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Dennis Ritchie, Creator of C, Dead at 70

by @ 10:32 pm
Filed under: computers — Tags: , ,

My first programming language exposure was 8088 assembly. Pascal was my second. but my third, C, was the one I absolutely loved.

Today I mostly program in C#, PHP, and JavaScript and I like the fact that they're modeled after C. I don't know what it was about C that intrigued me. Maybe the liberal use of pointers or the concise syntax. Whatever the case, I tip my hat to its creator, Dennis Ritchie. Thanks for such a great gift, sophistication and elegance.

Dennis Ritchie, Creator of C Programming Language, Unix and Inferno OS Dead at 70.

Steve Jobs Lessons

by @ 5:12 pm
Filed under: business,computers — Tags: ,

Plenty has been said about the life and legacy of Steve Jobs. I'm no Apple fan but I knew technology lost a leader when Jobs died. His passing reinforced a few truths I believe in life myself and here they are:

- Do what you're passionate about.
- You don't need a lot of people in your team, just the right people.
- Luck is an important determinant of success. Be ready when it comes along.
- Don't be afraid to start all over.
- Don't let success spoil you or failure ruin you.
- You are our own best competitor.
- Life is short and death doesn't discriminate.
- Life goes on after you're gone.

IT help Needed, Indian Style

by @ 5:06 pm
Filed under: computers,technology — Tags: , ,

It's such a stereotype, but there's a reason why Indians are associated with IT (Information Technology). Obviously Indians are very active in the field and most likely they are biggest ethnic group in the IT industry.

So where does a company go to hire IT people? In this case they post a giant want ad on an Indian grocery store's window. I snapped this photo recently while passing by a nearby Indian store. The sign had me do a double-take.

While the sign is indeed stereotypical, it's posted in exactly the right place. I'm not Indian but I do shop at the Indian store and I am in the tech field. I bet many more IT people shop there too.

Software Patent Sharks

by @ 2:46 pm
Filed under: business,computers,law,technology — Tags: , ,

This is superb reporting by NPR (link at bottom) on the murky business of software patents and how the real spirit of patent and copyright laws have been subverted by patent mills out to make a quick pile of cash.

These days greedy companies get patent protection for the most ridiculous and obscure algorithms. Most developers behind these patents don't even know what the patents actually cover. The patents are then sold to patent mills, which are front companies with a few lawyers and accountants collecting patents.

The patent trolls then go after anyone they deem to be a good target to extort money from, using frivolous lawsuits. From the thousands of patents in their lists, they can cash out with one or two, and that's what keeps this repugnant but lucrative practice alive.

The fact is that just about any idea anyone can fathom is covered in one way or another under one or more patents, mainly in vague general terms. That is why software is under siege now. Any entrepreneur who would dare conceive and implement a new product with a modicum of success, will inevitably be in the cross-hairs of patent lawyers.

And so we give yet another boost to countries like India and China and extinguish innovation in USA. I'd like to see how far these sleazy patent sharks can get in those countries.

Intellectual Ventures And The War Over Software Patents

Microsoft's Fate and DEC

by @ 2:42 pm
Filed under: business,computers,microsoft — Tags: , , ,

In this thought-provoking article titled, "Will Microsoft Learn DEC's Lesson?", the author makes a great comparison between the current state of affairs at Microsoft and the once mighty DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) headed by the late Ken Olsen.

I don't know how old the author is and if he remembers the glory days of DEC, but I do. Fresh out of UCONN's Engineering school, I was hired by an industrial division of General Electric as a VAX/VMS programmer. My memory is sketchy, but I think the machine at the time was a VAX 8810. It was so big and complex that it needed another computer, a PDP-11 I believe, just to boot it. So many things could go wrong that a reboot was an exercise in anxiety and patience.

I was so enamored by this minibus-sized contraption that I went beyond my programming duties and learned quite a bit of system management skills on it. So when the VAX sysadmin left for another job, I was ready to slide into his position. Looking back, as a 24 year-old, I was a bit young for the task but I did alright. I kept the systems running pretty smoothly, meanwhile undertaking a few major upgrades. Before I finished my tenure, I had the giant VAX replaced with a smaller, more modern VAX (model 4000, I believe). Through it all I remember the big budgets and the large sums of money we spent with DEC. The company was a money-making machine back then.

