Daily Archives: October 9, 2007

The Wayward Word Press Man Of The Year for 2007: SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay, A Fallen Soldier

Having just announced the naming of TWWP’s first Man Of The Year Award for 2006 to Professor Brad Wheeler of Indiana University, I now announce the award of The Man Of The Year for 2007 to SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay, a Fallen Soldier.

Looking back, to a time before I had even thought of this award, I realize that voting began when I first took my seat at the Chappaqua Memorial Ceremony this past May, and ended when I first saw the name Kyu Hyuk Chay on our town’s War Memorial, the first name to be added in over thirty years.

Fallen Soldier and inspiration for The Chay Project

SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay – May His Memory Be A Blessing.

Happy Birthday Slashdot!

Slashdot is celebrating its tenth anniversary by organizing a series of parties.

I have made mention before in this blog of Slashdot and my affection for it. For example, I just searched to see how many of my posts contain the word “slashdot” and learned that this will be the tenth such post, itself an interesting and happy coincidence. (I wrote the ninth post just a few hours before writing this one.)

I have also written about happy birthdays; see Happy Birthday alphaWorks!, The Wayward Word Coupon – Birthday Coupon and Happy Birthday to the Linux kernel, Poodle Scout, and The Wayward Word Press.

So in this, my fourth post to contain the word “birthday” in its title, let me join one and all of the Slashdotters in sending our greetings to Rob and the gang, sending my greetings by way of my blog (I expect the required dress at the parties will be a tuxedo, and I don’t yet own one.)

Happy Birthday /.

Here’s hoping we will celebrate many more together.

Keep up the good work. It is appreciated.

Having a bash bashing Microsoft, continued.

I wrote a post last October, Having a bash bashing Microsoft: Shell game? or Shell game!, in which I shared my view that it was a needless waste of time, and a diversion of resources, for the FLOSS and open-source folks to bash Microsoft, and I write this post to share some further thoughts on this topic.

I have many fond memories of what I call the Jikes days. Among the fondest are those of all the encouragement I received as I reached out to members of the open-source community for their help and guidance as I first sought to convince IBM that it made good business sense to release the Jikes code in open-source form, and after that was approved, working to get the code ready for that release.

Jikes received a very warm welcome from the open-source community, and among my fond memories are the many congratulatory comments I received for my role in getting the code out.

However, soon after the code was released I started seeing comments, mostly in the form of comments posted via Slashdot, that IBM couldn’t be trusted, that the code couldn’t be any good if IBM was giving it away, that this was an attempt to put one over on the free software community, and so forth.

It was then that I first started to appreciate the extent of the hostility shown by some members of the open-source community, especially those who sail under the GPL/LGPL flag, against corporations that attempt to engage in open-source activities, and of course also against corporations that are perceived as opponents and enemies of open-source, of which Microsoft is the exemplar.

I soon realized that saying IBM was a great corporation — one that could be trusted to do the right thing when it came to open-source — was a thankless task, for each of my first attempts to do so were met mostly by further attacks on IBM and myself.

I then decided that it was a vain effort to defend IBM by such statements, as the only meaningful response would be to behave in a way that would over the course of time, by deeds and not just press releases, hopefully make it clear that IBM (or at least IBMer Dave) “got it” when it came to open-source. [1]

Indeed, that was my main argument why IBM should release the code for Jikes. While IBM had previously engaged with Apache in June of 1998, it had not many any meaningful contribution beyond that as I started the effort to release Jikes in August of 1998. I argued that if IBM were ever to be taken seriously in the open-source community then it would have to give away code of recognized value in open-source form, under an approved open-source license, or –as it came to pass — under a license drafted by IBM that would be accepted as meeting all the requirements of the Open Source Definition. I also argued that just giving away the code would not suffice, but that IBM had to run an open-source project around the code, using a URL that ended in “ibm.com,” as only in doing so could IBM make clear to the world that it “got it” when it came to understanding the open-source rules. [2]

I also argued that IBM Research should take the lead on this, as it was unlikely other parts of IBM would give away code of recognized value first. [3] Also, it was one of the responsibilities of the Research Division to show leadership in promoting new technology, and open-source was an instance of a technology that would almost certainly prove of great interest to IBM, whether or not it chose to use it or make it part of its own business.

I then put the matter to rest, or so I thought.

It surfaced again in March of 2006 when I was thrown off the lxer.com web site. As it happens I have made recent mention of this incident, and it was the writing of that post that in part inspired to write this one. That incident was also one of the reasons I first wrote on this topic almost a year ago.

As events transpired, by coincidence, there were several important announcements related to open-source in the following weeks; for example, Oracle announced it would support Red Hat’s version of Linux, Sun announced its intent to open-source Java, and Microsoft announced its deal with Novell.

