Monthly Archives: July 2008

Twilight Elephants

In every company that I have worked at, in each and every data center, in every single rack, I have witnessed damage done, but noone was involved. Indeed there are events that take place in every data center and in every rack in existence that are plain and simply inexplicable. There may be cables torn, servers unmounted, power switches thrown off and no single technician was working on or nearby the affected system. No one has an explanation about the incident, nobody knows anything about it. But I know: it is the indigenous to the data center horde of tiny pink elephants.

These minuscule animals inhabit the recesses of the raised flooring of every data center in existence. They have sensitive ears so after a while the din of the cooling fans and the air conditioning causes them stress. The stress mounts up and to alleviate it they stampede. In their uncontrollable rush through the data center, always in the absence of humans, they trample underfoot all sorts of equipment. And that is why there are unexplainable incidents at work.

You don’t believe me ? Next time there is some damage in your infrastructure ask your technicians: Whodunit? You will indubitably come to the same conclusion as I have.

Manage not thy Coiffure

Beware if you are a control freak or micro manager do not read further instead follow this link.

A mainstay of chit chat around office watering holes is often times the managerial coiffures, or lack of thereof. Yet technology management is not about how handsome a hairdo (coiffure) one spots, but how much effort one puts in getting out of other people’s hair. I often get the urge to get involved with every job that arouses its head at the job. Then after a few exercises in calming my not so natural urges, I delegate the job out. It may sometimes take longer to complete but it has a more lasting flavor to it.

The advantages of this approach are at the very least: a)The job is still done, b) The person who requested it will now have a direct contact point other than yourself. c) The team as a whole, provided that it comprises of mature adults, grows more tightly woven as they become more respectful of each others abilities. The disadvantage is that you get some flak sometimes, but you got to have some on the job training for your forces and that is not bloodless.

Corollary: I can go to vacation knowing that my omniscient presence is not absolutely necessary to continuously grease the mental cogs and gears of the operation.

Netvertising NOT!

Oh the papers and studies of advertising campaigns on the net. Oh the successes and failures thereof and academic careers launched on the study of their second order statistics. I cannot presume to possess the knowledge of why things workout or not in the net advertising field, but here is a little spice to stir things up.

Free TV broadcasting is sponsored by the ads. We put up with the ads so we can enjoy the medium, we do not pay for it. The web / internet is something the user is paying for via access fees, line fees what have you therefore the average paying subscriber thinks that
it is NOT acceptable to be inundated by advertising. Just think how far cable TV would have gone if it was charging AND accepting advertising at the same time, nowhere.

simple ye great minds: I pay I have rights; I do not pay, I willfully forfeit some of my rights. If you want online ads to work you must give something substantial back for free. Say free telephone time if your user listens to a 15 second ad spiel before their call goes through. Also give your customers the choice to decline the ad and be charged normally for the call . While I am on a roll here is another one, free internet access with a front end system that will redirect the user’s browsing to a sponsor’s ad at about 5 to 10 minute intervals. All these technologies are readily available today on FOSS platforms all it takes is for an adcritter to see the light.

And by the way, please do away with the expression “in your face” in all kinds of promotions. When people, ads, things get “In my face” I turn the other way around. I expect most normal people do so also.

Quels Chevaliers ?

Let us not forget the beautiful French language in this all anglic speaking world.

The expression sprung to my mind on cogitating upon strategic plans and how most of them do not come to fruition, even though vast sums of money are spent on consultants. A strategic plan that does not take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the troops is not worth the paper it was presented on. A strategos must not only be able to inspire his troops but also know of what they are capable of doing and under what conditions, how far they can be pushed and who to throw at the front line.

If Le General commands: Attaque les Chevaliers he does not expect to hear Les Chavaliers? Quels Chevaliers ? A Chevalier is not the same as La Cavalerie, the former are heavily armored knights on battle hardened mounts, the latter at best a good fighting force, at worse a collection of men on quadrapeds that would rather munch on some leafy arboreal appendage than participate in this human ritual of carnage called war.

Strategic plans that fail to differentiate the troops as above are no more than exercises among colleagues belonging to the same mutual appreciation society. I will not stoop so low as to insinuate that there are consultants who misreport on the strategic resources of a corporation on purpose…

IT's not always presentient

Hark ye all seekers of IT’s wisdom and listen to this true story I will recount for you. Once upon a time the great mage Yourstruly was called upon by the voice from above to provide a prepaid calling card system within three days. Yourstruly hearkened to the wisdom of the great Scott engineer of the mythical Enterprise and asked for leeway. Give me two weeks he said and I will give you the contraption, but the great voice from above was suddenly in a meeting with the presence from beyond. Yourstruly spend two days conjuring, brought a load down from the stars for assistance, and a day stomping the bugs and presented his work, and the voice from above was silenced and the presence from beyond was once more withdrawn into the Grey nether lands.

