Out of the Office

I will be out of the office for the next week, out of town, and LIKELY to be not doing much writing or posting here for the next seven days or so.

I’m heading down to San Francisco to Macworld Conference & Expo. I’m teaching a 2-day session called “Total Network Awareness” in the Conference along with my colleagues John, Julian, & Shaun. It should be a GREAT session, as these guys really know their stuff, (except me of course… I’m only there for comic relief) When I last chatted online with Shaun & Julian they were a tad nervous, but John & I are the sort that can stand in front of people and ramble on for days about stuff, so I know we’ll be fine. Shaun & I especially work well together, having presented together now for several years. I know that if I so much as pause, he can finish my thought for me, and vice versa. The only difference this time is that instead of cramming everything into 90 minutes (the four of us did this session last year as a 90 minute one) we have TWO FULL days to lay it all out. I’m really glad about this because last year we literally FLEW through the material and barely made it… and the audience was gasping with questions at the end on *particulars*… That is good because that means they understood the big stuff and wanted details as to HOW to implement. This year we can actually walk them through doing it.

I’m also speaking again on Thursday at the MacIT Conference along with Dave Pooser The Puking Presenter, and (again) John Welch on a panel I’ve created for the purposes of talking about IT Disasters. Should be fun.

Apple could release something earth-shattering, and I may be tempted to comment on it here… otherwise, just talk amongst yourselves for a while because I’ll be busy.

C’mon Apple… keep it coming.

A small step for apple...

OK, so maybe somebody at Apple has a clue or knows how to listen. They announced a new rev of the Xserve today. I won’t bother to talk about the stuff everyone focusses on (CPU horsepower and whatnot, I have friends and customers you can turn to in order to get the skinny on what’s happening inside the new box. ) I’ll stick to the subject of all my usual rantings about servers and server design, the case. This is because I don’t manage servers, as in “what goes on inside the server” I manage Datacenters, namely what happens OUTSIDE the server once it is racked and operating.

The momentous cause of my small celebration today? Apple put a USB port on the FRONT of the Xserve. Whoo hoo!

Mind you this is only a very small step away from ‘style” and towards “substance”, and ironically “usability” but it IS progress and I have to give Apple credit for that.

As I have said before, to be truly useful in the environments it was designed for the Xserve should have all “user” ports on the front, namely USB, and Video, and all “system” ports on the back, namely power, network, FibreChannel, etc. If it connects to another system or the datacenter infrastructure, it goes on the back. If it interacts with a user, it goes on the front.

Datacenters are laid out in hot aisles and cold aisles, where the hot back sides of servers are isolated from the cold intake side. This allows for optimum cooling and airflow. In ideal datacenter environments the hot aisles will be contained and the heat given a specific path for removal. If users have to constantly have access to the back side of racks (or more accurately the hot aisles) then they can not be easily contained. Putting user-required ports on the back side of servers is counter-productive.

Of course, that isn’t my biggest complaint about the Xserve’s design. That remains the completely absurd overall length of the box, which still lays out to 30″ (76.2cm) which is so long that it completely obliterates and density advantage a 1U server supposedly buys you.

I know I’ll get video ports on the front panel long before Apple pulls their head out their butts on case length of 1U boxes though.

Thanks guys.

My Xmas Gift

Along with the analog-to-digital theme of the past few days, I received a USB turntable for Xmas. I’ve brought a box (one of many!) of old LPs to work and I’m running the conversion process in the background while I work. It is such a joy to hear all these old, obscure albums again! So far I’ve focussed primarily, and quite ironically, on my vast collection of early electronica. Very old Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre LPs.

Today I am finally hearing all of The Concerts In China again! It is as amazing as I recall. It is like I’m back in 1982.

In the height of the Napster craze I was able to snag a few tracks, and since then I’ve (re)purchased a few of JMJ’s albums off the iTunes Music Store… but TCIC and Rendez-Vous, two of my favorites have yet to be released there. (Obscure Chuck Fact: I traveled to Houston specifically to experience the “Rendez-Vous” concert… along with 1.5 million other people… to this day my parents thought it was to visit them… if they only knew. 😉 )

I’m listening as I capture, and right now is the sublime “Fishing Junks at Sunset”… I’m in heaven.

My geek project @ work

Most days I’m a high-tech executive dealing with the day-to-day operations of my company. Occasionally I get to do a little geek fun on the side though. Here is my latest one:


I set up an old Mac Mini with Boinx Software’s iStopMotion in my office yesterday, and today packaged it into a weatherproof container:

That was before I closed it up, so you can see the insides. 😉

We mounted it up on the roof, here:

That is the base of a 19″ telco rack bolted to the roof screenwall.

It is running a test timelapse now. I’ll post a link to the result soon.

Here it is:

No iPhone for me.

Chucks Old & New Phones

I finally retired my worn out, beaten, and tired Treo 600 a couple of weeks ago (yes, that is electrical tape holding the antenna on!) Did I get an iPhone? Nope.

I was at Moscone Center for the Macworld Expo keynote last January when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. I’ve been to many keynotes and basked in the Reality Distortion Field enough to have built up a strong resistance. I like the iPhone, I really do. I’m certain that it has a fine future. So certain I bought AAPL stock during a lull last spring when it was well under $100. But would I buy an iPhone for myself?

I seriously considered it. Here is what my decision came down to:

* I loathe AT&T.
I’ve been an AT&T customer before, both as a cell phone consumer, and as a corporate customer. Their billing and account management systems are probably the finest example of Soviet-style bureaucracy you will ever find in the free world. They make dealing with the Department of Licensing seem efficient by example. The lock-in deal that Apple made with AT&T was probably my biggest RDF let-down of the keynote. The more I thought about doing business with them the more I was put-off by the idea of buying an iPhone.