I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to DEC for "booting" my professional career. I may not remember any VMS commands now, but my VAX/VMS years were the stepping stones in a long career that continues today.

DEC's demise came fast, pretty much starting with Compaq's acquisition. By then, despite Compaq's statements of support, VAX/VMS was becoming irrelevant, and therefore DEC was irrelevant. Altavista.com had been DEC's last attempt at innovation outside VAX/VMS. As ingenious as it was and as popular as it became for a short span of time, the likes of Yahoo, Lycos and Infospace quickly crowded and stifled it.

Unlike DEC which was tied to only one product (VAX/VMS), Microsoft operates varying businesses and is not afraid of trying new fields. The problem is that Microsoft is too tentative and unfocused. For example, I like their .NET platform, but any developer can see that it's fragmented into many different technologies and initiatives. It's impossible to keep up with them.

They promote C# for a while, then swing to VB, then come around to C++, and then off to F# and IronRuby and IronPython. And this is just for coding languages, never mind the scattered frameworks, technologies, and platforms. I have, more than one time, considered switching my company's web infrastructure from WISA (Windows/IIS/SQL Server/ASP.NET) to LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP), and I'm a big C#/CLR fan.

Anyways, if Microsoft does fall, it certainly won't be quick like DEC and it probably won't be only because of its fanatical devotion to Windows and MS Office. Challenges abound, but Microsoft is still relevant and can prevail. But first it may need to clear house, clear its head and then get back whatever it was it once had and then lost.

Server Room from Hell

by @ 9:59 pm
Filed under: computers

Ok, admit it, how many of you have server rooms that look like below? We did, for a couple of days while we were moving the machines out to a new location. That's a real picture below.

Believe it or not this worked out rather well while we finished the migration. The company's web site operated fine until we pulled the plugs and moved the servers out. Then there was a short outage while we drove the servers across town to the new location and plugged them in.

And no, this was not hashemian.com's server room, it's from the company I work for 🙂

Server Room from Hell

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2010 Y2K Fun

by @ 11:41 pm
Filed under: computers

Happy new year, well, at least if you follow the Gregorian calendar. Every new year just before the calendar turns over I get a little nervous. Nothing like the Y2K time, but some tension nevertheless. The systems I take care of at work have been humming fine for years, at least as far as the calendar turn-overs go. But I always wonder about that one program I or a teammate wrote, or the one product we rely on going awry on January 1st.

Maybe a logging subroutine will look for a 2010 subdirectory in vain and crash trying. Or maybe some old product will think 2010 is really 1910 (if it still relies on a 2-digit year format), or vice versa and will make a giant mess of a calculation. Who knows what lurks under the heaps of twisted and long-forgotten code.

To be sure, the industry did have some headaches with 2010. Bank cards in Germany stopped working. Cisco and Symantec had issues with hard-coded dates in some of their products. Fortunately nothing too drastic happened that wasn't fixable and a few days into the new year things seem to be running normally.

As for us, we had one issue with an old internal reporting system which had the future years hard-coded through 2009 but no further. A user reported the crash and we promptly fixed that by extending the years to 2020. I know, we should just fix the code to automatically handle the years, but who has the time when we can just edit the code and append a few extra years to the list. Consider it a human-powered exception handling!

And so with the exception of that little problem, everything else appears to be OK. Guess that means that I'll be getting another support call in a decade and I'll probably just extend it for another 10 years, like a passport renewal process. After that, either me or the program will have been retired and we'll leave it to the next generation of programmers to tackle the issue. We must leave something for them to feel useful. I mean our predecessors gave us the Y2K challenge forcing us to use a 4-digit year format and it's long way off to Y10K.

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IE8 and JScript / WSH Bug

by @ 10:42 am
Filed under: computers,microsoft

Had a hell of a time chasing an inexplicable and sudden crash in one of my JScript programs last week. In the end Internet Explorer 8 was the culprit.