And time went by and the company entered the prepaid calling card fray, and it was grossing big but taking losses in the battle with other feudal lords, even though Yourstruly warned the voice from above that they were selling the cards below cost. But this is another story, in our story an ugly daemon wrecks the works. The daemon mysqld (d for daemon) was suddenly overwrought with errors, and decided to stop serving the contraption’s queries. Yourstruly was rudely awakened by the standby guards in the middle of the night and brought to the dungeon whereupon he quenched the daemon mysqld and cajoled and forced him back to servitude.

The day after he was summoned to a full inquisition in the absence of the voice from above. The inquisitors demanded to know why the contraption stopped functioning. Yourstruly presented his conversation with the daemon and his success to rebind him. Alas the inquisition was not happy, why they asked did you not foresee this are you not presentient as some claim? And Yourstrully rememberred the zen masters and their calm, and calmly answered: The limits of my presentience, that is the limits I can predict failures,errors and downright daemon pevishness are the limits of my imagination. The error I faced I had not known possible, therefore I could not create protective spells against it. Upon hearing these words the inquisition was perplexed, they had not grokked the words imagination and error control spells. They slithered and rolled into a single body and mumbled and spoke in hushed voices and came to a decision. They unrolled each into their subjective corporeal bodies and summarily dismissed the mage warning him to increase his presentient abilities or else…

IT: I.T.
Yourstruly: Yours truly!
Inquisition: The management team, all of it.
The voice from above: IT’s director bringing orders from the presence from beyond.
The presence from beyond: The cthuhu like presence of the company’s CEO.
The great Scot engineer: Scotty of Star Trek whose wise words are the mainstay of all engineers “If it will take an hour ask for a day, it makes it sound more difficult and you overworked, and the captain will demand half the time anyways, and you never know, things might really go bad.”
The mythical enterprise: The star trek Enterprise but also any human enterprise for gainfull employment that works smoothly.
The contraption: The prepaid calling card service.
The dungeon: The office environment. At the time it did look like a dungeon, we were working on stools much like convicts.
The stars: The asterisk open source PBX.

You: Innovate NOW!

Innovation is the driving force behind today’s tiger economies and it seems that the US has the leading role in this race. Europe is trying its best to enter the net economy but it feels much like an army sergeant ordering recruits to have fun. Allow me to elucidate: when I did my army stint, occasionally third rate folk and pop singers would be brought to the camps, we would be gathered around these muse encumbered howling individuals and a sergeant would bark “You have fun now”.

Much in this fashion European and particularly Greek officials built technology parks that would foster research and development, offer some tax and other incentives spend vast sums of money and the net result is about the same as the forced fun a recruit derives by being ordered to.

You must have an entrepreneurial friendly economy to foster and be powered by innovation. All else is just waste of resources at best, scandals at worst.

I grok, he groks, do they grok?

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to sit in to a lecture given by professor Clemons of the Wharton school of business. If I can describe the experience with a a one liner that that is “He groks the net economy“. Now that might be quite obvious in the professor’s circles, but to me as a techie it was not. His views were focused and presented in a clear and concise manner. A truly eye opening lecture, many thanks professor, and if you are reading this, can we please have the lecture notes?

Unfortunately I was distressed by the attitude presented by one of the MBA students present, which I suspect is prevalent in those circles. The student asked “Given the fact that everybody cheats why shouldn’t I do it when I become an exec?” The answer is of course self-evident, and Dr. Clemons articulated simply as: you can only built businesses upon mutual trust, not abuse of it. I guess some students need more grokking tutoring.

Rutting, rutting Hippos

Sometimes a task falls in your lap that is so slow, ornery, difficult and downright unpalatable that can only be pictured like: performing root canal on a hippopotamus’s tusk while being underwater and during the animal’s mating season.

To give you IT’s scope, think of manually reconstructing failed hardware raid arrays due to a cheap controller’s malfunction.

I ain't a manager ma'am

There is constantly a debate about being a manager or leader as if the former would exclude the latter. Can you lead people that you cannot manage? Can you manage people that you cannot lead?

The difference is largely artificial.It is the lack of time of upper echelons to get involved with the daily operations that has been monikered “Leading the organization”.

If only some of the cloud walkers would listen to the simple people , a lot of bankrupt companies would have been saved.

Copycatting the Sumerians

Once upon a time I used to work for a company that prided itself on its technical prowess. And the people were good, and they could really code, and design and built quite anything they liked. Unfortunately that led to the belief that they were the smartest people on the planet excluding Google of course.

The net result was that we rebuilt so many trivial things that I came to describe that procedure by the following adage:We design wheels on the sand using sticks and flour. We sit back and congratulate each other our prowess at flour linings, when the rest of the world is driving six cylinder sedans on alloy wheels. The Sumerians were exceedingly successful at inventing the wheel, no need to emulate them any more.

Needless to say that the team has been disbanded. The people are still smart, most of them anyway.