Friday, November 16, 2012

Performance Matters

Performance Matters ... and why

Driving to the office this morning, I was thinking about an up-coming game changer.  I won't divulge just now what game changer I was thinking of.  But I am concerned that it will lack vital instrumentation.  This thing is going to be hot, and it will ride a wave of investment.  Some might say,  "Performance? It's good enough! Measurement? Why bother?".

I did not previously care all that much about performance.  It's not sexy.  Performance measurement is statistics.  Ewww.  In fact, the sexier stuff, graphical interfaces and cloud-capable applets, tend to be horrible in terms of resource consumption.  If you shine the glare of the performance spotlight on them, they don't look quite as flashy as they did when surrounded by smoke and mirrors.  Up to now, it did not matter.

But performance (more accurately, our delay in attending to it) will come back to bite us.  This is especially true when we have to run a task over and over.  (Isn't that how we got into computers to begin with?  We want the machine to carry the tedium.)  It helps when the machine actually works.  It helps when it's quick about the task we give it.  The advent of smart phones and other embedded computing shows us that performance matters a lot;  it becomes a part of basic reliability.

I came to respect the performance experts and to value the performance question.  As a multi-platform guy, I always valued the different platforms for their unique strengths.  But I found myself defensive of my favorite platform.  It's expensive.  (It's also not flashy ... at least not as flashy as a Mac or even most PCs.)  The justification for this beast is in performance.  And if you can't measure it ... well ... that's a whole nutha story.  But we can measure it.  And we did.  And we demonstrated the value.

There will come a new player soon.  (There are always newcomers.)  It will slip into a niche of the industry with enough recognition to be welcomed.  But it will not be mature.  It's going to be cool, even glitzy.  Those who embrace it will give it ample resources.  It will be good enough.

Throwing money at the problem does not scale.  Whether people or processors, you can't always escalate.  Sometimes the "system" needs to be tuned.  And tuning is not cooked like frog legs in the skillet.  Tuning requires measurement.  Adding more and more power is just not good enough.

I look forward to this new thing, and others.  But like Ford's latest ride, I want it tested, measured, ... analyzed to pieces.  First, I want to know that the air bags will deploy.  But I also want to know the pinch at the pump.  It matters.

-- R; <><

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pen and Ink

Wither Pen and Ink?

Ever had a crackberry? ... er, uh ... a Blackberry?
Nice phone!

Everyone is different.  Everyone has a unique way of communicating.  And everyone has a list of preferred forms of communication. (And most people, that I run into, seem unaware of their own "list".)

About the Blackberry: They call it "crackberry" because executives got so addicted. But we're all addicts now thanks to TXTing. Well, maybe not all of us. Do you TXT or do you call? Do you IM or send email? Our are you the neighborhood luddite insisting on paper mail?

This is about email.  I prefer it to pen and ink.  I felt guilty for leaving some friends and family behind (paper and pen luddites), but even my grandmother got hip to AOL.  And now I seem to be a stick-in-the-mud of sorts.  That bothers me.

No Mo Email

In early 2011, Thierry Breton announced his move to dispense with email at Atos Origin (big outsourcing firm headquartered in France).  Many were skeptical.  I found the move offensive because an IT leader should know the terrain better.  His motive is right: we need to stem the tide of information overload.  But he's taking the easy out by changing to the "social networking" fast lane.  Mr. Breton is ignoring the fact that people interact using many modes.

Most of us are blessed with the capacity to use a half dozen or more types of communication.  We start with face-to-face, which includes verbal and non-verbal.  But we've had written language for millennia.  And there have been special forms of distance signalling (smoke and light) almost as long.  Then in the 19th century, we got telegraph and then telephone.  The 20th century brought us radio and then television.  And now we have the internet, which has subsumed even the phone and a good portion of radio and TV.

Now ... I am a touch typist.  (And thus far I have not suffered from CTS or RSI, thank the Lord.)  So for me, even a GUI is distasteful.  I would just as soon  t-y-p-e  a command as click an icon.  It's faster. Really. And that's just when instructing the machine. 

