Monthly Archives: November 2006

On Ferrara Caffe

The folks at redmonk are moving their blogs over to WordPress-land; see for example tecosystems.

Their new site has a different feel. One of the advantages of WordPress is that is possible to change the appearance of a site by the click of a mouse, due mainly to a web technology known as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

I’ve noticed several changes in the last few hours as the monker’s have continued on their migratory path.

I have also played with these site customizations, though I can vouch that the appearance of TWWP will most likely remain constant for some time to come.

I’ve always felt that web apps tend to favor dross over content; for example, most blogging templates use only a small part of the screen for the blogger’s words. A few weeks back I wanted a wider column, and searched the templates available from the WordPress folks before settling on the template that you are viewing as you read this post.

I’m hooked on this template because it happens to come with a photo. If you look at that photo you will see “Ferrara Cafe.” That’s because the photo was taken near the location of Ferrara Cafe, which in their own words is “America’s First Espresso Bar and Oldest Pasticceria.”

To me Ferrara Cafe means December of 1967. I was kicked out of my apartment by my then roommate as his cutie-pie was coming into town (they later married and are still gong strong almost 40 years later). I heard that one of my Courant classmates was going home for the holidays and so was able to rent his apartment on Elizabeth Street, in the part of New York known as “Little Italy.”

I also had a cutie-pie back then (we also later married and are stilll going strong almost 40 years later). We went out for a walk early in the morning of Christmas Day and found ourselves at Ferrara Cafe. It was one of the few businesses open and so we went in and had cappucino as well as their extraordinary baba au rum.

So that is why the theme of this blog won’t change. It is not a technically superior — it is emotionally superior.

Every time I see that photo I think of that special NYC morning almost 40 years ago. And now I expect some of you will, too.

DUDley Snideley on Software – shutdown shot down

In my younger days I was a great fan of the animated TV series Rocky and Bullwinkle. Among my favorite characters were Dudley Do-Right and his arch-nemesis, Snidely Whiplash, so I have taken their names for an occasional series of posts about the art and practice of software developed using the Design-Until-it-Drops (DUD) mode; see On designing software: DUD, RERO and BLOAT.

Our first chronicle comes to us by way of lxer.com, which posted a link to a wonderful blog post The Windows Shutdown crapfest — “I spent a full year working on a feature which should’ve been designed, implemented and tested in a week.”

It’s well-written and very informative, and a great example of a software design process gone wrong. There is also a link to a a related post Joel on Software — Choices = Headaches.

Though the first story is about Microsoft’s DUD-ness, DUD-ness is not hard to find.

For example, I was once involved in an open-source project that failed. My own view is that it was due to DUD-ness, but others thought my RERO-ness was the problem.

And I’ve recently heard a couple of stories that suggest IBM is not immune. A friend recently mentioned that one of IBM’s Java-based middleware apps instantiates over 60,000 Java classes when it is first fired up. Another said that he had seen a case where every class that implemented a piece of business logic resulted in the creation of at least ten related classes.

And though I’ve never been involved in Sun’s JCP process, I expect there’s a healthy dose of DUD to be found there as well.

I will write additional posts as I hear of interesting DUD-nes and of course user suggestions for further postings are welcome.

Snide remarks are especially welcome.

Notes.

1. One of the great pleasures of the series was the narration, which was provided by some of the well-known actors of the period: Hans Conreid did Snidely Whiplash; Edward Everett Horton was the narrator; Charles Ruggles was Aesop; and William Conrad, one of my favorite actors, was the voice of Dudley Do-Right.

One of the writers was Allan Burns. His most famous creation is the breakfast cereal character, Cap’n Crunch. “Cap’n Crunch” is known in computer circles as the nom-de-guerre of John Draper. I met Mr. Draper one day in the mid 1970’s while I was at Courant. He even offered to show me how to use a phone, though I declined. I realized some months later when I read the news of his arrest that I had made the right call.

