

Build It And They Will Come

Who on earth would build the United States' largest indoor shopping mall in the middle of Minnesota? Windy, cold, and snowy all winter long. Ick. Living in Virginia, we get more than enough snow and cold for my tastes. With 4.2 million square feet, containing 520 retail stores, an aquarium, movie theaters, and a $650,000,000 pricetag to build, who would expect that they could possibly sustain enough consumer traffic to make it profitable? The Ghermezian brothers, that's who.

So why am I reading about a shopping mall that is (according to Yahoo!) 1104 miles from my Virginia home? Interesting question. I was trying to think of a successful business move that comes close to what Sun has accomplished over the years.

Building an engineering workstation out of commodity off the shelf parts? Ludicrous. Systems that communicate over non-proprietary protocols for multi-vendor interoperability? Why, for Pete's sake, would you want to do that? Making that silly Unix operating system that all those engineers and scientists use strong enough to handle business computing that has traditionally been run on mainframes? Yeah, right. And what about those dreamers who said you could run 64, or even 72 CPUs (or more) in a single box, and actually get decent scalability? Fools, I tell you! Java, some cute little programming language for playing games on the web, like that is going to get used in the Fortune 500 customers for anything approaching business critical functions. Don't make me laugh so hard that caffeinated beverages squirt out of my nostrils! An open source office suite that rivals the large Redmond corporation's finest products? Never happen.

And now we get to the point, OpenSolaris and a new licensing model for the developer community. I've been watching the nay-sayers, rabblerousers, and Sun's critics for the past month or so:

-   What about Trusted Solaris? Opening the source to Solaris will seriously compromise Trusted Solaris users! Government agencies will just grind to a halt as techno-terrorists wreak havoc all over the world!!

-   No one is going to write drivers for Solaris, it will never run decent on anything other than Sun's badged gear!

-   Who is going to play with this thing at all? The Linux geeks are busy working on Linux.

-   The CDDL is too restrictive and proprietary to be called an open source license.

-   Solaris is Sun's bread and butter. If Sun is giving away the crown jewels of the empire, the end of Sun must be on the horizon.

All I can say to those things is "keep it coming". There is no such thing as bad press. Say anything you like, but make sure you spell Mcnealy correctly. The sky is falling, huh Chicken Little? I haven't seen people talking about Sun, Sun's products, and Sun's cool geeky factor this much, or with this much passion on both sides of the issues in a long time. I'm glad we are putting something out there that excites people enough (good or bad) to start ranting and raving (whether based in fact or not).

For answers to these, or any concern, talk to your friendly local sales team, Press Relations department, or just go see for yourself. Solaris downloads are open now, and OpenSolaris is accepting members. I, for one, have noticed that every time the industry buzz starts to lean against one of our "crazy ideas", Sun seems to leap ahead, again, and again.

bill.

Wednesday Mar 09, 2005

The Faceless Workforce

I have written before about Flexible Office and Work from Home programs. One of the problems with this kind of work environment is the lack of personal contact with the folks that you are working with. In conference calls, you don't get to read the body language or see the facial expressions. This makes for an interesting balance.

Sidebar: After a Re-org last year, I decided to join the Managed Services group at Sun. The new manager was a co-worker from a previous job at Sun, and an all around decent kind of bloke. Soon after my arrival, he was deployed to Iraq with his National Guard unit. Bingo, new boss.

Back to the story. I am wandering down the hall yesterday and someone (who looked slightly familiar) calls out my name. I stop, and she starts a conversation, seeming to know an awful lot about what I do and what I am working on. "I'm sorry, you look familiar, but I can't place your name." Yes, you guessed it. It was the manager to whom I have reported for the past 6 months. Probably not a career enhancing move on my part.

So Jeanne, if you are reading this, please put your photograph into the corporate directory. I promise I won't forget who you are next time.

bill.

Friday Mar 04, 2005

That Which Crawls Out From Under a Rock

Now that I have launched on my anthropological journey of exploring the four genera (plural of genus) of the family "Geekus Corporus", I have discovered an interesting subgenus. My theory is that this subgenus is somehow a result of crossbreeding of the "Other" genus and Gromphadorhina portentosa, more commonly known as the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.