Pen and ink are fine, but I do better with a keyboard.  Mistakes are easier to correct.  Then there's that thing called "touch typing" ... I can type much faster than I can write (with pen).  But Mom would rather get a hand-written note, or at least a phone call.  (Let's not even discuss TXTing or IM.)  So we come full circle on communication forms.  Though I don't believe it's the hand-written part as much as the paper part that appeals to Mom.

Dad, bless his heart, has worked really hard to enter my world.  He got internet email on a university mainframe because he knew I did email. (That was in the days before AOL did internet.) But Dad cannot type, so I know it is difficult, and I don't push the matter.

But for me, it was never about getting rid of paper.  I remain indifferent to the "paperless office".  (And I find myself printing a lot of things sent via email.  Paper is easier to read.)

What's Old is New - What's New is Old

We had this nice truce between the old and the new.  And then came the newer.

As I was settling in to a high ground in the battle against spam, there came a replacement for email: Facebook messaging.  Seems that if I want to drop a note to certain people (eg: anyone under Breton's reign), it has to be a Facebook message instead of email.

The benefits of FB messaging are obvious.  But there are problems too.  The problems are less obvious.  The benefits are mostly on the convenience side, and people naturally trend toward convenience. (Some to their own demise.)

Even in the technical arguments, I can't help notice the ironic similarity, where my generation abandoned paper mail, a new generation abandons electronic mail.  My kids prefer Facebook.

As I write, I realize that the irony is not iron-clad and the similarity is only superficial. 

Google Gets It

Time and again I've said: I use Google, but I don't trust them.  The reason they continue to suck me in is that they "get it" on some important technical points.  Google will continue to grow as long as Google uses standardized services.  With email, for example, you can get a free mailbox from Google and there's a spiffy web interface.  But they also let you connect using other clients.  GMail speaks IMAP and SMTP.  These are standards.  Google lets you access their services with the standard tools/protocols at no penalty.

Curiously, FB IM can speak "XMPP", so you can chat with Facebook friends using other tools than just the web interface.  Why do they not support this for mail type messages?

Electronic mail is older than the internet.  Electronic mail is bigger than the internet.  (It gets relayed to/from systems that are not on the internet.)  What's needed is a relay from electronic mail to paper mail and then "correspondence" becomes all inclusive.


There is no "conclusion" as long as people struggle with the various means of communcating.  But here are some of those means ...

  • face to face
  • written (letter, dictation, notes passed during class)
  • electronic mail (can be printed; can be relayed, except for Facebook)
  • IM (including FB chat)
  • phone (ie: not a computer program)
  • online voice (eg: Skype, but there are others)
  • and social media

I think I'll write Mom a letter.

-- R; <><

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dear Earthlink, part I

This is a story about Earthlink ...
about their lack of support for Linux.
It's mostly about their poorly thought consumerist corporate direction.

Our high speed internet service died.
Turns out, we depend on it even more now than just two years ago.
The service technician cannot get to us until Thursday. (called in the problem on Tuesday; today being Wednesday)

SO ... what are we gonna do?? Maybe try dial-up?? Ick.

I was just about to give away the nice AT&T Paradyne modem we used to use. Glad I did not yet get it to Free Geek! (I'm sure they need it, but today, I need it more.)

This particular provider of "high speed" internet at one time also provided dial-up service for when we (customers) were travelling or when (not "if"!) there was an outage. They stopped that service in 2009. I guess I didn't care ... at that time. That little annoyance is irritating enough, but this post is supposed to be about Earthlink.

Since my main provider no longer offers dial-up fall-back, I looked around, checked into several ISPs who explicitly offer dial-up service. After I happened to speak with my friend Steve, who is on Earthlink for high speed, I opted to try them first. I used Earthlink years ago, but they are a bit pricey.

(Speaking of "looked around", I may be in the market for high speed real soon now.)
(But ... oh yeah ... this post is about Earthlink.)

Getting the account established was a 40+ minute call. (Could not use the web to do it ... duh.) The woman was clearly from India (presumably located there now) and reading a script. She was courteous and diligent. When she asked what op sys, I told her Linux. No red flag; no comment from her about it.
We continued.