An authoritative opinion on the accuracy of the Holocaust movie Fateless

I published the post Norman Salsitz, 86, Author Who Survived the Holocaust, Dies on 15 October 2006.

Two comments have recently been posted. The first endorses a new website about the Holocaust, the second questions the reliability of the website.

I wrote the post to honor the memory of Mr. Salsitz, a man who risked his life to save the lives of others, and was thus a volunteer of the highest order.

I am no expert on the Holocaust and have no opinion on the reliability of the website that was the subject of these comments, but I have recently learned of an opinion from someone who is an expert in this area, and so am taking this occasion to share that opinion with you.

I have an acquaintance who is the child of Survivors. Both his parents were born in Hungary. His father recently saw the movie Fateless. It is also known as “Sorstalanság.”

His father said the movie was the most accurate depiction he had ever seen of the grim reality of day-to-day life in a Nazi Death Camp.

His father speaks with authority on this matter, as he one of the few survivors of Auschwitz still alive today. He is 82, and has helped lead tours to Auschwitz for the last several years. He now lives in Montreal and is one of the few remaining Survivors from Montreal, though at one time were well over one hundred.

The first visit was the most memorable — he took his son to show him Auschwitz.

Make or buy? Home, sweet home

I don’t know which browser you are using to read this post, but I do know that if you raise your eyes a bit you will see a picture of a building — the standard icon for “home,” the starting point for our travels, whether from the home to our office, or from your home page to this web site, or an e-mail sent from your home computer to a loved one far away..

That’s the subject of this post, home — home, sweet home.

The word “home” is part of using a computer: $HOME for the “home directory,” which an be abbreviated using ~ in the shell, and is the default target of the command cd (Change Directory).

As already mentioned an icon representing a house is the standard symbol for your browser’s home page — the Bard himself foretold this centuries ago:

You had much ado to make his anchor hold:
When you cast out, it still came home.

The Winter’s Tale, I, ii, 213-214.

Browsers always have a default home. You can even tell the browser which page to use as your home page, and if you know a bit of HTML, the universal language of the web, you can build your own home page. See for example, my post Thanks Steve O’Grady. Thanks Redmonk, in which I list some of the anchors on my personal home page.

Though it’s not very hard to build a browser home page, it is much harder to build a real house.

We all face a Make/Buy decision when we need a place to live. Whether to buy or rent? Whether to buy an existing home or build a new one?

But there’s another question few people in any advanced society ever ask themselves — Should I make my home with my own hands? [1]

I met one such person as a small child, and remember marveling at the house when I visited it, wondering how someone could have all the skills needed to build house.

I met another such person almost thirty years ago — my nephew David.

David’s wife Sheila is my wife’s youngest niece. They built their house about 25 years ago. As it happens they are visiting us this weekend, and I just learned more about this unusual story so I could share it with you.

David spent his first year after college, in the late 1970’s, working in construction, renovating townhouses in Cambridge, MA. He was laid off and then spent the next several months investigating solar energy to see if there were any opportunities in that field. He was then renting his house, and had been thinking of renovating an older building to make his own home once he found his job.

His landlord, a local building contractor, knew of David’s interest in solar energy, and told David of a house he had seen in upstate New York, one that used an innovative passive-solar heating system. David met the builder, learned more about the house, and then decided he would build his own house on that model instead of doing a renovation.

His landlord happened to own a piece of property with the necessary southern exposure. The property was also hard to develop (you have to see the driveway to appreciate how steep a deriveway can be) and was uncleared.

Sheila and David spent a year — on weekends and during their vacation time — clearing the land. David then acted as his own general contractor, but did most of the work himself. He contracted out only the following:

  • excavating the large pit for the solar heating system;
  • having a mason build the foundation;
  • having a team from the builder’s company help him assemble and post-and-beam frame;
  • having a plumber do the rough plumbing;
  • having an electrician do the rough electrical work.

David did everything else with his own hands: roof, walls, floors, finished electrical, windows, finished plumbing, and so on, and so on. He did all the work on the house while also working full-time.