The defining characteristic of this new subgenus, is that unlike the mostly harmless and unremarkable "Other", these inDUHviduals have the fortitude of a Nuclear Cockroach. Through RiFs, re-orgs, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and even attempts at crushing them with large inatimate objects, these "Others" continue to thrive under the visible surface of the company. Attempts at destruction will irritate these creatures, causing them to emit lots of meaningless hissing noises, and make them scurry away, hiding from the exposure of open areas and light.

No matter where you go, or what happens to a company, the Nuclear Hissing Cockroach "Others" will most likely be the ones that turn off the lights when the doors are finally closed for good.

Bitter? Me?

bill.

Thursday Mar 03, 2005

Take Me to Your Leader

In my (dubious) career, I have come to realize that there are four types of people that tend to surface. Not one to generalize or "bucket" people into defining piles for the most part, in this case, the categories are way too inclusive with very few outlying datapoints.

Leaders
Leaders are those folks (not necessarily in an HR defined management jobcode) who not only believe in something, but have the ability to carry others along with them toward a goal. Evangelism, skill in logic and linguistics, enthusiasm, and an extremely high tolerance for obstacles and a talent for hurdling them are key indicators of a Leader. A Leader with visionary qualities is can have an amazing effect on business, technology, or society. Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Douglas Macarthur were leaders, as are Nelson Mandela, Colin Powell, Scott Mcnealy, Steve Jobs, and Lou Gerstner in our generation (IMHO).

Mangers
Managers are those with organizational skills to juggle resources, timelines, interrupts, distractions, budgets, and detours in reaching a goal. A Manager who is also a good Leader is an incredible find. Too often, focusing on one role overshadows the other role. As an example of this, managing a set of obstacles in the path is often contradictory to finding a way to eliminate them altogether. I would say that Carly Fiorina, Ed Zander, Alan Greenspan, and Lee Iacocca are great Managers, with some good Leadership qualities thrown in (again, IMHO). Pure Managers rarely achieve notoriety without significant Leadership skills, unless that notoriety is negative, for example, when a company needs a Leader, and gets a Manager instead. This premise is easy enough to demonstrate with Enron, WordPerfect, Packard Bell, and DEC. All of these companies were "managed" into oblivion, and lost their innovation at some point. Another great example is Apple. It seems so long ago when Apple was floundering for years following the loss of Steve Jobs. What happened when Jobs came back? Seems their numbers look alot better, and their industry buzz is much cooler now.

Heroes
Heroes are the folks that take impossible (or highly improbable) situations and keep them from becoming CNN moments. They aren't just the geeks who fly in on a moment's notice and work 24 hour caffeine enhanced days until a customer is happy (or at least non-homicidal), but are also folks in leadership and management roles who step up to the plate when the sky is falling (to mix some metaphors). Heroes are a key to success, regardless of their leadership and management skills (or sometimes their ability to communicate with Leaders and Managers).

I always find "Sigma" based process improvements interesting, especially when they start to get tunnel-vision on their statistical results. One key example, say that process improvement leads to a 10 minute successful resolution for 99.999 percent of the calls to a helpdesk. If that callcenter processes 100,000 calls per week, what happened to that one customer whose ticket was not closed in 10 minutes? Some statistics folks would call that an "outlying datapoint", or an anomaly. To me, that is one PO'd customer per week ready to wring the first available company-badged neck that comes along (probably mine).

Leaders are the ones who have a vision of what the customers want, and can figure out a way to deliver on that vision, driving it to completion.

Managers are the ones who execute on the vision, juggling resources, keeping statistics, playing with spreadsheets of numbers, and tracking the goals.

Heroes are the ones looking out for the .001 % of the customers that don't fall neatly into the bell curve. Managers often greatly undervalue Heroes. A good Leader recognizes that a Hero is a valuable asset to be leveraged, protected, and sometimes coddled.

Oops, that's just three types, what is the fourth? I call that type "Other". We all know who they are, we all deal with them on a daily basis. Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls them "inDUHviduals". They are the speedbumps on the road to success. The people who do what is correct instead of what is right. The people who want a paycheck instead of a challenge, or even a career. One of the reasons that I really love working at Sun is the extremely low percentage of "Other" working here. Admittedly, there are always a few in every company (a statistical certainty), but at least the "Other" in Sun stay out of the way of Leadership, Management, and Heroes for the most part, or are summarily run over by the "non-Others" doing what's right for the customers.

Enough ranting and raving for now.

bill.

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