Wednesday Jan 10, 2007

Found at the auction...

Regina and I went to an auction last night. We do collect some antiques and occasionally like to check out the local shops, swap meets, and auctions.  Last night was unusual. HGTV was filming for the Cash in the Attic show. Amidst the chaos of the auction house, the families, crew, and cast were busily doing their thing.  It was somewhat surreal because here was two different worlds collapsed into one place and occasionally the worlds would align, when one of the items from the show was up for auction.  We bid on a few, but didn't come away with any of their treasures. I like to think that in some small way we helped them achieve their goals.  The episode won't be released for a few months, but if you are watching it one day and see a couple of faces in the crowd, it just might be someone you know...

Sunday Dec 31, 2006


My neighbor's barn blew up.  Imagine my surprise.  Regina and I were  just finishing dinner and noticed a helicopter flying by. That isn't very unusual because there are a lot of people vacationing in the back country over the holiday, and invariably a few need to get airlifted to the hospital. On these curvy back roads boulders and trees always win any battles. A few seconds after the helicopter passed by we heard a huge explosion. The first thought that went trough my mind was that the helicopter must have crashed! We ran outside, and thankfully the helicopter was circling back towards us. Looking towards our neighbor's place, we saw that part of their barn was completely engulfed in flames. Before you get too worried, the barn was mostly used to store junk. The old-timers say it was a turkey barn from back in the 1940s when Ramona was the turkey capital of the country. For the past 20 years or so, it has been mostly abandoned, used for questionable purposes, or used to store junk.  Actually, most of us consider it an eye-sore, so there were a few jokes going around the neighborhood, mostly complaining about who called the fire department. After a short while the fire department arrived and put out the fire. We are lucky that this occurred when the winds were calm and the area around the barn was mostly clear of brush, so there the fire was contained to the barn.  I hope the rest of the holidays pass without incident...

Barn on fire


Tuesday Sep 26, 2006

Google asking industry to follow Sun

At the Intel Developers Forum today, Google asked the PC industry to improve the efficiency of their power supplies. Google's proposal is to simplify the power supply to provide 12 V DC rather than the handful of voltages currently used in PC-style systems. As I blogged before, we've already done this at Sun. If the rest of the industry would follow along, then we'll all see better reliability and efficiency -- a good thing.

Tuesday Sep 05, 2006

More Niagara-2 info

Last week I posted an article about the Niagara-2 processor. When I wrote that blog, I was looking around for a publically available die photo or layout plot to show where the SERDES interfaces were located. At the time, I couldn't find anything. Today, I'm happy to announce that the HotChips presentation is available at this OpenSPARC.Net link. If you have any interest in microarchitecture or servers-on-a-chip, then you should check it out.

Friday Sep 01, 2006

Growth all around

We're seeing growth all around Sun. Last week we saw the server growth reports and this week it is storage. CNET summaries it rather succinctly here. Sun's turnaround is well underway!

Thursday Aug 31, 2006

Interesting Niagara-2 article

Here is a very interesting article by Rick Merritt at on the Niagara-2 processor which was discussed recently at the Hot Chips symposium. I couldn't make the trip to Hot Chips this year, so I've been perusing the various chip-related media for the good info on what is coming in future hot chips. It is always illuminating.

The most interesting part of the design is the plethora of SERDES (Serializer/Deserializer) interfaces on the chip. These are used to connect to main memory (FBDIMMs), 10 gigabit Ethernet, and PCI-Express interfaces. The cool thing about this is that they are so similar. In previous systems designs you would have a variety of interfaces: parallel memory interfaces (eg. DDR, DDR2), parallel general purpose I/O busses (eg. PCI, PCI-X), serial interfaces (eg. RS-232, Ethernet, Fibre Channel), and a few others (eg. I2C). This meant that the microprocessor design had to implement an assortment of different physical interfaces to the system. By moving to more general purpose SERDES designs, everything becomes simpler. And simple is good.

Thursday May 25, 2006

x86 servers, cheap!

I have a funny feeling that there will soon be a whole bunch of x86 servers for sale on eBay, cheap!