I learned during one of a regular series of calls about open-source, Linux and IBM, that IBM does indeed “get it” when it comes to open-source, at least within the firewall, though I would argue that our actions in the open-source arena since 1999 speak for themselves. The presenter was a senior exec who has spent years working to define and implement IBM’s Linux strategy. He remarked on those events. Some of them, he said, were of such import that they were soon addressed at the highest executive levels of IBM. He also said that he been quite impressed in that every IBM exec who participated in these discussions was well-versed on the importance of open-source and Linux to IBM’s business. Simply put, they “got it” when it came to IBM and open-source, direct proof that IBM as a corporation has, as I express it, made open-source part of our corporate DNA.

Microsoft, as we all know, has not spent the last decade trying to “get it” when it comes to open-source, but has instead pursued a strategy of trying to “get” open-source off its back in any way it can, hopefully killing what they now fully appreciate is their chief strategic threat. For example, in the past few days I have noted Microsoft’s threats against Red Hat related to patents, as well as the promotion of Mr. Bill Hilf (a former IBMer) as director of Marketing and Server Platform strategy. I have characterized both in a recent del.icio.us tag:

Groklaw – Microsoft’s Ballmer Reportedly Threatens Red Hat

“I’ll Hilf and I’ll Hilf and I will blow you house down, says Ballmer. I hope he smashes his fingers trying to slam down the hood, says Dave.”

I understand that some may well say that tags such as this are themselves a form of Microsoft bashing, and I write this post in part as a response. I try to limit my comments on Microsoft, and Sun, to comments via tags, or the occasional post, but do so not as bashing but, hopefully, to provide some education to these companies as they struggle to learn what open-source is all about and how their companies should deal with it. [4]

But the problem remains, as I reminded just a couple of hours ago.

Though the Open Minds conference has not yet started, I learned some time ago that some of the leaders in the open-source and education arena would be in attendance and so were going to hold a special meeting before the conference started, to get to know each other and to plan future work.

I was never formally invited to that meeting, but I did know about it, and so was able to join it for a few minutes this afternoon.

I entered the room during a break,and was very pleased to personally meet for the first time some folks whom I have either worked with, or known about, as part of my volunteer efforts promoting the use of open-source to assist educators in their vital session. I told those folks that I was from IBM, but was attending the conference on my own, not as an official representative of IBM. (Dell and HP are officially present as sponsors, but not IBM, which I find annoying to say the least.)

After the break, there was a wrap-up session, to decide what to do going forward.

One of the topics discussed was the formation of a team that would continue the efforts that had been suggested during the course of the discussion. One of the persons present (whom I have not yet met, though I plan to do so) said that this team should not include any vendors, as vendors often joined such efforts just to promote their own company, and also because it was hard to deal with governmental bodies if a group had vendors on its team.

He also made mention of the “arch villain,” by which of course I knew he meant Microsoft.

I almost spoke up at this point, but I did not. I knew I had to leave to participate in an IBM teleconference about open-source matters, and I was also uncomfortable being present in the room. While there as a private volunteer, I do work for IBM, and I knew that only a handful of the people present were aware that I work for a vendor; the outspoken gentleman was not one of them.

So I then left to join the call, during which I composed most of this post. [5]

Notes:

1. Sun has labored for years to master the “promotion by self-promoting statements” approach, so much so that its CEO frequently blogs about Sun’s expertise and commitment to open-source. Among the actions that would have spoken much louder than his eloquent statements would have been: (1) The release of Sun’s proprietary Java compatbility tests in concert with the release of the source code for Java, and (2), the release of the code for Solaris under a license compatible with the GPL license used by Linux.

2. When I first posted the first Jikes tar-ball on the IBM Research site I was unable to download it. I then learned that the web server had not been configured to recognize what to do with a “tar” file, a problem that was easily fixed by inserting the appropriate mime-type in the Apache fonfiguation file, but also a proof that Research had never before made a tar file available for downloading.

3. I think that the warm reception from the community, as well as the inclusion of Jikes in a number of Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, speaks well to the quality of the code.

A year or so after I left the Jikes project I was summoned to Somers to participate in several telephone calls, the gist of which was that an IBM partner had been asked by one of their customers to help them acquire the rights to use the Jikes code as it existed just before its release as open-source, so they wouldn’t be bound by the terms of the licenense. When I noted the code was freely available and that this seemed an unusual request, they insisted their customer was adamant in their request. Though the customer was not named, we guessed it was Microsoft, a fact confirmed when one of the partner’s people mentioned Microsoft by name in a phone call.

IBM eventually offered to make the code free at no cost if the customer with no name would agree to pass all the Java compatibility tests before releasing any product that included the Jikes code, in whole or part.

There the matter ended. That was the last call.

