My collection of rants and raves about technology, my kids and family, social/cultural phenomena, and inconsistencies in the media and politics.


601 days

That’s how long one of my servers “Parallel” has been running without a reboot, as of 8:41 a.m. today (CST).

It’s been running continuously at the Des Moines office since Thursday, April 7, 2005, when the data center had to unplug it to move it across the room. Before that it ran continuously for about six months when they received the shipment from me and powered it on. Before this assignment, Parallel was a dedicated ssh-tunnel proxy in the Chicago office for about a year. Before that, it was used for many years by one of the accounting types at work.

Parallel is running “headless”, with no monitor or keyboard. The machine is an active Bugzilla webserver, and so is NAT’ed on ssh and http ports, and firewalled on the rest. The machine receives nearly 400 failed login attempts per day.

Current specs:

  • Hardware
    • Compaq Deskpro DPEP6266/MMX
    • Pentium II MMX, 266MHz
    • 64MB RAM
    • 9GB hard drive (73% free)
  • Software
  • Network Usage
    • 57,879,421 incoming packets (343 with errors)
    • 21,973,131 outgoing packets
    • 12,034 packet collisions

Alas, Parallel will be retiring before long. A new server, Sphere, will be taking over responsibilities for Bugzilla in the near future. Sphere has been running for a measly 353 days so far, but is a much newer server, resides in a dedicated hosting center, and should last for 3-4 more years.

Related post: Firefox 2.0



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An interesting discussion is taking place about Windows Vista, the successor to Windows XP coming out Thursday.

Joel Spolsky (who always has excellent articles) picks some nits about the development process at Microsoft, zeroing in on the Shutdown options as an example. Joel counts nine options on the Start Menu, plus as many as six more on the computer itself, for shutting down and says this is way too many.

The more choices you give people, the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they'll feel. See, for example, Barry Schwartz's book, The Paradox of Choice. Let me quote from the Publishers Weekly review: “Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options ('easy fit' or 'relaxed fit'?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being.”

The fact that you have to choose between nine different ways of turning off your computer every time just on the start menu, not to mention the choice of hitting the physical on/off button or closing the laptop lid, produces just a little bit of unhappiness every time.

HeThe more choices you give people, the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they'll feel. goes on to systematically reduce these options to just one, a “b’bye” button that logs you out, locks the keyboard and starts writing the RAM out to non-volatile storage. If nobody else logs in within 30 seconds, the computer would go into “sleep” mode to conserve power. If no activity for a longer time, it could physically power down. If the power is removed, all the information is already saved to un-Hibernate.

Side note: I really like the idea of using a Hybrid drive, or even just an internal thumb-drive for storage of memory during a suspend. Why didn’t I think of that? Spolsky suggests that the OS could even write memory state to this non-volatile storage in the background, so that a “b’bye” could complete faster.

Side note 2: I saw one well-spoken counterpoint to this idea in the discussion on Slashdot.

This seems like basic design. Make it simple to do common stuff. Make it possible but not as easy to do things that you do less often (more advanced).

Moishe Lettvin, a Microsoft developer in the "Mobile Experience" team, was an integral part of the development of the Shutdown menu. Lettvin saw Spolsky’s article and spoke out on his own blog, revealing how intensely bureaucratic Microsoft has become.

His team consisted of eight people, only one of whom (himself) was a developer. In order to make decisions, they had to interact with two other teams (shell and kernel) with about eight members each who were relevant to Lettvin’s team’s mission. None of these 24 people had final say in how the feature should work. When those teams couldn’t reach consensus, they had to climb six layers up the org chart before they had a manager in common to make a decision. Including these levels of management, about 43 people had a voice in the final outcome of this feature.

Lettvin’s team of 8 people met every week, sometimes including people from the other teams. His Project Manager met more frequently in order to coordinate with the other two teams, since that is what PMs do — go to meetings so developers don’t have to.

And that’s just the human layers.

[Source code control for] Windows has a tree of repositories: developers check in to the nodes, and periodically the changes in the nodes are integrated up one level in the hierarchy. At a different periodicity, changes are integrated down the tree from the root to the nodes. In Windows, the node I was working on was 4 levels removed from the root. The periodicity of integration decayed exponentially and unpredictably as you approached the root so it ended up that it took between 1 and 3 months for my code to get to the root node, and some multiple of that for it to reach the other nodes. It should be noted too that the only common ancestor that my team, the shell team, and the kernel team shared was the root.

