Friday, January 30, 2009

PDQ From SourceForge

Thoughly fed up doing mind-numbing company income taxes for 2008 (Yes, I have to do them earlier than most to get my 1099s out to sub-contractors), I decided to take a break and see if I could compile PDQ (Pretty Damn Quick) by downloading it from our SourceForge project onto my new Macbook.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When BRisk Goes Bust

In a nice counterpoint to my previous post on BRisk Management, the latest director of Europe's new atom-smasher (the LHC, which I'll be talking about next week), says he will be more cautious than his predecessor, following the very public failure last September.

An ultra-cold, superconducting magnet on the big ring, collapsed only days after the \$10 billion LHC was switched on and will require more than \$26 million in repairs. With that price tag (even though it's only half what Wall St. paid itself in bonuses last year---for assessing BRisk rather than risk?), the pressure is on for these guys to produce. So, it's not too surprising that the new director said:
"The LHC will be double checked by outside experts before any attempt is made to switch the machine back on, probably in July. I want to be sure that everything works, so I'll also let an external group make additional checks on the accelerator."
Let's compare and contrast with the Bay Bridge situation, shall we? According to the SF Chron:
"...the inspection outfit that sounded the alarm has since been replaced."
In other words, the independent, external inspectors, for the Bay Bridge welds, were terminated for being too pernickety, which would inflate the CalTrans schedule.

Nothing like a good failure to reduce the risk in BRisk. I just hope I'm not on the Bay Bridge when it happens.

Update: To catch up to its 2010 milestones, it has since been decided that the LHC will remain running, continuously, for one year after it's rebooted this summer.

BRisk Management

In my upcoming Guerrilla Boot Camp class, I have a whole bit on Risk Management vs. Risk Perception. The point being that if you, as the performance analyst/capacity planner in your organization, don't appreciate the perspective of your manager, you are going to find yourself very frustrated when certain of your recommendations seem to fall on deaf ears.

Most managers are employed to look after one thing: schedules. If a manager perceives that your performance recommendation could inflate the schedule, it ain't gonna happen (no matter how sane or realistic it might be). I reinforce this perspective by saying:
Managers will let a project fail. As long as it fails on time!
This may sound a bit melodramatic but here is a statement of precisely that type:
"I can understand people being worked up about safety and quality with the welds," said Steve Heminger, executive director ... "But we're concerned about being on schedule because we are racing against the next earthquake."
This is a quote from an executive manager for the new Bay Bridge currently being constructed between Oakland and San Francisco. A section of the upper deck collapsed on this bridge during the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989.

He's not an IT manager, but he is watching the clock and saying, let's increase the risk that the new bridge will fail (by being brisk about welding inspections), in order to beat the much lower risk that the old bridge might fail again in a quake. Substitute your favorite project, product or application, for the word "bridge" and you get my drift.

Updateof May 2013

The original high-risk Caltrans decision has prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to threaten delaying the scheduled Labor Day opening of the new Bay Bridge span. Erm... so, how did this brisk management decision save time (and money)?

Update of August 16, 2013

The on again, off again, new Bay Bridge opening is on again. As you can probably tell from this KALW piece, there is some skepticism regarding the rationale. [emphasis mine]
"the cracked bolts in the new bridge are apparently better than the totally unsafe old bridge, which wouldn't survive a minor earthquake. ... Experts say the old bridge is extremely unsafe, and won't hold through even a moderate earthquake."
Rubbish! Nothing has really changed significantly on the old bridge structure. This is all about saving political face (and possibly the $20 million contractor bonus). Would I drive the new span? Possibly. But more likely, I'd take BART (via the trans-Bay tube). :)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Quantum Camera

Information is physical because it takes energy to create it and transform it. Instead of the digital bits that you're used to thinking about in the terrestrial computing world, quantum information technologies (QIT) involve encoding information as quantum bits or qubits. The photon has turned out to be a very amenable quantum particle for encoding qubits. For anyone following my progress in the world of QIT, here's the latest. Our invited paper: "A Quantum Imager for Intensity Correlated Photons," which describes a new type of camera has now been published in the European open-access publication New Journal of Physics.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Intel Still Tick-Tocking AMD

As I mentioned at CMG 2008, and also in my Guerrilla Boot Camp classes, it's important to keep your eye on the various twists and turns in the technology marketplace, so that you are not broadsided when it comes to things like server procurement. One example I referred to is the very aggressive microprocessor technology roadmap that Intel is pursuing; something they call "tick-tock".