4. The latest edition of Linux Journal has a column by Jon “maddog” Hall in which he offers his own views about Sun and open-source.

A couple of years back I was speaking with a well-known member of the open-source community and commented on one of Sun’s recent announcements about an open-source matter. He replied by saying, “Dave, Sun has such a bad reputation in the open-source community that it will take them years to make up for their errors.”

5. This is not the only time I have worked on a blog post while listening in on a business phone call. Though I write this blog as a volunteer effort, I spend most of my waking hours working on open-source, either as part of my job or as a volunteer. I do some work in the day, some at night, as I do some blogging in the day, and most at night.

I also take our poodle Scout out for a pee or a poop during some of IBM business calls, but do not remark that I am doing so, as it is sometimes done as a silent protest against the quality of the discussion.

That is the nature of programming, at least as I know it. It is all-consuming, so the boundaries between on-the-job and off-the-job are murky at best.

Programming also has moments filled with crap, as does some the time I spend in the company of my dog. Then again, that’s part of the job, whether as dog walker or blog flogger.

As a further example, I have written about my days as a cab driver in New York many years ago. I did that in the months before the oral exams that were part of the Ph.D. process.

I paid for most of my graduate education by working as a programmer. But I knew that had I continued programming in those months before the exam, even though it paid much better than driving a cab, it would have distracted me from preparing from that exam, so much so that I knew that I would probably fail the exam were I to continue programming.

Linux At Your Service: The Linux Service Agreement

Courtesy of sogrady I have just read some great news from Amazon, in the form of Amazon S3 At Your Service.

This blog post is from a member of Amazon’s S3 team. Though I haven’t yet made use of that service — I believe WordPress can be used to meet all my web publishing needs –I have been a long-time customer of Amazon, and can vouch for their reliability; as I write this I cannot recall any specific problem that surfaced trying to buy a book or record from them.

The post makes a specific guarantee about the reliability of S3, and backs up that commitment by offering to refund money if Amazon doesn’t deliver.

This promise can be found in the Amazon S3 Service Level Agreement, which says in part:

Service Credits are calculated as a percentage of the total charges paid by you for Amazon S3 for the billing cycle in which the error occurred in accordance with the schedule below.

Monthly Uptime Percentage Service Credit Percentage

Equal to or greater than 99.9 % but less than 99.9%: 10%
Less than 99.9 %: 25%

For example, if the uptime for any month is less than 99.9% then Amazon will give you a credit of one quarter of your bill for that month.

This is very nice of the folks at Amazon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people wondered how Amazon could risk so much income by promising to offer such high rates of reliability. For example, a day has just under 100,000 seconds, so to meet the 99.9% commitment they would need to keep their service down time under .1% of a day. One percent of a day is about nine hundred seconds, and one-tenth of that is about 90 seconds. So put in simple terms, Amazon is promising to be down no more than a minute or so each day.

Amazon offers this promise without limiting it to either hardware or software. After all, down is down, whether caused by a hardware failure or a software failure.

Let’s start with the software. I don’t know what operating system Amazon uses, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they are using Linux, because

In the world of Linux, expecting that a software error will, on average, bring your machine down for about a minute a day is totally unacceptable.

For example, I’ve been using Linux for almost ten years now, and while I have encountered many problems, especially when debugging my own code, I have never had a machine crash due to a kernel failure, other than incidents when it turned out I was attempting to use a kernel that wasn’t built to support a particular hardware configuration, as I reported in some of my posts a couple of months ago about building and configuring hardware to run Ubuntu.

However, when Linux is properly configured, it is amazingly reliable, or should I say amazon-ingly reliable. I would guess that there are many Linux applications running in large enterprises that go at down at most a few seconds a year.

So much for software reliability. How about hardware reliability?

A colleague who knew one of the founders of Yahoo told me some years back how Yahoo then configured its hardware. They would buy stock, commodity-priced, x86-based boxes, install the software on them, and then run them in a test environment 24×7 for two weeks. Those that didn’t fail were then put into production use, and were removed from service after six months, as Yahoo had found that six months was the “sweet spot” for hardware reliability.

He also said that Yahoo used one of the BSD variants of Unix. They had their own customized kernel, which they created by stripping out every line of code that wasn’t needed to meet their business needs. (This probably explains why they didn’t use Linux, as it would have been very difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of Linux development.)

I’ve read that Google used a similar approach in its early days, hand-building its own boxes with commodity parts. Given that they are known to have millions of processors in the world-wide collective that is the Google “search” box, I expect they use the same approach today, though I don’t think they limit the term of use but rely on fault-tolerant computing instead, using software to detect when a box has gone bad and then passing the work on to a box known to be in good shape.

There is another approach you can use to assemble hardware:

If you need hardware of extraordinary reliability then visit IBM.COM, or just look up the number of the nearest IBM office and give the folks there a call.

