Archive for November 2002
This is my last day of actual work before I spend the next week-and-a-half on training, then a week-and-a-half on holiday. The first week is a Windows .NET Advanced course held by our Microsoft specialists here in our building, so I’ll still have regular net access. Then I’m off to Valbonne, just inland from Nice in France, for 3 days studying Vmware ESX as I mentioned before. I’m paying €84 for an extra night in the hotel, so I can see a bit of Nice, maybe even go out on the final evening into nearby Valbonne. I hear it’s a reasonably nice area, but the offices I’m going to are naturally in a “technology park”, with all that implies. Still, I’ll have a whole day to spend as I wish, perhaps sur la plage de lumière.
What a week, starting with the Enterprise Backup Solutions (EBS) training course I give. As before, the biggest problem is actually getting hardware for the students to use to build a backup solution. It calls for one setup per three people, and a typical EBS setup includes a server with Fibre Channel adaptors, a SAN Switch, a “Data Router” that translates data and commands between Fibre Channel and different SCSI cabling types (depending on what cards you have plugged in).
Then there’s the “library”, which in generic terms is a bunch of tape drives inside a housing with tape storage slots and one or more “robot” mechanisms that shift tapes around between slots and drives. A library robot operates in almost the way you imagine, looking and sounding like something from Blue Peter or the Discovery Channel.
Libraries vary in size, from a rack-mounted box 2U (3.5 inches) in height, to a free-standing cabinet that takes up half the room, with a capacity measured in tens of terabytes. In the latter case the robot will not work if the door is open, for safety reasons. (It could rip your arm off at the shoulder.) A library is a pretty dumb system, and it relies on software running on the server to control the robot(s) and manage the tapes.
The robot part of the system doesn’t go wrong much, but we have far more problems with the SCSI communications side, with each 68-pin cable practically a fault waiting to happen. It’s a prime candidate for replacement with new technologies such as Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), which has the potential to be more reliable.
This is a field I need to keep one eye on, and writing a little piece like this helps me get my thoughts in order. In case you’re wondering why I’m doing this…
For the last three days I’ve been running an experiment in caffeine deprivation. All I got in return were mild headaches, and no noticeable benefits, so I’m about to jump off this particular wagon. My first cup is wafting vapours at me as I type this, so here goes…
(1 hour later) Well, the effect that caffeine seems to have on me is quite subtle, and a good one for the cyclical nature of the work I am doing. I need to be at my best during office hours, and if I slack off after hours, it’s not a problem. The effect to me was a general “perking up” without any “mania”. I am quite a fast talker, but even after a cola at lunchtime and coffee afterwards, I was able to discuss various technical issues with a visitor from the Netherlands without any communication breakdowns. Speaking of Led Zeppelin references, today I managed to send a group-wide email, about supported procedures on one of our products, with the subject “<Product>: What Is And What Should Never Be”.
I forgot to describe what happened last Friday, which I should, because it’s symptomatic of my current state of mind. Near the end of office hours, several colleagues were discussing going to the pub, right next to where I was sat, but I was not involved in the conversation. When the guy sat next to me was leaving, the conversation went something like this:
“Going to the pub?”
“Yeah. You coming?”
“I wasn’t invited.”
“You don’t need to be invited to the pub, silly.”
Well, as far as I am concerned, I do need to be invited. I’ve spent too much time in pubs among people who hardly notice I’m there, and wouldn’t care if I wasn’t. Since I find pubs unpleasant places (smoke, noise, drunk people), I need a positive reason to go, or at least an indication that my presence is of benefit to the others. If I’m not actively wanted there, I just won’t go.
And that’s it for socializing here in Ireland, since work, pubs and churches are the sole situations where it is possible to meet people. (In case you haven’t read earlier blogs, I’m an atheist, so that rules out religious ceremonies and all who attend them devoutly.) The one book I have read on the topic of dating talks about cookery classes and the like, but that just doesn’t happen in an accessible way here. I have seen reports of speed-dating starting here soon, and I might just go for that, but not at first, because it will be all over the 6 o’clock News.
Quiet weekend, with only some shopping to relieve the tedium. I bought some shirts, and books including A New Kind Of Science by Stephen Wolfram, a mathematician who is best known for developing the commercial software package Mathematica, which I’m still learning to use. This is my new “pottering” book, one I can pick up and hopefully get something out of at any time, joining Rem Koolhaas’ S,M,L,XL, which I’ve discussed already, and which is still filling that position after 4+ years. Both are heavy and will be a pain next time I have to move, but worth it.