They lived in a trailer next to the home after it first went up. They moved in during late December the first winter when the door to the trailer froze. Parts of the house went unfinished for years; for example, the tiling in the guest bathroom went in only a few years back.

I’ve spent many delightful visits in the house and can attest to its comfort and the quality of the work. The designers of the house are still in business; see Adirondack Alternate Energy: Low Energy Requirement Homes. David reports that several people have had their own homes built after seeing his, though he knows of no one else who has done so much of their work on his own.

The solar system has worked very well. The house is about 25 miles north of Boston, and David reports it takes less than a cord of wood to heat it for the winter season (He find the wood of his own property, and uses a log splitter to make it into firewood.)

David eventually decided there wasn’t much of a future in the solar energy business in terms of starting a new career, so he found a job working for a mechanical contractor. One day the contractor told David of some problems with his payroll program, and David took the first steps on what has become his career for almost three decades, in computer software design and management.

David also has other skills. He is an expert sailor and mechanic. He ran regularly for over 20 years, often getting up at 4AM in the morning to run — with the aid of a miner’s lamp so he could see the road. He ran in six marathons, including two in Boston. His best time was 3:17. [2] His knees no longer permit long-distance running, so he has became a serious student of yoga.

David has another unusual quality, one you wouldn’t expect in a man of his talents.

He is looking for work. Indeed, he even had to fire himself from his previous job, as he related to me in a note a few weeks back:

David,

I think you may have heard by now that I am in the market for a new job. Back in March of this year our parent company XXXXXXX was purchased by a private equity firm that is selling our division for it’s customer base. They have stopped all R&D initiatives and reduced the work force by 60%. The folks that are left are supporting the clients until a new owner is found. I had the distinct privilege of laying myself off along with several other people. I must admit the folks that are left are not having very much fun either.

All of that being said, I want to share with you my goals. I value your input and in this business I never know where my next lead is coming from.

After 28 years in the business I think my strongest asset is experience in effectively leading teams of people to accomplish a goal. That can be in either Product Management, Customer Account Management, or Data Center Operations. My specialty within any of these fields being that of change control, mitigating the risks associated with change.

I have a strong technical database background that is the lens that I view the world through. With the world ever flattening and 1 to 2 generations behind me I can no longer complete at the technical level. I believe general management and/or operations is where I can be most effective to the bottom-line.

Anyone looking for someone with his background would know almost all they need to know about him by knowing that he build his own house, with his own hands. If he can do that, think how he can help you build your business.

If you’re interested in learning more about him, please respond via comment below or email to david D-O-T shields A-T yahoo D-O-T com

Notes.

1. Many people in undeveloped countries have no choice. If they need shelter they have to build it themselves.

2. As noted, David was visiting the morning I wrote this post, so I felt quite the reporter, leaving the computer to goask David what was his best marathon time, for example.

The Sky is Falling

There has been so much open-source news lately — Oracle / Red Hat; Sun / FSF; Microsoft / Novell — that many open-source experts see dark clouds forming, and some even think the sky is falling.

I come not to write about Chicken Little, or even Henny Penny, though Henny Penny would be a good subject for a follow-up post on the poor rich folks who need a billion or so dollars to enjoy a comfortable upper middle class life-style. No, today I write for the open-source folks — and non open-source folks — who just read blogs and don’t comment, or who read e-mail lists, but never write any e-mail to the list.

We call them “lurkers,” and our guest of honor today, the day before Thanksgiving, is none other than turkey-lurkey himself.

As those who were here a fews week ago can attest, TWWP takes holidays seriously. See for example:

Happy Halloween

Halloween+1: Deflating the pumpkin

(By the way, Mike Shields, owner of Mike’s Pumpkin, is home for the holiday. He and his sister Jen are driving to a nearby cider mill — , Thompson’s Orchards — as I write this, to get some cider for Thanksgiving. Mike is an expert at “mulling” cider.)

So let me try to offer some holiday amusement by recalling some of my memories from attending Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC over 20 years ago, when we lived on NYC’ West Side.