IBM has spent over four decades learning how to build and deploy that kind of hardware. IBM’s hardware is used to power most of the largest and most demanding applications running in corporations throughout the world today, as it has been for the decades when System/360 was announced in the 1960’s.

IBM, like Amazon, is a company. Though I don’t know the details, I am confident IBM backs up its commitment to providing reliable hardware –and the underlying operating system which was written entirely by IBM — by offering similar credit agreements.

In the world of the largest enterprises, acceptable downtime is measured in seconds, or fractions of seconds, per year.

I don’t know what hardware uses Amazon, but if they are not yet using IBM’s,I suggest a good way to improve the level of their service would be to pick up a phone and call the nearest IBM location, to inquire about running Linux on IBM mainframes, as this is as good as it gets when it comes to providing a rock-solid computing environment.

Linux, unlike IBM and Amazon, is not a corporation, but a vast collective of programmers, testers, writers, and users. Some members of the Linux community are paid by corporations to work on Linux, as is the case for scores of my colleagues in IBM’s Linux Technology Center, the LTC. Among them are some of the best programmers known to me –folks like Ted T’so, Gerritt Huizenga, Sean Dague, Rusty Russell, and Andrew Tridgell. By the way, I just looked up “tridge” in IBM’s Blue Pages internal directory to make sure I got the spelling of his name right, and noted he works as a member of the LTC ALRT team. ALRT stands for Advanced Linux Response Team, and consists of programmers who on are constant, round-the-clock, alert status, ready to respond to a Linux problem encountered by one of IBM’s customers. It is also a round-the-world team; for example, Tridge and Rusty are based on Australia.

I know that many ALRT team members have gotten a phone call in the middle of the night, telling them the name of the customer and the location, so they can pack their bags and get to the nearest airport, as quickly as did the ships of the Royal Navy set to sea on their missions.

Indeed, I would expect getting such a call is a rite of passage to people who serve on the ALRT team, and it would be an interesting exercise to collect a list of some of the situations that have been brought to their attention, and how things turned out.

IBM offers this kind of support not just for Linux but to all its customers. Here are some examples that I can vouch for personally.

As I have written earlier, I had the good fortune be present for a meeting of the IBM Academy of Technology that was held in Toronto; it was held in early October of 1998.

I believe that IBM’s major involvement in open-source, going beyond the collaboration with the Apache folks that had begun a few months earli, can be directly traced to that meeting. Among the attendees was Larry Loucks. He was a co-author of a paper encouraging IBM to investigate open-source, and during the meeting he gave an example of the power of open access to source code. While working as an engineer at a customer site in North Dakota in the late 60’s he had found a problem and was able to fix it himself after he looked at the source code for System/360 and found the cause of the problem.

When I left IBM Research to work for IBM’s Software Group a few years back, one of my new colleagues relayed an incident that had happened to him late in December a few years earlier. He had been woken up in the middle of the night to be told that one of IBM’s largest customers was having serious problems, problems so serious that the customer was threatening to toss IBM out the door unless those problems were fixed. He was told to get on a plane, fly to the customer’s site, learn the problems, and then do whatever it took, spending as much of IBM’s resources as needed, to keep that company as an IBM customer. It took him about six months, much of it flying to and fro. But IBM did keep the account, and hundreds of thousands of people use that company’s services every day.

One of IBM’s lesser-known teams is the Crisis Management Team (CRT). These folks go to sleep every night expecting to be awakened, as they are called soon after there is a major disaster in ANY part of the world. For IBM has customers in every country in the world, and so any disaster affects some of IBM’s customers. And since IBM is thus on the scene of every disaster as part of its commitment to its customers, it also pitches in however it can to help everyone else struck by a disaster. For example, I know a member of the team who was at Ground Zero of 9/11 within hours after that murderous attack; he worked on it or close to it for months.

I’ve been working with Rob Eggers, a colleague on the LTC, for well over a year providing guidance to IBM’s corporate philanthropic team on open-source issues, including the encouraging of IBMer’s with open-source skills to volunteer those skills to assist non-profit and educational institutions. (This blog, and related efforts such as The Chay Project and Fallen Soldiers, are my own modest efforts as an IBM volunteer, doing this work on my own time and my own dime.)

As I mentioned, IBM is always to be found at the scene of a major disaster, and IBM helped to put together the first version of Sahana, an open-source crisis/disaster management system, in the days just after the devastating Asian Tsunami of December, 2004.

I focus on education. For example, I am writing this while on a trip to Indianapolis to attend a conference on open-source and education, a trip I will pay for out of my own pocket.

Rob has been working for over a year as the leader of a group of skilled IBM programmers who have volunteered to help make Sahana better.

