Archive for February, 2007

Pimping My MacBook Pro

February 27, 2007

I thought I’d advertise the fact that I run OpenSolaris on my MacBook Pro (using Parallels virtualization technology). My first attempt lacked any pretense of subtlety:

[OpenSolaris logo on MPB]

After a few days I missed the elegant look of the MBP and removed the decal. I’ve settled instead on a more conventional label, as shown here:

[I Boot OpenSolaris logo on MPB]

I have extra stickers if anyone on the Sun Burlington campus is interested.


The Nasty Business of Scale

February 24, 2007

We think about scale a lot in the computer industry. And then some of us have to go home and deal with a much nastier version of the problem. Namely scale insects.

I found the charmer below attached to the trunk of my baby Meyer Lemon tree last week, along with a handful of similarly egg-bloated friends. Having removed them, my tree now seems a lot happier.

By the way, for those readers who remember my previous entry about the red coloring in some fruit drinks being made from ground up bugs, those bugs–the cochineal insect— are another kind of scale insect.

[scale insect #1]

[scale insect #2]

[scale insect #3]

Shhhh…I’m working!

February 22, 2007

Sun has a very flexible work from anywhere policy. You’d think with my 70-80 mile roundtrip daily commute I would be working from home a lot, but I don’t. Stuck in a rut, I guess.

Lately, though, I’ve been working from home about one day a week as an experiment. It works pretty well, though I need to improve my home office space so I can get some distance from the local distractions (most notably a noisy Poicephalus senegalus.)

I’ve been working on an internal document about performance testing for HPC and realized this morning that I had no meetings scheduled today and really no good reason to drive all the way to Burlington to sit at my laptop working on this document only to then suffer the slings and arrows of Rts 128 and 95 on my way home at the end of the day.

[Sharon Public Library]
My office for today. The statue is of Deborah Sampson, who fought in the
American Revolutionary War disguised as a man.
Read her story here

My wife suggested I try our local library and that is where I sit as I write this. Very pleasant. Quiet and spacious, with free wifi. And a Starbucks next door. And five minutes from my house. And productive: I completed the next draft of my document in far less time than I had expected.

I could get used to this!

Put your least creative engineers on that project, please…

February 21, 2007

Sun’s Systems Group holds regular, two-day internal CTO Review meetings at which the status of pretty much every project currently running within the Systems division is reviewed. These meetings are run by Mike Splain (Systems CTO and Sun’s Chief Engineer) with John Fowler (Systems EVP) in attendance as well.

At least week’s meeting, John made the following somewhat surprising comment during a presentation about a new software project starting soon in Systems. He said:

“Do me a favor and put your least creative engineers on that project, please.”

John was right on target. Why? Because the project is about implementing functionality currently available on some non-Sun systems, and customers who have these systems already understand how to use the existing interfaces and utilities. The correct objective should be to do an excellent job implementing those existing interfaces for our systems. Doing a better or different interface is not always the right answer. In fact, it is often the wrong answer, especially when growing aggressively into new markets and taking business from competitors. In such cases, lowering the switching costs for customers is very important. Common interfaces, especially management interfaces, are an important way to do this.

That’s not to say innovation isn’t important–it is. But innovate in ways that add value, not in ways that create gratuitous differences between our products and those of the competition.

Mac Book Pro, Part the Sixth

February 20, 2007

This weekend, my Mac Book Pro started making a new noise. Like a teapot whistling in the distance. Or someone screaming. Very noticeable and unpleasant. Given all of my previous problems I was going to ask Apple to consider giving me a replacement machine if they determined it needed yet another repair. As it turned out, the technician was able to fix this problem over the phone. Well, he made the problem go away. We’ll see if it comes back.

He first had me reset the SMC (system management controller) by shutting down the system, removing the AC power, removing the battery, and then holding down the power button for 15 seconds. After reinserting the battery and reattaching the AC power, he had me reset the system’s PRAM (parameter RAM) and NVRAM (nonvolatile RAM) by pressing the power button and then immediately holding down the Apple, Option, R and P keys until the 2nd reboot chime had sounded. The noise was gone once the machine rebooted.

Resetting the SMC also resets the PMU (power management unit), which had apparently lost its mind and needed a reset. Once the technician mentioned this, I recalled that the system did seem to be burning through its battery power faster than usual and I’d had occasional (and new) problems getting the system to sleep properly. Apparently, these are both also symptoms of a PMU that needs to be reset.

War Coverage

February 15, 2007

I’ve been frustrated by the lack of war coverage I’ve seen on CNN and heard on the BBC and NPR. At this point, “war coverage” amounts to reporting how many bombs have been detonated today and how many were wounded or killed. That’s perhaps a slight overstatement, but not much of one.

About a year ago, I went looking for some news sources that would give me a better sense of how our forces are doing on a day to day basis in Iraq. I’ve subscribed to the American Forces Press Service and to DoD News and find them both useful. The former covers the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and some broader topics, while the latter is mostly a source for American casualty reports.

You can subscribe to mailing lists or RSS feeds for both of these sources here.

Here is a sample email from the American Forces Press Service.

100 Terrorists Killed, 50 Detained in Operation Turki Bowl

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2007 – U.S. and Iraqi forces killed 100 terrorists, detained 50, and dismantled a large terrorist group in January during Operation Turki Bowl, the senior U.S. Army officer in Iraq’s Diyala province said yesterday.