According to Lettvin’s account, about every four weeks his team would find out that one of the other two teams had made some decision or change which would require changes in their own project. Trying to compensate for those external changes would take about 90 minutes out of the weekly meetings for about 4 weeks. That’s 8*1.5*4 = 96 man-hours of discussion per month just in meetings, plus however much time each person spent during the week working on the problem, all because another team made a change in a vacuum. Then, when the code was written and QA’d and documented and committed to the source-code control, it might take up to six months before that code would be tested against changes committed by the other two teams, by which time all three teams would have created another six months of development.

Lines of code is a very common metric for developers. There are plenty of different standards out there, depending on your development process and how you measure “lines of code”. One well-accepted standard calls for 20 lines of finished code per developer per day. That doesn’t sound like much, until you consider that testing and rewrites are factored into this calculation. If you write 100 lines of code in a day, you expect that about 80 of those lines will require changes before they become final.

During the year Lettvin worked at Microsoft, he produced about 200 lines of code. That’s about 0.8 lines of code per day. I’m sure rewrites accounted for a lot of this - even Microsoft can’t afford to keep (many) people around not doing anything. Apparently, they can still afford to have people working in so much isolation that a majority of their productive work is in vain. And gratuitious use of meetings is clearly part of the master plan.

I have to say, the fact that Vista is being released at all sound like nothing short of a miracle. I can’t imagine that Microsoft can keep this up much longer. Neither can some other people.

Every single organization seems to follow this exact same path. Lean and mean at first, to fast and nimble second, to large but feature, to slow and bloated. The next step after this tends to be, jump at any and all projects to see if anything will stick progressing slowly down a spiral with a large change either acquisition by another company or dramatic slashing of middle-management workers and projects to focus on their core. Unfortunately I have yet to see a large organization that doesn't seem to go down something similar to this path.

That Microsoft has been able to avoid Stage 4 at all is a reflection of their success, but I think, like most empires, Microsoft will need to reinvent itself or face irrelevance.

[via Joel on Software]

Related posts: Firefox 2.0, Do the shuffle


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Furrowed brow

Those creases come courtesy of the railing at Bob Evans, where he fell asleep after dinner.


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Sad state of things

Two quick hits tonight. If I take longer than 2 minutes to make this post, I’ll be in deep doo-doo with several people.

Larry King has never used the Internet. See for yourself. This explains a lot about the lame questions he’s always asking his guests. Remember also that CNN is the most popular US news channel in other countries, so what he says reflects on us too.

LARRY KING: The wife loves it. I wouldn’t love it. What do you punch little buttons and things?

ROSANNE BARR: You just click on this thing. The thing is you got to be able to read, so you have to have strong glasses when you’ve over 50 and then you just scroll down and click. It’s not that hard. I can show you how to do it.

KING: No, thanks.

Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich is officially calling for funds for the war in Iraq to be cut off, in order to force our troops to pull out.

"We have to determine that the time has come to cut off funds. There’s enough money in the pipeline to achieve the orderly withdrawal that Senator McGovern is talking about. But cut off funds, we must. That's the ultimate power of the Congress, the power of the purse. That's how we'll end this war, and that’s the only way we’re going to end this war.”


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What’s wrong with this picture, 3rd ed.

OK, this picture is accurate, but it’s still just wrong.

Still, there is much to be optimistic about:

  • The Democrats didn’t so much win as the GOP lost.
  • Even though the GOP lost, Conservatism prevailed.
  • The Democrats who won, often won by being (or appearing) moderate. The Republicans who lost, often lost by sacrificing the values that attract its constituents.
  • Many of the seats lost through scandal will be easy to win back.
  • The 2008 election will matter a lot more than this one. Two years of Pelosi should be plenty to make the pendulum swing the other way. Even a weak GOP victory may not have given the party enough fire to be ready for 2008.
  • Rumsfeld’s departure is disappointing, but it also eliminates one of the Dem’s favorite whipping-boys. They can’t call for the resignation of someone who isn’t there — they’re need a new excuse.
  • There’s very little in the Democratic platform other than “we’re not Republicans”. When it comes down to getting work done, I think we can count on the Dems to keep doing things that the majority of Americans don’t like. And that works well for 2008. Allowing President Bush’s tax cuts to expire is not likely to win them many points.
  • The curse of the majority: Before the election, the left could rant and rail against bills they didn’t like (such as authorization for Afghanistan and Iraq, funding for the troops, border control, etc.) being “crammed down their throats” by the majority, then silently vote for them anyway to keep their voting records clean. With control of the House, Dems will be under greater scrutiny to make their vote match their words. It’s the same situation the Republicans were in and flubbed. This blade cuts both ways.
  • Likewise, this means Conservative Talk Radio should get a real shot in the arm. Don’t turn off your radio for the next two years - the 2008 election cycle is just starting, and right now people are saying things that can make a difference in that election.
  • Finally, I think a lot of people got a closer look at how hard the press worked to drag the Democrats across the finish line at all costs. The more desperate the press gets and the harder they work, the less influence they will have on elections, which should cause people to make up their own mind, which is the way elections should be.