After many other questions (accounting, postal, email, so on), she offered a couple of trial services, neither of which I was really interested in. But I again mentioned the L word by saying that the latter offer probably would not work with Linux anyway. (Its description suggested that it needed a Microsoft context.) She agreed that such was likely, then added "we don't support Linux".

Support. It's a verb. I am not surprised that Earlink does not "support Linux". Fine. I'll take my chances. (Used Earthlink on Linux years ago. Worked great! And that's another reason for trying them again.) They don't support Linux: I DON'T CARE. Not a problem. Proceed. Continue. Activate the account.

The rep said she would discuss the L word with her manager, but did then transfer me to the support team to complete my setup. From the support guy (also clearly in India), I got a local dial-up number and confirmed my username and password. I then hun up (so the modem could have the line), punched in the info, and launched good ole 'wvdial'.

Didn't work.

Not sure how many times I tried 'wvdial' before finding an old copy of 'minicom'.
Ah, there's the problem: Bad password. But wait, this is a brand new account, and both sales and tech support confirmed my password.

Hang up. Get on the land-line again. Maybe 20 minutes this time.

"The account was deactivated for dissatisfaction."

I never said I was dissatisfied. (But I'm getting close!)
Turns out that since "Earthlink doesn't support Linux", the first rep had left the account disabled. I guess this was in hopes of preventing a backout and a refund of my $10 for the first month. She ASSumed that I could not use the service with Linux. Not true. It's just that their support people a only trained for Windoze.

I asked the latter rep to activate me.
She then rattle off a lengthy "we cannot help you" statement (the script again) if I were to call tech support with Linux problems.

Once the account was activated, 'wvdial' connected fine.

Dear Earthlink,
Please grant some lattitude to your customers who have more experience than the average n00b consumer.
Not happy.

-- R; <><

Monday, May 14, 2012


NIH is Now Intrinsically Harmful

So you see the acronym NIH. Whadaya think?
For most in the US, it's the "National Institutes of Health".
Try again. This NIH is not a health organization.
It's a disease. NIH == "Not Invented Here". It's a syndrome.

Most of us suffer from NIH, some worse than others.
In other words, I am just as guilty as anyone else. 
Lately, NIH has been on my personal radar because I have been on the observing end.  (Sometimes even a victim of its effects; that is, "on the receiving end", so to speak.) What happens is that you, or someone you know, reject an idea or a proposal or a device because you did not think it up. If it wasn't "invented here", it must be rejected, or so it goes when you are an NIH sufferer.

I thought about perhaps cooking up a piece of satire describing NIH even more clearly as an illness. Thought about equating NIH with tobacco addition or electrolyte imbalance. But it's just not that funny to me ... at least not at the moment.

This can happen with your boss, your team mates, even your family.
You have an idea or you do something or make someone and one of the others disses it: "Why would you/we want to do that??". 
  In my niche of the software industry, NIH is a real problem because our nitchy base environment (CMS on z/VM) is so very different from other environments. NIH hits when one suggests creating new programs for CMS that follow Unix semantics. It works, but a lot of VMers don't like it. Why? "Too much like Unix." or maybe "Doesn't work like traditional CMS.". [insert expected clip from "Fiddler on the Roof" soundtrack here] (I will not enumerate my would-be contributions because it's really not about me.) A computing community that at one time (more than most!) embraced new and different ways of doing things now refuses to embrace new and different inventions. Weird. Sad!

Personally, I make a lot of non-traditional suggestions because interoperability is a form of self-preservation. To clarify, some of the ideas that come to my own mind are those which (hopefully) foster connecting with different systems than our spiffy environment. Might lead to greater control of our own destiny, and who would not want that? If we do things similar to how other systems do them (at the human interface level) then we are less foreign to the other systems. But the benefits are not always clear. [sigh] I can only hope that some of my friends will get active, start coding again, and get our little niche reconnected.

NIH reached a new peak today. Several of us have been collaborating on a big project. I instantiated a couple of collab tools (using free services from one of the big public providers). One old friend took the shared tool I had established (I did not write the supporting code) and cooked up his own. oy vey   And I had gone out of my way to make the other easy for him to use, gave him full control over it. But it wasn't enough. He just had to re-do the thing. It was "not invented here" (at his site).