Thankfully removing IE8 is simply done via the Control Panel and it's rolled back to the previously installed one. Guess we have fair-competition rulings to thank for that or else IE8 would have been impossible to remove without damaging Windows.

Anyways, if you have IE8 installed and you run JScript in WSH, watch out, your program could crash under certain conditions. As for VBScript or other languages, I haven't tested them, so can't speak to those.

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Oracle and Sun

by @ 12:27 am
Filed under: computers,financial,technology

Oracle reported stellar earnings tonight that promises to send the stock up to a 9-year high tomorrow, at least judging by the after-hours activity. The company's latest acquisition of Sun Microsystems, announced back in August, is still pending EU regulatory approval, but the latest signs appear to indicate that it will clear that hurdle soon and complete the take-over. It has already been cleared by the US regulatory bodies.

EU has reasons to be worried about Sun's acquisition by Oracle and it has valid points. I and many others happen to share the same concerns. At the center of this debate is the future of open-source and mostly free products currently offered by Sun and used by millions of users and businesses worldwide. Chief among those products is MySQL, the database engine that powers the majority of Web sites operating on the Internet today. Java, the popular programming language created and maintained by Sun, is another product that's facing an unknown future under Oracle's ownership.

What will happen to MySQL and Java once Oracle takes control of these products? Oracle is playing nice promising innovation and continued support, but can that claim be trusted?

The situation is quite different from a couple of years ago when Sun itself acquired MySQL. Sun didn't have a competing database product and it had a track record of commitment to open-source and free products, namely Java. But Oracle is a different kind of company. Sure, it has solid products, chiefly the Oracle database and it has a proven history of successfully absorbing other companies' products into their mix. But it charges exorbitant prices for its products and its expensive maintenance contracts are legendary in the business. Oracle offers very little, if any, in terms of open-source and free products, and there is no reason to believe it will do so in the future.

What that means is that most likely Oracle will kill MySQL and Java in their current forms and integrate them with the rest of their expensive products. Once it has removed the potential threat, what's the incentive to continue with the free format? At best it may offer watered-down, crippled versions of MySQL or Java that will be useless to most, except perhaps for hobbyists and students.

In the end Larry Ellison will get his wish and Sun will be rolled into the Oracle's collective. The Sun's take-over challenges harken back to 2003 and Oracle's take-over of PeopleSoft. Back then Ellison came out swinging, steamrolling PeopleSoft's board and the regulatory agencies and eventually got his wish. This time around the damage to the industry will be worse, and the only beneficiary will be none other than Oracle itself.

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Cloud Computing Pitfalls

by @ 11:47 pm
Filed under: computers,internet,technology,web

From a development standpoint, cloud computing is a flexible and elastic computing environment. Sort of a server with unbound resources capable of running infinite programs for infinite users, with infinite processing power, memory, storage, and bandwidth.

Cloud computing is a dream for people like me who are developers at heart but spent much of their time as involuntary administrators, be it on Web servers, database servers, file servers, firewalls, networks, or whatever.

Of course everything good must come with something bad. Cloud computing is no exception. There is the lack of complete control over the resources, the risk of unforeseen outages and the risk of data leaks and data loss. And being at the mercy of the cloud vendors may not be good either. They could just shut you down by mistake or because of some bogus reason.

But one aspect I hadn't given much thought about is cost, specially the unexpected ones. Last weekend at work an unforeseen condition awoke a piece of bad code in our data access layer causing CPU thrashing on our database server. The systems still worked, albeit near a denial-of-service condition. By Monday we identified and patched the code and everything was back to normal. No cost was incurred as a result, other than perhaps some extra heat generated by the server.

If our systems were hosted on a cloud we might have been faced with a large invoice from the provider for the processing and bandwidth used. Or the provider might have just shut down our services to protect their other clients. The results could have been catastrophic.

When you operate your own servers, you may be able to get away with some mistakes. But in the cloud mistakes could cost you a lot, even your job. That risk is something we should be keenly aware of, as the computing landscape slowly shifts to the cloud. Like it or not, cloud computing will eventually usurp customized systems. It'll come with many benefits, but we must recognize that it won't be as easy as dumping in the applications and calling it a day.

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