Don’t think of this as a “thumpin’” as the President put it, think of it as a market correction. A market correction after a run of gains often means some temporary losses and rebalancing before a new run of gains.

[via Michelle Malkin]


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What’s wrong with this picture, 2nd edition


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What’s wrong with this picture

Screenshot taken at 8:18 Eastern time from this page on the CNN website.

This could be a web glitch, but I rather doubt it. This is pretty consistent with what you’d expect from CNN.

Update: I forgot to include the legend.

Update 2: One minute later it updated with some real numbers.

Related posts: What’s wrong with this picture, 2nd edition, A very political apology, Camille Paglia gets it... sort of, Too much truth in one place, Foley, A great choice for President, On chickens and roosts


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Replaced my phone under warranty, so naturally I need to check if I can still blog...


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A very political apology

After insulting all the troops earlier this week, Presidential-hopeful John Kerry has issued what I find to be a very distasteful and half-hearted apology. His statement, at a campaign rally:

“You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

This drew some very direct and pointed responses from the White House and directly from President Bush. Kerry’s immediate response was scattershot and obviously rushed.

This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I’m sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq. It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.

The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it.

In a press conference later that day:

SENATOR KERRY: Let me make it crystal clear, as crystal clear as I know how: I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy.

If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the President and his failed team and a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp -- rubber-stamp policies that have done injury to our troops and to their families.

My statement yesterday -- and the White House knows this full well -- was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops.


QUESTION: Senator, John McCain said that you owe an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered this country's call because they are patriots.

To those people who didn't get your joke, who may have misinterpreted you as saying the undereducated are cannon fodder, what do you say?

KERRY: I never said that, and John McCain knows I've never said that and John McCain knows I wouldn't say that.

And John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Donald Rumsfeld for making the mistakes he's made. John McCain ought to ask for an apology from this administration for not sending in enough troops.

That kind of answer leads me to believe that Kerry doesn’t understand just how offensive his statement was. Taken out of context? Maybe. Flubbed the wording? Definitely. But what he said is what he said, and if your statement was not what you intended, an apology is needed, not a justification, not rationalizations, and certainly not political hay.

The uproar escalated, bringing on board Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Now, with everyone you can think of (except Howard Dean) calling for an apology, he has apologized. Well, sort of.

As a combat veteran, I want to make it clear to anyone in uniform and to their loved ones: my poorly stated joke at a rally was not about, and never intended to refer to any troop.

I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended.

It is clear the Republican Party would rather talk about anything but their failed security policy. I don’t want my verbal slip to be a diversion from the real issues. I will continue to fight for a change of course to provide real security for our country, and a winning strategy for our troops.

I also sincerely hope the voters of this country will not allow their own misunderstanding of my words to distract them from voting for me for President in 2008.

OK, I made up that last sentence. But seriously, why is he apologizing for the reader/listener misunderstanding? An apology is supposed to include some statement of personal culpability for which there is regret. “I apologize for hurting your feelings (but I think it was the right thing to do)” is not an apology, it’s political lip service. And please, how exactly do you “personally apologize” in a press release? He can say he personally apologizes, but he hasn’t, just like he didn’t personally insult the troops but slandered them as a group.

The only reason Kerry apologized is because he had to, politically. This is the same way he makes all his decisions, and exactly why he must never be President.

[via Drudge]

Update: Scrappleface made the same points and a few more.

Sen. Kerry said his poorly-worded apology, however, does reinforce the premise of his original ‘botched joke’ about bad students being sent to war, since he is a combat veteran.

Update 2: The photo above was by the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division

Related posts: Camille Paglia gets it... sort of, Too much truth in one place, Foley, A great choice for President, On chickens and roosts

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