Thursday May 18, 2006

I'm tired of owning, now renting... for free, sortof

During my lifetime I've seen many changes in the computing world. In the good old days, hand assembling Z80 code consumed my afternoons (no link, because if you don't know what a Z80 is, then shame on you!) [enter geezer mode] I worked on homebrews, TRS-80, PET, Apple-][ before they fixed the keyboard, Apple-///, PC-XT with expansion cabinet, Lisa, Chromatics, Various VAXen and PDPs, Sun-2s, Sun-3s, Sun-4s, PICs, HP-64000, embedded systems of various vintages, Xenix, various BSDs, Ultrix 1, SunOS 2-5, Linux pre-1.0, OS-9 (the MicroWare version), CPM, TurboDOS, MS-DOS \*, VMS, NIS, NIS+, DNS, sendmail, majordomo, Tcl,and probably a bunch of others I've forgotten. Heck, I once wrote a e-mail system for a multi-user word processing system.

Now I'm tired.

I've now taken the position that jives with David Berlind and the Gartner Group. And I think I might accidentally have become a poster child for Jonathan Schwartz's view of computing, too. When recently lamenting about the local communications plan used in the event of emergencies and the various clubs I belong to, I found myself explaining to various non-computer literate people how e-mail aliases work and why they are so much more handy than stacks of post-it notes or dozens of versions of VCF equivalents to post-it notes. Argv! Surely I don't want to setup yet another e-mail server with mailman or majordomo so that people can manage their own access to pushed information and don't need to bother me about it. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

So, I've rented those services. The rent can be quite reasonable because the people who do setup such services can take advantage of consistency and economies of scale. Our costs are quite modest, and my personal take is that I can spend a lot more of my time doing Ranch activities and less time hacking config files. Clearly, this is a win-win situation. And I expect that there are plenty more such activities which can be managed similarly. Why, just today, we were discussing quotas for file systems in the university environment. When I was the Network Manager for the College of Engineering at Auburn University I constantly had to fight to provide disk space for students and engineer effective means to prevent them from consuming all of the available disk space with music or pictures. Today, I'd say just rent it from the various companies like GoDaddy, Flickr, or just buy it in the form of USB flash drives. If you're a geezer like me, you might be conditioned to think that disk space is expensive, like long distance phone rates were. Today, those things aren't expensive, per se. Managing those things is expensive, so we might as well let someone else do it.

I've always thought that Sun was an excellent company at providing the platform for people to build such services upon -- whether is was ECAD systems back in the mid-1980s or something more invisibly useful to the masses today. I'm glad to see that Jonathan seems to share that same vision.

Monday May 08, 2006

Leaders and followers

Example of technology leaders and followers[Read More]

Wednesday Feb 08, 2006

Concall Mischief

Most folks I work with are somewhere else in the world, far away from the ranch. Our meetings can be somewhat interesting, and sometimes can lead to funny interactions. For example...

Developer-1: "We'll now start the code review..."

[followed by a lot of boring stuff, when all of the sudden an argument broke out. It seems that some of the developers had some different ideas on how to squeeze the best performance out of some tiny bit of the application]

Developer-1: "My algorithm is better than yours!"
Developer-2: "No, my algorithm is superior to yours!"
Developer-3: "And my algorithm is the best damn algorithm ever invented!"
... and so on, ad nausem ...

For those who are on the remote end of the conference call, we can get another cup of coffee, read e-mail, or whatever. But sometimes we get an opportunity to break into the melee to inject a little mischief.

Me: "Wait! I see a syntax error!"
Developer-1: "No, this cannot be! Where?"
Me: "Right there! Right after the conditional!"

Of course, I have no idea what they are actually looking at, my computer screen shows a half-finished Sudoku.

Developer-1: "I don't see anything wrong. Do you mean line 821?"
Me: "OK, I know this is difficult to do over a conference call since you can't see what I see. So, what I want you to do is reach down, and grab your right foot, just below the ankle."
Developer-1: "Do I need to take my shoe off?"
Me: "Oh, yes, thanks, I almost forgot that part. Take your shoe off."
Developer-1: "OK, I've got it. Where is the error?"
Me: "Now, PULL!"

Wednesday Jun 15, 2005

llama update

Due to popular demand, I'm obliged to provide a llama update.

A few months ago some friends sold their house down the hill and bought some property up in the mountains. Quite a few people in southern California are capitalizing on the high home prices and selling out. But in this case it is more of a merger: they are getting married next month and will test their first year as a couple by building a house. Today their place is basically a vacant (8 acre) lot, they needed somewhere to board some of their animals while the fences and enclosures were being built. So we juggled the accomodations a bit and accepted some temporary tennants: 3 llamas, 2 goats, and a pig.