People outside NYC who see the parade on TV see a spectacle that takes place near Macy’s main store on 34th and Broadway. However, the parade actually starts on West Wide, at 79th Street, just south of the American Museum of Natural History. It then goes down Central Park West (CPW), on the western edge of Central Park. We lived on West 93rd at the time, less than a mile from the parade. [1]

Our first parade was when our oldest daughter was in the late 70’s. We had a leisurely breakfast, and arrrived near the Museum around 9:30. Turns out the parade had already moved on — it was too late — and all that was left was a broken-down cart. So we turned around and vowed to return earlier the next time.

We were quite protective of Alison, our first child. We read to her a lot, and didn’t let her watch much TV. We didn’t watch much TV either — we only had a black-and-white set then.

Next year we were on time and she one among many children when we saw a big green-colored baloon come around the corner from 79th onto CPW. I said, “Alison. Look, a giant green frog!” Then I heard thousands of children shout, “Hi, Kermit!”

That’s when I realized we were depriving Ali of her culture. We put her on on occasional diet of Sesame Street the next day.

(A few years later I heard from a friend that one of the questions on the entrance tests for kindergarten at some private schools was, “What color is Big Bird?” I then realized that the admissions officer assumed that parents were making their children watch Sesame Street, and that they could afford a color TV. I bought our first color TV shortly thereafter.)

Our family, as well as many others in our neighborhood, did have a personal connection with Sesame Street. The actor who played Mr. Hooper lived on CPW near West 93rd, so you could hear the shouts of glee as children said, “Hi, Mr. Hooper!” when they saw him sitting on a park bench.

By the way, my wife and several others spent years of volunteer time convincing the city to renovate the playground at CPW and West 93rd. We left NYC in 1987 just before it re-opened. It’s till going well today, and I hope has the same name, “The Wild West 93rd St. Playground.”

We arrived late one year, so proud-papa Dave hoisted Ali onto his broad, strong shoulders so she could see the parade, and spent most of the rest of Thanksgiving day in a state of near-paralysis on the sofa of our hosts.

Here are a few tips for those who haven’t been to the parade:

Parking is difficult on the West Side that day — it’s the most expensive day of the year to park. If you can, take the subway.

Get there early.

It’s more fun near the Museum of Natural History.

Stay on the street level; the park side is less crowded. This way you can hear the children and the bands. We saw it one year from the 3rd floor of a posh building on CPW in the 60’s, but it was like watching something on a big-screen TV.

You can watch the helium baloons being inflated the night before, starting around 8PM, on 79th between CPW and Columbus.

Speaking of the Museum of Natural History, I invite any residents of NYC to join an elite circle. One day, just after a big snowstorm in NYC, my wife took our son Mike to the Museum on a sled, and when she went to check in the sled, she learned he was the first person in living memory to arrived at the Museum via sled.

The Museum of Natural History is open every day of the year except Christmas. Must-sees include the dioaramas, especially the group of elephants considered the finest work of taxidermy to date, the gems and mineral collection, and the dinosaur exhibit. There is a benchmark just outside the south entrance on 79th between CPW and Columbus.

Just south of the Museum on CPW you can find the New York Historical Society, one of New York’s under-appreciated treasures. Notable exhibits include the Audubon prints, as well as one of the great works of American art, Thomas Cole’s five-picture series “The Course of Empire.” See where you think open-source is today? Thomas Cole was an early forerunner of “Where’s Waldo?” He signed his paintings but in an unusual way. Look for his name on a rock, or on a tree, for example.

Happy Thanksgiving — to both turkey lurkeys, and turkey non-lurkeys.

PS: I forgot to add another open-source connection. In the early 80’s I used a modem control program called “kermit,” written by folks at Columbia Univ.

Notes.

1. Most of Manhattan is laid out in a grid, following a design established around 1820. Avenues increase in number from east to west, and streets from south to north. Twenty north-south blocks comprise a mile.