Rob was on vacation this past August, in the days just after Peru was struck by a devastating earthquake. While on vacation in Minneapolis visiting his family, he got a phone call directing him to get to Peru as soon as possible so he could help the IBM team on the ground. He learned that one of IBM’s most senior executives had directed that a team of IBMers from the U.S. be sent to Peru to help the IBM employees who were already engaged helping their countrymen deal with the aftermath of the earthquake.

He was in Peru within a day or so, after stopping by his home in Austin to pick up his passport and taking a multi-leg flight that consumed many hours. He was accompanied by a consultant who works with the CRT team, a man with years of experience dealing on the scene in the aftermath of disaster.

Rob spent about a week in Peru. When I spoke with him later he mentioned it had been one of the most rewarding experiences of his life, both personal and professional. He also mentioned that he had met the Prime Minister of Peru, as one of the IBMers in Peru is a personal friend of the Chief of Staff of the PM. [1]

I have had similar experiences while working as an IBM volunteer. In some cases my work has helped IBM’s business, and one of the services I offer as a volunteer is to serve as an intermediary to folks who wish to solicit IBM’s help in a particular effort, or possibly partner with IBM in a joint effort involving open-source, education, crisis management, and so forth.

I have mentioned some of the IBMers who are paid to support Linux and “make Linux better,” a phrase that has served as the motto of the LTC for many years. But they are but a small fraction of the larger community that labors worldwide every day to make Linux better.

They stand by the work. I use that phrase due to an incident many years ago when one of the crowns in my mouth went bad. While sitting in the chair of my then dentist, Ronald Maitland, I asked how much it would cost for the repair. He said, “Nothing. I stand by my work.”

I was so impressed that I took that phrase as my own motto, a reminder that I should stand by my work, too.

That phrase sums up the Linux Service Agreement:

We stand by our work.

If you have a problem with Linux just tell us about it and we will make every effort to fix it, at no cost to you.

Not only are they standing by, I stand in awe of what they have achieved.

So should you.

I have told you about several incidents where people have been woken in the middle of the night to be informed of a problem.

I am sure that Linus Torvalds, the CEO of Linux, and Sam Palmisano, IBM’s current CEO, have also received such calls.

But I doubt they get many such calls these days. They can go to sleep with such confidence in their product that they know they will sleep like a baby, for after decades of work they are no longer babes in the woods.

Sweet dreams.

Notes:

1. While stuck in O’Hare airport yesterday for several hours getting a first-hand education on the American Airlines Service Agreement, I noticed the man in front of me in a line had a Peruvian passport. It turns out he had come to Chicago to run in the marathon the previous day, an event that turned out to be a disaster due to the high heat and humidity. I mentioned that I was aware of the recent, devasting Peruvian earthquake, and that IBM had helped his countrymen cope in the aftermath,

On Notes and Quotes: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn

Many of my posts contain notes, some contain quotes, and some contain both.

I write this post to share why that it is so.

By a quote I mean text which is taken, in part or in whole, from another article or blog post, and thus from someone else’s writing.

The usual way to show such quotes is within “blockquote” tags. For example, one of my recent posts begins as follows:


Tikkun Olam: Give Where Giving Is Due

The ethos of open-source can be expressed in a single sentence:

Give credit where credit is due.


Blockquote is a standard HTML tag which just serves to indent the quoted text. However, WordPress goes beyond this by enclosing the quoted text in italics. I disagree with this practice, as they are doing something that I, for one, wouldn’t have expected, but I guess
that is their call.

[Postscript: I wrote the above while composing a draft form of this post, yet recent posts suggest that WP has mended its ways.]

Having the quoted text in italics is acceptable for short quotes. When I find it unpleasing to the eye, or wish to add my own emphasis, say by putting selected parts in italic or bold, then I enclose the quoted text in horizontal rules, using the “hr” command. “Hr” is unusual in
that it has only a single form, just “hr … hr” and not “hr … /hr.”

I try to avoid excessive quoting, but I also try to include enough quoted text so you, the reader, can read my post on its own without having to read the completed text of the cited post. I often call out the parts of the text that caused me to write the post, or the parts I wish to comment about, by enclosing them in italic or bold tags, putting the cautionary note “(emphasis added)” before the quoted text when I do so.

By a note I mean text that takes the form of footnotes. I number the notes by enclosing the note number in brackets, as in “[1],” placing this after the sentence that is the subject of the note.

I first observed such notes in the posts of Redmonk’s Steve O’Grady. Then and now he adds the occasional note, though he does so in a much more nuanced way than you will find in my notes, as he is a much better writer.

I don’t mind that. Steve’s a great writer, and an ongoing exemplar of how to write a great blog.

I have found great personal satisfaction in composing notes.