Although I'm not tracking these events as closely as I was last year (when Intel was racing toward 45 nm parts), it looks like AMD microprocessor fabrication is essentially 1 yr behind Intel. One way this leapfrogging occurs is due to full automation. Intel can go from lab to fab essentially in one shot by uploading their lab "recipes" into the production chip fabrication line. They claim to have 32 nm working in the lab already and are planning to ship parts in 4Q09.

Update: In spite of that, Intel 4Q08 profits plunged by 90 percent.

Update: In related news, world-wide desktop PC sales have taken a pounding.

Canada Cogitates On The Future of IT

ITworld Canada reports on how the Canadian Coalition for ICT (CCICT) is hoping to increase the number of students studying IT through its new National ICT Week event. "We need to get the word out as to how the world is changing, and change people's attitudes toward IT as a career plan," says CCICT executive director David Ticoll.
"In addition to being afraid of the dot-com crash fall-out and offshoring, they don't really think an IT career is competitive.
But the reality is that the demand profile is changing: around 25% of IT workers are business analysts, and those are the most in demand."

I wonder if that's still true since the econo-bomb went off?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mao Meets Capacity Management

Could happen. Not ex-Chairman Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung, when I was in school), who hasn't been "The Great Helmsman" in the national bridge for 35 years, but rather his grandson, Mao Xinyu. The latter's blog about his grandfather was selected by the Chinese government as the most "attention-grabbing" blog of 2008 (in mainland China, I assume).

In the course of studiously searching the web for references to his grandfather, Mao Xinyu might well have come across the rubric on my Guerrilla Manifesto page. It's a paraphrasing of a passage from gandpa's Little Red Book:
"Mao Tse-tung during the Chinese civil war, condensed guerrilla warfare into the following points for his troops: The enemy advances, we retreat. The enemy camps, we harass. The enemy tires, we attack. The enemy retreats, we pursue."
On second thought, maybe Mao Xinyu didn't find my page. I've been told that my entire web site is blocked in China. In an act of profound irony, this may be because the current Communist government blocks on keywords like "guerrilla" or possibly the Mao quotation, out of fear that such words might encourage some of their 1.3 billion people to rise up, like Mao and his guerrilla army in 1949, and do to them what Mao did to the Kuomintang. Could happen.

Guerrilla Training Schedule for 2009

A preliminary schedule for 2009 Guerrilla capacity planning classes has been posted. A recession is all about doing more with less or, at least, with the capital equipment already purchased. That's a major reason for doing capacity planning.

The class fees and penalties have been increased over 2008, unless you book Early Bird. This means you should start arranging your 2009 training now, so that it gets budgeted. This is going to be rough year. If you do not act preemptively, you may not get in at the last minute (the hotel puts a lot of pressure on us) or, even worse, we may not run the class. Book early, book often!

Another option to consider is having me come to you: Have notes, will travel. That can be more efficient when you have a group of people in your organization who need training. See you in class!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

National Performance Officer Appointed

Here's another Guerrilla "grenade" (as in, weapon of mass instruction) you can throw at your boss.

Clearly, this Obama dude is displaying enlightenment by appointing Nancy Killefer as his administration's chief performance officer; a new White House position aimed at eliminating government waste and improving efficiency. Every home, well ... organization, should have one.

Update (Feb 3, 2009): It worked!(?) The first Chief Performance Officer found herself under-performing and was removed.

Review of R in NYT and GDAT

GDAT instructor, Jim Holtman, pointed me at this review of R in yesterday's New York Times. It definitely puts SAS on the defensive.

Update: Another piece in the tech section of NYT.