The operation, conducted from Jan. 4 to 13, occurred south of Balad Ruz in the Turki Village, Tuwilla and 30 Tamuz areas of the province. During the operation, U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers isolated and defeated a terrorist group known as “The Council,” Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, told reporters via satellite connection from a news conference in Iraq.

“The group, made up of former Baath Regime members, al Qaeda and Sunni extremists, refused to participate in any political dialogue and preferred attacking innocent civilians in the Diyala province,” Sutherland said.

The council killed as many as 39 civilians in one kidnapping and mass murder in November, he added.

“The fear of the people and the weapons used by these individuals are used to attack the core of Iraqi values and beliefs,” Sutherland said. “They are interested in preventing individual human rights and freedoms that the people of this region want so much.”

Leading up to the large-scale operation, coalition forces discovered a large weapons cache in November in the area, resulting in “major combat operations with several large organizations” of terrorists, Sutherland said.

“Upon defeating them, we intentionally moved back to our base of operations so that we could exploit the intelligence that we would … gather over the next several months,” he said.

While developing plans for Operation Turki Bowl, U.S. military leaders, with the 5th Iraqi Army Division, studied the enemy’s early warning systems, their actions, and “how they reacted to our initial contact with them,” Sutherland said.

Coalition forces conducted smaller-scale raids in the area prior to Operation Turki Bowl, to give civilians a perceived safe-haven and encourage their cooperation with troops, he said. Through tips and phone calls to coalition forces, civilians provided invaluable information about the enemy, Sutherland added.

“What we wanted to do was isolate (terrorists) from the population so they could not blend in,” Sutherland said. “It (was) a counterinsurgency operation, but the difference is we were able separate the terrorists from the people they were living off of.

“Since I’ve been here, we have not conducted an operation where we have been able to bring to bear against a group of this size that was willing to fight us out in the open,” Sutherland said.

In addition to defeating the council, troops found 25 weapons caches containing more than 1,150 Katusha rockets and 1,000 rocket-propelled grenades, 170 anti-tank missiles, anti-tank mines, small- and heavy-arms ammunition and sensitive terrorist documents.

Soldiers are now focused on interacting with the local populous and reinforcing the security and stability of the region, according to a Multinational Force Iraq news release. The Iraqi army will maintain a permanent presence, while coalition forces are focusing on reconstructing roads, essential services and other basic services to help the people of Turki, the release stated.

“This operation clearly was a significant tactical success for (coalition forces), (Iraq army), and most importantly, the citizens of Turki and surrounding areas,” Sutherland said. “The long-term affects we hope to achieve are stability for economic growth, increased political action for all parties and self-reliance for the Iraqi government and security forces.”

Something Fishy About Printer Inks

February 15, 2007

According to a recent issue of the Economist, printer ink is more expensive by weight than caviar.

Searching the World in Parallel: Couch Potatoes Unite!

February 7, 2007

I wonder if the ongoing search for missing sailor and computer science researcher Jim Gray will eventually be viewed as the start of a new trend with far-reaching and world changing consequences. Are we entering the era of massively parallel physical search?

As you may know, fresh satellite images are being used to hunt for Gray’s boat in likely target areas. Volunteers are using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website to examine images and flag possible objects of interest for closer analysis. The Find Jim Gray Project is open to anyone who wants to help.

Consider the possibilities. By combining satellite or other imagery with simple web interfaces, it will be possible to mobilize thousands or millions of motivated people towards a wide range of common goals. For example, would you volunteer to:

  • Watch for people burying IEDs on the roads outside of Baghdad?
  • Search for lost fishing boats or missing aircraft?
  • Watch for poachers in African game preserves?
  • Monitor your favorite national border for illegal crossings?

I’ll wager millions of people would be interested in each of the above. Millions. None of these catch your fancy? I’ll bet you could dream up an interesting project in minutes. With sufficient satellite coverage at sufficient resolution, the possibilities would be huge.

You may see it as a dystopian vision of the future, but I don’t see it that way. The satellites are up there now being used, for the most part, by governments for their own purposes. Why not use them more broadly for tasks beyond national interest?


February 5, 2007

A quick note for anyone who sees this error message and a screen full of other information when trying to boot Windows XP. I saw it this weekend on my sister’s laptop. The fix wasn’t difficult.

I booted the laptop using my own Windows XP installation CD (bought for use under Parallels on my MacBook Pro) and started the Windows XP Recovery Console. Just boot from the CD and when you get to the main menu, select the repair option. I don’t remember the wording of the menu choice, but it was straightforward–just don’t accidentally start a new XP installation! Before you try booting from the CD, make sure your machine is set up to use the CD/DVD drive as a boot device. To do this, interrupt the boot process and enter setup mode. On the Dell laptop, do this by pressing F2 during boot. Once in setup mode, find the boot device settings and change them so the CD/DVD drive is listed before the hard drive (HDD.) Exit setup mode and the machine should then continue and boot from the Windows XP CD.

Once the recovery console was running, I typed

        chkdsk c: /r

to scan and repair the laptop’s system disk. When it finished, I typed “exit” and rebooted the laptop without a problem. Note that I did press F2 again to reenter setup and reset the boot device ordering to its original settings.

There are actually several issues that could cause the UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME error, so you may also want to read this article on the Microsoft site.

Jim Gray is Missing: Help Find Him

February 3, 2007

Presumably you know by now that noted computer scientist Jim Gray is missing at sea. You can help look for him via satellite without getting up from your computer. Go here to find out how.

Most of the images I’ve checked so far have been partially to fully cloud covered.