Seating Algorithms and Why Whit Rules

I'm back from Sun's annual Analyst Summit, in which industry, financial, and press people come to visit and ask tough questions in the course of their industrial and fiduciary responsibility to understand our business. The analyst summit begins a month-long series of intense events and meetings that concludes with our annual Customer Engineering Conference (CEC05). It's a veritable Oktoberfest for engineers, and the solid four weeks of geek-dom never fails to make me energized and excited about being here.

The "main tent" of the analyst's conference ends with the CTO panel, featuring the person changed with setting technical direction and often architecture for each of Sun's business units. This year's herd of nerds included Jim Baty, Andy Bechtolsheim, Tim Bray, Whit Diffie, Glenn Edens, Balint Fleischer, James Gosling, Graham Hamilton, Tim Marsland, Mike Splain, Mark Tremblay, and me. Milling about the stage before the panel, we discussed various potential seating algorithms: alphabetical, tenure, inverse of birth year, and employee number (not equivalent to tenure since Andy left and then returned to the same single-digit employee number). Forever the resident crank, I suggested we sort by Erdos number.

If you are laughing because you know what an Erdos number is, scroll ahead to read the punchline, otherwise, here is a short diversion on the mathematical entitlement known as an Erdos number. Paul Erdos was a prolific Hungarian mathematician. Your Erdos number is the degrees of separation, using co-authored papers as the links, between you and Erdos. Obviously, the root of the tree is Paul Erdos with number 0; the highest known value is 15. I am only aware of this personal graph theory overlay of graph theory personalities because of my friend and co-worker Pat Parseghian who has an Erdos number of 4. Given my proclivity for finding ways in which similarly interested groups are introduced or intermediated, this is right up my infinitely large Erdos number alley. Low Erdos numbers, like vanity license plates, are quite prized in some circles. Michigan resident William Tozier set up an eBay auction for an Erdos number of 5, where the winning bidder would co-author a paper with Tozier to enter the exclusive circular graph.

The Punchline: My seating algorithm proposal was overheard by Whit Diffie, who promptly responded "Mine's 3, can I sit next to Greg?" I'm still smiling about his response, and not just because Whit's timing and deadpan delivery were perfect. Much of the discussion on the CTO panel entailed how we see grid computing reshaping applications and consumption patterns for information technology, and how this may have shortened (or lengthened) our technology planning horizons. The vehicles that will deliver widespread grid computing-- reliability, cost, security, and scale -- are being guided at Sun by the techno-brand names above. Whit's vehicle -- security -- has a low-numbered vanity plate.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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