If you want to know how to apply R to performance data, sign up for the Guerrilla Data Analysis Techniques class scheduled for August 2009 and learn from Jim personally.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not So Stupid Battery Tricks

As previously blogged, my Sony WinXP laptop ("sonyXPress" ... Get it?) carked it. Seems I'm not the only one to experience this sudden death effect. One possible cause was a battery failure. My Sony is more than 4 yo and battery life typically is around 2--3 yrs. Also, there can be embedded fail-safe circuits that would cause the laptop not to boot; even without the battery installed. But without proper documentation, you don't really know, and taking it to a PC repair shop will typically run you b/w $70--$100 to find out.

The Sony VAIO uses a PCGA-BP2V Lithium-ion battery. How do you tell if it has charge? You use a multimeter. One slight problem. There is a connector which mates with the motherboard and it has 9 pins arranged as: 2 + 6 + 1; the 6 being slightly smaller than the other 3 and no labels or markings to indicate what they are. Great! That's 36 combinations to find the correct terminal pair that gives me the voltage drop, if there is one. They could all be zero. I've replaced whole Li-ion packs before but never taken the time to examine how they are constructed. This seemed like a good opportunity to rectify that situation.

Carefully prizing open the plastic casing, I found 6 individual cells inside. On the outside of the casing, there's a power rating for this pack: 48.84 Wh = 11.1 V × 4,400 mAh, which are interesting numbers. If the nominal voltage is magically 3.7 volts/cell, then 11.1/3.7 = 3 Li-ion cells connected in series. If the nominal current is 2200 mAh/cell, then 4400/2200 = 2 groups of 3 cells in parallel for a total of 6 cells (as observed) and it also explains the small 6-pin portion of the external connector.

Since the battery pack can cost anywhere from $50--$150 to replace, it might be worth a DIY approach. Here's a vid showing how to do that. It's absolutely vital to draw a correct schematic of the parallel and series wiring, before unsoldering all the cells. If that's too much for you, try putting the entire battery pack in the freezer overnight to recover charge. Finally, here are some general tips for prolonging the life of Li-based batteries (dated 2003--2005). In my case, the problem turned out not to be the battery alone, so I just had to resign myself to buying that Macbook. Damn! ;-)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Apres MacWorld, an Al MacBook

I'm writing this on my newly purchased Aluminum 13" Macbook---and what a beautiful machine it is. The decision to buy it was made for me by the spontaneous death of my 12" Sony VAIO V505EXP, which has been my trusty mobile workhorse since 2004. I prefer a smaller screen, especially on flights and for working in front of the TV---like this. And now that Macs run Windoze as well, it's a no brainer. I'll move all my Sony VAIO files onto this Macbook (eventually).

Performance Analyst is Job 6

WSJ has a piece on the best and worst jobs. I believe it's fair to translate "computer system analyst" as performance analyst or similar.

Given the latency involved in doing any kind of serious survey, this list may be a little out of sync with current events. Any job is probably Job 1.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

MacET Phone Home or Il Papa or Starbucks

As Apple Inc., drops the word 'computer' from its name and focuses on the commodity computer of the future (currently called 'The iPhone'), I had forgotten that Apple's history began with The Steves playing with (analog) phones, in the shape of a Blue Box.

This cute NPR piece reminded me of all that. In it, Steve Wozniak recalls his meeting with Captain Crunch ca.1971, learning how to make Blue Boxes and later using it to place a free prank call to the Pope. Fast forward to the 2007 MacWorld introduction of the iPhone and Steve Jobs placing a prank call to Starbucks for 4000 caffè lattes.


So, this is Web 2.0? And I'm supposed to put my entire existence on a (black) Cloud!? Do you know who is managing your web services? This is how you might find out.

Part of me still wants to believe it's a slightly premature April Fool hoax. I mean, just look at the filename on that HTML page. But I checked slashdot and it's still there. So, it must be true. :-\ The earlier innuendo (on "Tuesday") that it might have been MacOS X going nutzoid, has now been narrowed to a (the?) sysadm going postal on the database. Can you say, "Secondary storage"?