First, they provide me a way to add an extra spice to a blog post without interrupting the main flow of the argument.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I view the notes as a personal adjunct to the post, one in which I can sally forth with trivial observations and needless digressions, not really giving a damn if the notes distract from the meat of the argument I am trying to make in the body of the post.

That is because, in my view, to a first approximation, open-source is all about fun.

Open-source is not about money.

Though it remains an open question what open-source is “all about” — as witness my frequent citation of the cautionary suggestion “What if the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about?” — I tend to take the “fun” view as the best single-word summary.

I also write my notes for a very special audience, the one closest to my heart, that of my family members.

I have three children as I write this, and two grandchildren, neither of whom can yet read.

Those in my family who can read are well aware that I have a life as “blogger Dave,” though I suspect they tolerate my hobby and don’t closely follow my postings and musings.

That’s fine with me, as I hope in part that these words will, in years to come and in the years after I am gone, offer some insight into what I valued, what I believed, and what I found to be fun.

And, if truth be told, in the words of Rhett Butler:

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I write these words for my family and myself, not for you.

Then again, as I viewed this post in draft form, I realized that I am also writing for those who are not of my family, yet they are of my family, because their interest in open-source has led them to my writings, and I hope by reading my writings they have shared my love of matters open-source.

I also write these posts — whether or not they contain quotes or notes — because one of my goals in writing this blog is to share with you what has been the core of my professional life for over four decades now, programming.

I am a programmer at heart. It is what I most enjoy doing aside from my family life.

Indeed, when I fill out my tax return I enter my occupation as “programmer.” [1]

I’ve been involved in open-source for almost a decade now; first as a programmer, then as a project leader, then as a corporate staff member helping my employer manage its open-source activities, and lately as a blogger on my own time.

Simply put, I believe that open-source is programming at the highest level. Moreover, I believe, as does one of my former professors — Donald Knuth — that:

Programming is an art, not just a discipline.

Towards that end, I have attempted for well over a year now to write about programming in as artful a prose as I can muster, doing so to give, as I have often said, credit where credit is due.

For if programming is indeed an art, then the writing about it should itself be an art. This writing should not confine itself to “business models” or debates about “free versus open-source,” or “Microsoft is the arch villain, the devil incarnate,” or declarations that “this is the year of the Linux desktop.”

Yet, as I believe the above examples show, most of the writing about open-source is much less artful than the act of programming itself.

I believe this is wrong.

Open-source deserves better, much better.

And so, as an experiment, I have tried to explore the boundaries, to push myself as hard as I can at times, so see if I can write in a new way about open-source. That is why in my writings you will find mention of “tikkun olam” and “kaddish” and “pirates of the caribbean,” to give just a few examples. Each was written to make some point about open-source, or at least express admiration for its beauty.

I also had great fun writing them, as fun is so central to open-source.

For, after all is said and done, we are measured not by our work, but by our play: what we do on our own — as volunteers — to a cause we believe in, deciding what to do with the time that remains once we have put food on the table, tucked the children into bed, and — as we fall asleep — what to make of the day when the sun next arises: for both our families and our friends.

Your friend and family member,
dave shields

Notes:

1. I read once that Ken Thompson wrote “programmer” as his occupation on his 1040. I then decided that if that was good enough for him it was good enough for me,and I have done so ever since.

Open Letter to American Airlines And Its CEO

In an recent post, Linux Journal Lost South Of Calais, I made mention of some problems I encountered the day of the post trying to fly on American Airlines (AA) from my home in Chappaqua, New York, to Indianapolis, Indiana.

My policy in such situations is to write directly to the company’s CEO, as I believe it is unfair to complain about a company without informing its CEO of my concerns.

Towards that end, I have just submitted the following via AA’s web site, in the “Contact AA” section.

I had to make several edits to complete my note, and noted that at the end the session was abruptly terminated, so I have no idea whether or not AA will actually receive my complaint.

But, if so, that is their problem, not mine.

Here is the text I submitted, with some breaks added to form paragraphs, as the AA web site does not properly format text, itself another problem they need to deal with.


You have a problem and I want to tell you about it. I would appreciate it if you would forward this note to your CEO.

I was supposed to take a flight leaving 2:50 or so Chicago time from Chicago to Indianapolis on Monday, Oct. 8, yet the flight was canceled,with no reason given, or apology offered.

I finally made it to my destination, several hours later than originally planned.

I was not happy with your customer representatives and the folks in the Admiral’s Club in Aisle G in O’Hare, so much so that I have written a public blog post on this topic; see Note 2

https://daveshields.wordpress.com/2007/10/09/linux-journal-lost-south-of-calais/

I await your reply.

Linux Journal Lost South Of Calais

I recently wrote a post about the words of the sea and included therein some of the words and phrases defined in the wonderful book A Sea Of Words .