Yesterday evening, we celebrated the completion of the enclosures by delivering the llamas and goats to their new home. Hmmmm... I've just realized that we didn't take the pig... I'll have to find out what that is all about! For the llama lovers out there, we're back to our regularly scheduled complement.

Tuesday Apr 26, 2005

Easy money for Steve Jobs

This article just came to my attention and I immediately had to chuckle. It looks like easy money for Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple.

Synopsis: Microsoft on Monday announced the start of a design competition to rethink the desktop computer. The company thinks it is time to move beyond the big beige box, offering a top prize of $125,000 to the group or person with the best PC design.

Of course, I'm not sure how they will handle the Longhorn restriction... perhaps this contest is rigged?

Monday Mar 21, 2005

"no sheep" claim at risk

We've got a lot of critters on the ranch. A lot of critters. When people ask me what we've got, I've often said, "everything but sheep." The conversation would go something like:

What kind of animals do you have?
Everything but sheep.
Do you have horses?
Plenty of kids.
Roosters and eggs, too.
You weren't paying attention, I said "no sheep!"

Well, the current status quo is at significant risk of change. You might say it already has, but I have hope in inertia...

The other day, I stepped out onto the deck to survey the countryside, and I heard quite a commotion - horns honking and cars driving crazy down on the highway. This usually means that the neighbor's dog is running around, but not this time! This time, a flock of sheep was running down the westbound lane, heading for town! Since sheep don't often obey traffic signals, we jumped in the truck to give chase - there is no telling whether the sheep had insurance or not, and in California there are already too many uninsured drivers. We were soon joined by some of the neighbors who had been tending to their stock at feeding time, too. About a mile from town the sheep took a left, without signalling, across traffic and fled across a small creek. We ditched the trucks and took off on foot. After about a half-hour we had firmly established these facts:

  • sheep don't pay attention to traffic or traffic laws

  • sheep are markedly faster than a bunch of old men

  • it sure would be nice to have a few more fences in the neighborhood

Finally, about an hour later, we were able to shuffle them into a backyard which had a fence with a gate. It wasn't a sheep-proof fence, but the sheep didn't seem to know that at first. So, we just didn't tell them that they could sneak out between the rails. We ran back home, hooked up the stock trailer and collected them. We thought that they belong to one of the neighbors further up the road, but they denied this. We tried to get the sheep to confess, but they refused to talk without proper counsel present. So we threw them in jail. Ok, it isn't a proper jail, just a sheep-escape-proof pasture.

Meanwhile, we've been looking for their rightful owners. We've placed a found ad in the local newspaper and have asked everyone we know for Bo Peep's address, to no avail. If they are your sheep, please come get them, I need to keep my "no sheep" exclaimation intact.

Tuesday Feb 08, 2005

Availability Benchmarking BoF

I'm holding an Availability Benchmarking "Birds of a Feather" session at the upcoming Sun Engineering Conference (SEC). I regret that only Sun employees are able to attend, perhaps I'll get a chance to have a public session at a public conference or two later this year. For the interested Sun employees, please check the SEC schedule for final logistics, right now the session is scheduled for thursday evening.

The topics covered will be Availability Benchmarking and field availability studies. At Sun we practice continuous quality improvement and it is very important to measure where you stand and plan for where you want to go. Also, we have a dedicated group of customers who share their systems availability information with us. We take both of these approaches and combine the results to drive future product development.

It should be noted that if you only control one part of a system, say the OS or storage or server, then you can't really be very effective improving the overall system availability. Complex systems have many interdependencies and it is these interdependencies that create opportunity for Murphy's Law to strike. Since we have a complete application platform, including the OS, middleware, compute engines, storage and services, we can look closely at the interdependencies and improve them. This is a team effort. This is a systems approach to solutions. And this is why we are successful in creating good value for our customers.

Friday Jan 21, 2005

What's wrong with summer?

Today's weather: partly cloudy, 72 degrees (F).
Tomorrow's forecast: fog in the morning, sun in the afternoon, 70 degrees.
Monday begins a cool down, highs expected to be 69, only reaching 67 on tuesday.

My friends from up north claim that not having 4 seasons is a disadvantage. I say, what is wrong with summer?

It really is a matter of attitudes and latitude. The ranch is 3 minutes north of the 33rd north parallel. While the rest of the country is getting slammed by snowstorms this weekend, I'll be in shorts and a T-shirt icing down the beer and firing up the bar-b-q. Its a summertime attitude for me...

Look at the local forecast and judge for yourself.




« June 2016