-- R;

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lightning Struck and I was re-Trained

Lockergnome (

This is for Ed who wants an American Muscle Car and does not (yet) realize that electric drive is exactly that.  The day is soon upon us when the power plant in our most muscular cars (from any country) will be comprised of steel (magnetized) and copper (wound).

This is also for Jay, but Jay's reason for dissing hybrids is that he has a 300 mile trip. (I say hybrid still fills the bill, but I back off because there is still a surcharge.)

This post is about my epiphany.

I'm a wire monkey. I've been kicking electrons down the line since I was five. Literally. (Scared the crap out of my parents.) Yet when it came to locomotion, I considered electric drive to be a revolting idea. After living through the 70s oil crises and hearing of the impending arrival of hybrid cars, I ASSumed they were glorified golf carts.

Then lightning struck.

What do YOU think of when you think of hybrids or electric cars? 
Think raw power.  Think the unstoppable torque of a diesel locomotive.
But imagine that kind of power combined with nimbleness, the responsiveness of a touch screen, the instant obedience of a light switch. Time to stop thinking wimpy, wimpy, wimpy and think hefty, hefty, hefty. Diesel locomotives are electric. They are what's called "series hybrid".

True, a train engine isn't for the oval (not as sporty as your beamer), but no one can argue that it's serious horsepower. (More accurately, torque.) What if you had that kind of science in a street legal package?

But for


Electric drive is muscle.

If all you're fueled by is gas, you're just fartin around.

-- R; <><

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Astonishing Progress -vs- Progressive Astonishment

On the IBMVM discussion list, Tom Huegel complained about a change in the defaults in XEDIT in z/VM 6.2. "CASE U R" (upper case) is now "CASE M R" (mixed case). The change is long overdue ("progress", generally a positive, albeit slow in this case), but caught Tom by surprise ("astonishment", generally a negative).

Tom was complaining.
His complaint was carefully couched as a query. I can tell: I've done the same thing plenty of times! Many of us disagree (with Tom's complaint) and welcome this change. I personally say it is 30 years late. Shifting file content from mixed case to upper case should never have been the default. But Tom makes an important point: There is 40 years of history behind the upcase behaviour (rightly or wrongly).

Stability is vital. No argument there. Something called "the principle of least astonishment" is a related concept, where users get a form of stability in the behaviour of the systems and applications and services they use. Some might call that "consistency", but I prefer to use consistency to describe behaviour across APIs and environments at any point in time where here we're talking about consistent behaviour going through time. So we have these flying buttresses: progress and stability.

There is no easy way around this. You make a change, someone is likely to complain.

I remember when RedHat first bit me. (As they have done many times now.) Even in the mid 90s, I had formed a habit of compiling against old-but-stable libraries so to have executables with broad immediate usefulness. In Linux, the time came to shift from an older shared library environment to a newer. (This share libs shift itself has happened several times over the years.) So RedHat moved up to a new level, there was probably a compmatibility RPM but I was unaware, and my ready-to-run binaries were suddenly dead and unusable.

The change astonished me, caught me quite by surprise. You could even say they broke my stuff. For years I blamed RedHat. Lately, not so much. The change was needed and I have adapted.

What remains is to convince my friends in the z/VM community to support changes like the new "CASE M R" default in XEDIT without complaining. There is so much work to do and interoperability suffers. VMers could easily create their own PROFILE XEDIT, and do. But Chip Davis took a friendly swipe at the Linux crowd (CMS being painfully unfamiliar to them), and calls for the "CASE M R" change came most strongly from them. Actually, they suffered astonishment too, so the change which triggered astonishment in old VMer Tom gives relief to new VMers from Linux land.

Again, no easy solution.

There are other areas where progress is needed. Sometimes it can be had without astonishment (but may take effort). Seems like every week I find myself rebuffed by an "old school" VMer for adding Unix-like command syntax toleration. This is just one area, but one which I am keenly sensitive to (since I automate as much as I can with cross-platform scripting, so there's Unix-like syntax or there's nothing).

-- R; <><