I didn’t find one phrase in that dictionary, though I am sure it has been uttered countless times since the earliest days of the Royal Navy. Had it been included, the entry might have read as follows:

South Of Calais

As a ship cleared the English CHANNEL and found itself in the open sea, a MIDSHIPMAN would take aside a young LIMEY on his first voyage, perhaps while enjoying their daily ration of GROG. Glass in hand, he would confide, “We are South of Calais, where the wogs begin.”

See WOGS.

Sad to day — to this day — such views can still be found, not only on ships, but in homes and the seats of power such as corporate boardrooms and publisher’s offices, as I was reminded by a recent post Linux Journal: How Not To Run A Business, in which Ms. Carla Schroder takes offense at an ad that appeared in Linux Journal this past August.

I’ve been a subscriber to LJ for a couple of years now, and while I had read that issue, I didn’t recall the ad that Ms. Schroder found so offensive. So a few days ago I went back and re-read the issue page by page. Though I don’t have my copy with me as I write this, I recalled it shows a picture of an attractive young woman with the text below along the lnes of, “You don’t want your server to go down, so ….” [2]

However, I was finally — after American Airlines delivered my tired body to Indianapolis several hours later than promised — able to read Ms. Schroder’s post and the links given therein, one of which reproduces the ad; see The more things change …. The exact wording, overlaid on top of an image of a presumably seductive face, is “Don’t feel bad. Our servers won’t go down on you either.” See also “Our servers won’t go down on you either.”.

My first reaction on seeing the ad was that it wasn’t that offensive, then I realized the key point.

It DOES NOT MATTER that the post did not offend me greatly; that is my problem, though the more I think about it the more I find it offensive.

But it DOES MATTER than Ms. Schroder and other women who had seen the ad were offended, for that is a problem we all share.

I have looked forward to each issue of LJ for many months, and I usually read at least part of each article, as well as the letters to the editor.

I have seen several articles and columns about Linux and education, and one of my TODO’s had been to write a blog post on a recent article by Jon “maddog” Hall. (His latest piece on Sun is also well-worth reading.)

“Maddog” is but one of many Linux luminaries who write for LJ. Others include “Doc” Searls, Nicholas Petreley, and others whom I won’t bother to name now.

Ms. Schroder said that she and her colleagues had received no reply from LJ about their objections.

I plan to continue subscribing to LJ, and did note that the latest issue has just one ad picturing a woman in a favorable context, at the center of a group of people in a computer server room.

However, I do believe that not only has LJ’s publication of that ad diminished its reputation, it has also diminished the reputation of everyone who writes for LJ on a regular basis, and I am writing this in part to remind those folks that Ms. Schroder and her colleagues are not alone in finding the ad offensive.

I also suggest that LJ form a review panel of proposed ads. This panel should consist primarily of women, as they are clearly more sensitive to these sexist issues than the current LJ management.

LJ needs to foster a culture that can weed out ads meant for those who think there are only “wogs” South Of Calais, and I look forward to a policy in which the only mention or suggestion of “Cox” in LJ’s pages will be to report on the latest doings of Alan Cox, a well-known hacker from Wales, which is North of Calais. Mr. Cox — a well-respected COXSWAIN of the good ship Linux — labors to keep Linux up and running, not down and dirty.

I will post a comment to lxer in response to Ms. Schroder’s post, directing her attention to this post.

However, I do not plan to send this letter directly to either LJ or lxer.

That is because, as A. J. Liebling once remarked, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.

Those words were written decades before the arrival of the internet, and I think A.J. would have appreciated that one of the greatest contributions of the internet has been to enable anyone to start their own press, as in doing so they become a publisher, all at no cost. Indeed, I suspect that were he around these days he might well have called his blog, “The Wayward Word Press.”

I also suggest that the publisher’s of LJ should themselves read the rest of this post, for the following reason.

I was an avid follower of LinuxToday, and its successor, lxer, for many years. This happy association came to an end near the end of March, 2006.

I had observed that lxer had been running many articles attacking Microsoft, some of which I found quite virulent. I have written of my own views in this matter, as I think that over-the-top attacks on MS do nothing to make Linux better, and so are a needless distraction to the open-source community in that they are a form of yellow-dog journalism that we should discourage whenever we encounter it.

So I suggested, via a comment, that lxer might want to rename itself “anti-ms-er” or some similar phrase. I tried to be a bit playful in my comment, hoping to make some humor in doing so, but I clearly failed in that within ten minutes I received an e-mail informing me that my account had been terminated since I had violated lxer’s Terms Of Service.

I responded by trying to clarify my intent, though did say I took offense in to their terminating my account without even bringing their concern to my attention in an open fashion.

This was the first time in almost a decade of dealing with any web publication that I had received such an immediate and abrupt response to an article or comment.