On the origins of the phrase “Open Source Volunteers”

I just came across the following while cleaning up my desk:

OpenSourceVolunteerism

It’s the oldest record I have of writing which resulted in the name for our project, OpenSourceVolunteers.

One of the hardest aspects of programming is coming up with names. If you get the names right then the code often writes itself.

Make my day

Some days I envy Jon Stewart and the writers on The Daily Show. It happens when I see a headline, or a photo, or a quote, and know that one of them has seen it too, and immediately realized they had enough material for the first half of the show, and perhaps for several more shows as well.

Sometimes it’s just a phrase. Remember Al Gore’s saying, “I invented the internet.” Or the current President Bush landing on an aircraft over a third of a decade ago to say, “Mission accomplished? [1]

Sometimes it’s a photo. Yesterday’s New York Times had a photo on the front page that showed the current President Bush and several other world leaders. It was taken at a dinner in Vietnam, and shows them wearing a local costume that makes them look like teeny-boppers caught in the act at a pajama party.

I’ve read the New York Times every morning for over forty years now, and one of the interesting aspects of open-source is how often I can find an article that I can relate in some way to open-source. Today’s New York Times had a front page story that made this blogger’s day.

It bears the title, “In Web World, Rich Now Envy The Superrich.” I knew right from the get-go it was not about open-source, but I read on, and my patience was rewarded:

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 20 — Almost anywhere else, Reid Hoffman would be considered a major success. As an early executive of PayPal, he was in the money when the company was sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion. These days, he runs a new start-up company of his own while investing in others.

But when greater fortunes are made — as happened recently to three former PayPal colleagues when YouTube was sold to Google for $1.65 billion — Mr. Hoffman said he could not avoid a twinge of envy.

“It’s kind of embarrassing,” said Mr. Hoffman, 39, whose start-up, a business-oriented social-networking site called LinkedIn, is almost four years old. “You started a year or two earlier, and they start after you and then this thing zips right past you and gets the golden results.”

The article goes on a bit, and then includes a quote that Mr. Hoffman will regret for the rest of his life (emphasis added) :

Mr. Hoffman, who made enough from PayPal to “retire to a comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle,” said he felt no spite toward peers who later hit bigger jackpots. Still, he said, “there’s always components of, ‘Wow, you happened to pick the right time,’ and that will always lead to some kind of implicit envy.”

Got that fellow open-source developers? I know we’re not used to dealing with money, especially large sums of money, but even I must admit I find it very troubling that the entry ticket for “a comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle” is a chunk of one and one-half billion dollars.

Turns out it’s tough to be superrich. I learned from Alain de Botton, author of “Status Anxiety,” that “It can seem like the only way to be respectable is to achieve as much as the founders of YouTube or Google.”

Not so in the open-source world. Who is more respected than Linus Torvalds? Last I heard his salary was in the medium six digits. Pretty good for a programmer, but certainly not commensurate with his skills. He’s the leader of the team that has produced Linux, software of such quality that Microsoft has been forced to take a novell approach to dealing with it.

What would Linus be worth if he were a Microsoftie? One billion? Two billion? Who knows. Who cares. He doesn’t.

I read on to learn it’s not just about money, but what makes the world go round — sex:

Mr. de Botton pointed to research that has been done on attractive women who feel ugly when surrounded by images of more beautiful women. “Very often the problem isn’t so much what an individual happens to look like, but the extraordinary comparisons being made,” he said.

As open-source developers we can’t help these “poor” rich folks with their money troubles, but we can provide some assistance in their love lives.

So if you happen to know any rich folks who are turning green with envy of the superrich, please direct their attention to soem of my earlier posts:

Who should be the Pirate of the Caribbean? Linus Torvalds? Johny Depp? Russell Crowe?

Open-source is sexy

TWWP goes to the movies: “Bond, James Bond.”