Yes, I know, I could have joined the (miniscule) ranks of the un-lockers, but I’ve grown old enough that I have lost the desire to hack *everything* around me. Some things I just want to work, and a telephone is one. The bricked phone people can whine, but honestly, they should not be surprised.

* I can’t go alone.
I was on a shared plan with my spouse, and it made sense for us to stay on one. In fact I started looking for plans that would work for my whole family. Chris is of driving age, and Nick is of “I need to be driven everywhere” age. Nick in particular was tiring of borrowing phones to call whichever of his two parents was coming to Track, Cross-country, or whatever practice/meet/lesson he needed to be shuttled to and from.

Sue & I had a 2100 minute plan from Verizon. I used about 120-175 minutes and she blabbed her way through the rest. We never went over and usually used almost all.

AT&T’s family plans don’t match up well with our usage and I could never get a straight answer on how they meshed with the iPhone.

T-mobile offered a family plan that seemed to fit us like Goldilocks’s “just right” porridge.

* Coverage and Technology
This issue is what completely sold me on T-mobile and the phones I chose, and eliminated the iPhone from contention entirely. T-mobile offers UMA phones. “UMA” stands for “Unlicensed Mobile Access” which boils down to yet another VOIP system, but this time using 802.11 as the Layer 1/2 protocols. T-mobile offers an option they call “Hot Spot @ Home” that includes a wifi router, and GSM/UMA phones to go with it. Sue wanted a small, “flip phone” type handset, so for her and the boys I selected a Nokia 6086. The killer features for Sue are small size and voice dialling. The handset I chose for myself is a RIM Blackberry Curve. The killer features for me are:

1. The ability to easily sync my contacts from my old Treo to it, a task slam-dunked with a side-grade of MissingSync from Mark|Space. I’ve been a happy user of their Palm product since my old trusty (and original “brick-phone”)Kyocera 6035 (… man I miss that phone… sigh.) It was trivial to get my years and years of phone address book entries into the Blackberry after purchase: hook it up to the Mac via USB and click. Presto!

2. Reasonable-cost data access.
I never actually used a full data plan on my Treo as Verizon’s data plan rates were particularly usurious whenever I looked at them. I was content to use my Treo more as a PDA (calendar/contacts/to-do lists/etc) than a full-blown communications device. I did use the excellent PDATraffic application to get traffic data for my commute, and paid $0.15 per kilobyte to do so (happily I might add, as the app was very lightweight in its usage.) T-mobile’s unlimited data plan seemed very reasonable and works both over the EDGE network (just like an iPhone) and over WiFi. (But unlike the iPhone I can make voice calls over WiFi too.)

Overall though the deal closer for me was the UMA/WiFi calling. We live out in the boonies. In the Cascade Foothill surrounded by hills and trees. Thick, tall trees that (occasionally fall down) contsantly and utterly destroy a cell signal. We’ve lived there for a decade and never have been able to make or receive cell phone calls. In some ways this is a blessing, but it is growing tiresome in today’s reality. Getting in touch with us by phone was always location-dependant. Now it doesn’t have to be. So for the first time ever, if you call me on my cell at home, I can answer. So can Sue, and now, so can the boys.

* Other Considerations.
I considered just replacing my Treo. I had collected a small number of useful PalmOS apps over the years and I really had grown fond of some of them. In the end I could not justify staying with the platform. It is really old and showing its age. I can’t bring myself to jump to Windows Mobile… it is just such a kludgey environment. Sort of the worst of PalmOS coupled to a bad WinCE UI.

The iPhone really is attractive. I suppose I will likely have one at some point in the future. But it is still an immature product with a long way to go. Apple had to compromise a LOT of things to get it shipped. The AT&T lock, the lack of features, the the lack of software. It all added up to a “not yet” for me. At this point in my life I’m content to hang back off the bleeding edge and let the early adopters work out the issues at their expense. I’m sure that by version 2 or 3 it will be what I am looking for. I’m happy to grab a mature, evolved product like the Blackberry Curve, and use it for all it is worth while the iPhone makes its way beyond infancy. I like my technology beyond the diaper stage right now.

So far I’m quite pleased with the Curve. It is small, thin, lightweight (especially compared to my Treo) and has some really nice features. I’m loving the way it handles email. My office mates constantly chide me for not checking my email often enough (shocking, I know to those of you who know me… but I have my mail client set to check every 30 minutes… not fast enough for my peers it seems!) So now I am notified in a very nice manner what my inbound mail queue looks like via my phone. If there is something important to attend to, I can. The chat clients are nice too. I only really use AIM, but I could branch into some others too now that I have a unified client (no, I don’t use Adium on my laptop.) The camera actually takes pretty reasonable pictures, so if I’m caught somewhere without my Olympus at least now you’ll have better shots here. It plays music much better than my Treo ever did and made a nice “extra iPod” on a recent set of long flights. I LOVE that it uses a standard USB cable, the same as my camera, to connect, charge etc. No goofy proprietary cable to carry! yeah! I’ve found some useful apps too. Google Maps (though the traffic feature is nowhere near as good as PDATraffic. 🙁 ) and a few others. The voice dialling is excellent, with no training required. It is the best voice dialer I’ve operated since my old Kyocera 6035.

Overall I’m happy with the choice. No iPhone, but at this time I’d rather have useful than just good looking.