Another book purchase: Genius – Richard Feynman and Modern Physics by James Gleick. It’s interesting, but a little disconcerting to someone who has read some of Feynman’s memoirs in the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman? Gleick draws heavily on that work, but seems to taking his subject far more seriously than the subject took himself. At one point he’s even trying analyze the way Feynman told stories about himself, looking for character flaws. The Feynman stories I have read that are sometimes self-glorifying, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes what-the-hell-just-happened? Personally, I can’t see much more to them than the simple pleasure storytelling affords both teller and listener.
I forgot that I set my alarm to go off 2 hours early this morning, so I was up and dressed by 05:40. I did this in advance of tomorrow morning, when I will attempt get up at 03:00 to try to watch the Leonid meteors. The forecast (as of Friday) is for a good display in this part of the world.
I’m up for a trip to Nice in France in early December, for a training course on Vmware ESX. I’ve done some work with Vmware GSX (the Windows Server version), but ESX is based on Linux and is a self-contained OS optimized for virtual machine use. It’s in-house, so it won’t cost us directly, though the trainers will be from Vmware themselves. All my boss needs to do is authorize the travel and accommodation expenses, and I’ll be off.
I’ve been to that part of the world before, for an IBM-sponsored IT conference, back when I did IT journalism in 94-96. Because I was a last-minute addition, IBM found a room in the Majestic Hotel in Cannes, the one where all the top film stars stay. Must have cost them a fortune, even in the off-season. The room was not big, but was on a high corner with a great view over the bay.
The conference was in Cannes, but by lunchtime on the second day I was sick of sitting in a stuffy conference room, and headed for the beach. A couple of hours later I was more chilled out that I had been for ages, and nearly forgot to head for Nice airport to catch my flight back to London. I managed to collide with a revolving door at the airport and break my specs, which gives you some idea of how “not there” I was.
This time I’ll be heading to the Sophia Antipolis tech park near Valbonne, which is a little inland from Nice, but I’ll have to make time for the beach and some art exhibitions. And a visit to Cannes too.
Where does the time go? This working week has been slightly mad, though not too heavily loaded, thankfully. The move is complicating matters, of course. Yesterday I changed my rent payment arrangements at the bank, and today my kolleague Kurt kindly karted a karload of krap, and I, up the hill from Blackrock to Clonskeagh in the Dublin area. It was quite a big car too, so that pretty much broke the back of the move. I’m still in Blackrock, with the laptop and a few books for company. No problem.
Another colleague lent me the DVD of Southern Comfort, which I’d never seen before tonight. It’s apparently an allegory for the Vietnam war, but featuring a bunch of National Guard “weekend soldiers” dropped in Louisiana to play war games. It’s almost a joyride for them, but when one playfully fires M16 blanks at the Cajun locals, things go rapidly downhill. There are obvious parallels with another famous “city boys in the bayou” film, Deliverance, and there are even similar shots of pigs being butchered. I can’t quite recall how realistic Deliverance was, but Southern Comfort gets pretty realistic here, killing real pigs with real bullets and butchering them with real knives, while next door whole families dance the night away.
I spent Saturday and Sunday evenings painting my new bedroom, in pure white as it turned out. I thought about doing something fancier, as I said, such as white with a hint of green, but it’s probably better to use posters etc. for effect. Tomorrow I’ll be signing a lease and cleaning up, then start moving stuff in on Tuesday.
When I move the TV and VCR, I’ll be able to set the timer and record everything I want to see for the rest of the week on one tape, which explains why I’m getting back in to books again. Current TV favourites include Becker, Will And Grace, and Boston Public. The latter “jumped the shark” some time ago, but between the over-stressed teachers, crazy students, and the kid who may or may not have chopped his mother’s hand off, you have to wonder what the hell will happen next. It’s almost the alter ego to Ally McBeal, another show by the same producers that I never got in to. (The first complete episode I saw was the very last one ever made.)
Trying to get back from my new place to my old place on Sundays is a nightmare. There is a bus service, but on Sundays they only run one bus every two hours. At least it ran to the printed schedule. And Dublin is supposed to be a modern city?
Just watched the film Bicentennial Man, which I’ve never seen before. It received some bad reviews, and I suppose it’s not the most challenging possible choice of material for Robin Williams. I’m familiar with the original Isaac Asimov story, and it’s clear to see where the story was spiced up to take advantage of Williams’ comic talents. (Is farting a sign that you’re becoming human?) In the parts where it mattered, though, I thought he was suitably restrained and faithful to the story, which is enough. In the end, the only truly schmaltzy aspect is the unnecessary Celine Dion ballad over the closing titles.
I’ve wondered, over the years, about film or television adaptations of great science fiction stories, and Bicentennial Man was one of them. Asimov’s Foundation books might make a TV series, since there’s far too much going on there to fit in even a trilogy of films. I’ve also imagined a series based on individual SF stories by great authors. My favourite SF short story, Death and the Senator by Arthur C Clarke, would be a good opener.