I have made no further comments on lxer since then. In those days I was known as chappaquachap.” However I have continued to read lxer on a regular basis and often tag articles of interest that I first encounter there, as can be seen by looking for the tag “via:lxer” in my list of del.icio.us links.

I have just re-activated chappaquachap as I learned this userid is still on their books, and I will use that account to bring this post to Ms. Schroder’s attention.

However, as a publisher in my own right, I won’t make further efforts to bring these matters to the attention of either LJ or lxer. I’m writing as one publisher to another, “man to man,” or mano a mano, as publishers probably often say in their private offices — offices that I would venture probably often have few, if any, women present.

I have often written that

“Open-source is supposed to be fun: if you aren’t having fun then something is wrong and you should try to fix it.”

Among the reasons open-source is so much fun is that, when done right, it is based on open collaboration and thus a public thrashing out of any disputes, not by fiat or decree.

But sometimes things go wrong, even by people who claim to understand open-source so much that they offer themselves as reporters and observers about it.

Well, to quote the old radio show, “Tain’t funny, McGee.”

Not funny to McGee, not to me, and not to Ms. Schroder and her colleagues, though it appears funny to LJ and lxer.

I’m trying to help put the fun back and fix it by writing this post.

We shall see if anyone “gets it.” I’m hoping they do.

Notes:

1. In my post of the words of the sea, I included the defintion of CHANNEL as given therein, but forgot to make the link between the ENGLISH CHANNEL and today’s memory channel. LIMEY dates back to the 18th century. Ships in those days could be at sea for months on end, with their sailors living on a protein-rich diet with little, if any, green vegetables, and no fruit. As a result many fell victim to SCURVY. Eventually someone found that the juice of the lime could prevent the disease, and as a result each sailor was given a daily ration of lime juice. As a result sailors came to be referred to as “Limey’s.”

That the disease was due to a deficiency of Vitamin C was not discovered under many decades later; lime juice is a good source of Vitamin C. Linus Pauling, after whom Linus Torvalds is named, wrote often in his last decades on the merits of high doses of Vitamin C in preventing the common cold, though I don’t think his claims were ever scientifically proven.

Sailors were also given a daily ration of grog, with an extra bonus serving after a battle was won, or a prize ship seized.

I continue this tradition of the Royal Navy as I write this blog, though I prefer the occasional glass of wine, or more frequently, beer, as an award for a post well-done.

2. I’m writing this in O’Hare Airport, waiting for the next flight out since American Airlines canceled my scheduled flight to Indianapolis. I had hoped to make use of their Admiral’s Club to while away the hours, but when I showed my ticket and explained that AA had canceled my flight, the attendant there said they didn’t do that, and I couldn’t use the club since I wasn’t a member.

I then asked to speak to a manager, only to be told none was present. Before I left I suggested he might want to raise my problem at the next meeting with management, as I was surprised AA was so failing in basic business intelligence and decency.

I was as surprised by the inability of the American Airlines employee on the scene to take any initiative as I was by the lack of respect for what to me seemed a fair request.

Thought I have started a a post about the letters I have written to CEO’s and their responses, I will keep it on hold until I report this problem to AA’s CEO and have received a response.

The CEO’s involved are those of Citibank, Control Data, IBM, Lockheed-Martin, the Wall Street Journal, and American Airlines.

This post itself constitutes a letter to the CEO’s of LJ and lxer.com.

I did finally make it to Indianapolis, several laters later than AA had originally promised to do. Both of my seat mates in Row 18 were fellow refugees from the canceled flight. When I mentioned that AA had neither given a reason for the cancellation, or said they were sorry, they were both sympathetic.

The man sitting next to me was a grandfather from Yuma, Arizona. He said that when he had tole the AA rep that he was trying to reach Indianapolis to see a soccer game featuring his five-year old granddaughter, he had received no sympathy, nor had they given any reason for the cancellation, which as we all knew occurred on a bright and sunny day, so weather could not have been the reason.

As I write this, I realize I am more troubled than when I first started writing this note. To wit,

If AA does a poor a job in creating a culture that promotes common-sense business practices in its customer representative, then what are we to believe about the culture and training it gives its pilots, pilots to whom we entrust our lives every time we board an aircraft operated by AA?

That’s enough for me to try to fly other carriers even though they may have a poorer track record than AA in canceled flights. The most important thing is to arrive at your destination,as only then can you comment on the service, good or bad, that you received.

Dead customers don’t file complaints.

I would rather live to fly another day.

Wouldn’t you?

I did learn that the gentleman was a lifelong farmer and was currently a consultant on advising growers on how to properly inspect their food. He relayed several anecdotes about food from Mexico and China that provided me a strong inducement to now buy only food grown within our own borders.

Though we have our problems, they are as nothing compared to what goes on outside our borders.

Take heed. Both in what you eat and which airlines you trust with your life.

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