Bond Sucks, Tux Sux: Linux Hacks Nix Bond Flix

We learn further on in this sorry tale that a Mr .James Hong, a co-founder of Hotornot.com, a dating site, and someone else who is going to regret talking to a New York Times reporter the rest of his life, has decided to dedicate his life to matching Mother Teresa in saintliness, starting with the daring deed of trading in his $55,000 Porsche Boxsteer for a Toyota Prius, as he saw himself succumbing to the envy malaise. Trading a Porsche for a Toyota — noblesse oblige at its finest.

The saddest part of this sad tale is that these people don’t realize that the greatest rewards can come as soon as you have enough money to put food on the table, clothes on your family, a roof over your family’s heads.

Because once you’ve done that then you can try to find some spare time to volunteer your skills to help make the world a better place — on your own dime, on your own time.

Which person do you admire more, or would you want your children to admire more? The rich gentlemen Hoffman and Hong, or the subject of one of my earlier posts, E. Fred Garel, Jr., May his memory be a blessing, a maintenance worker who spent his life in service to others?

As we near the holiday of Thanksgiving, let us celebrate the things that matter — the things without cost.

Notes:

1. Those with an interest in the history of Linux can find an interesting quote in an e-mail sent to me in January, 1999, as noted in the Jikes Archives section of this blog; look at the end of the cited document ShieldsD.txt.

Make or Buy?

I’ve gotten thousands of e-mails about open-source in the last few years, but have saved only a handful. Here’s one of them I’d like to share with you.

Suppose it’s getting close to 6PM and you’re hungry. You have two options. Do you make dinner? Or do you buy it?

You face a make-buy decision. Here are two examples:

1. It’s 10PM. You’re on the way from the airport to the motel. The flight in had execrable food, so you’re hungry, but you doubt that room service will still be open by the time you arrive at the motel. [1] You see a Denny’s a few hundred roads ahead on the right. What do you do – make or buy?

My guess is that you will pull into the Denny’s parking lot and buy your dinner.

2. It’s late Saturday. You’ve been to the local Farmers Market earlier. [2] You bought lots of fresh vegetables, and perhaps even some pickles. [3] The weather was nice then but a driving rainstorm has since developed. You had planned to go out, but you hear on the radio that a nearby parkway is flooded. What do you do – make or buy?

My guess is that you’ll stay home and make dinner for yourself.

Here’s another. Suppose you want to enter a car in the Indy 500 race. Do you buy one from your local dealer or do you make one for yourself?

My guess is that you’ll make one for yourself. I visited the Indy 500 museum in mid-October, and almost all the cars were hand-built. Only a few production cars ever had any great success in the race, and they were heavily customized by the manufacturer’s mechanics to make them serious contenders.

Part of my job is to help people answer make-buy questions, but in the context of software, not dinner or racing cars (though both of the latter are of course much more fun).

Though thousands of e-mails on open-source have come my way in the last few years, I have saved only a handful. Here’s one of them, one that speaks directly to the “make-buy” question:

As far as your comment: “Reimplementing existing technology is a terribly inefficient use of our resources and skills. Have you discussed this issue in any meaningful way recently?” rest assured that I, and others, address this matter on a daily basis.

You should understand, however, that open source and other new development paradigms don’t seriously alter traditional legal/business analysis when considering whether or not to use someone elses’ intellectual property or to develop your own. Traditionally, responsible commercial organizations have either reimplemented existing technology or sought a license to the existing technology under terms and conditions that are acceptable to the organization’s business model. Open Source licenses may not have terms that are acceptable or even applicable to the business. In that instance, it may well be more efficient to reimplement the technology then to adopt a commercially unacceptable license. Each case needs to receive individual examination.

We’ll study make-buy issues in more detail in future posts.

Notes.

1. If the flight didn’t have execrable food then please place a collect call to Steve O’Grady. I’m sure he’ll accept the charges.

2. The example is not hypothetical. Pleasantville, NY, has both a great Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning that is open from 8AM until 2PM or so, as well as the part of the Saw Mill River Parkway that floods at even the hint of rain. The diner across the street is a great place for breakfast.

3. One of the great attractions of the Pleasantville market on Saturday is the “pickle lady” from NJ. The pickled mushrooms are delightful.

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