Managing programmers

February 18th, 2013  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

This is from an email sent to the IBM-MAIN mailing list by John Gilmore:

G. H. Hardy wrote that 1) intellectual curiosity, a desire to know how
things work, 2) craftsmanship, the need to do the  best job one knows
how to do, and 3) a desire for recognition, even fame, are sine quibus
non for success at any intellectual task.

Managers who employ programmers who lack these three characteristics
get the mediocrity they deserve.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that these managers, who are not
themselves programmers, have, with no understanding of the ‘skill set’
that programmers need, taken refuge yet again in crackpot realism.
Production lines, particularly those that are highly automated, can be
managed.  Programming projects must be led.

Oldest working digital computer

November 21st, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

The world’s oldest working original digital computer

Built in 1951 for Britain’s nuclear industry, it was in use through the early 1970’s and after restoration was rebooted yesterday. More at The Register.


November 12th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

A couple of words I don’t recall hearing at the ASMP meeting were “excellence” and “quality”, and that’s unfortunate. If the University is to truly be “of the first class” it should have administrative IT of the first class as well.

Now, some people hear “high quality” or “first class” and think “luxury”, but that’s not what this is about. We don’t need IT systems with lots of chrome or bells and whistles. Instead, we need systems that do their jobs correctly and efficiently, that require minimal maintenance and upkeep, and that make the people who use them more productive. Systems like this may cost more up front, but that additional cost will be more than covered by savings elsewhere.

When I started working here, our goal was to use information technology to make the University a better place to work, to learn, and to do research. Today it often feels like we’re just trying to keep things running. Can we go back to trying for first class IT?


November 5th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

I heard the word “commodity” used several times at the ASMP meeting last week. The implied message seemed to be that the University should always go with a commodity solution when one is available. Hopefully it won’t really be “always”. Big enterprises don’t buy enterprise-class hardware and software just because they can afford to and are too dumb to figure out that a commodity solution is available; there usually is some additional value that the enterprise solution provides. Since the University is an enterprise-scale organization, we will need enterprise class solutions to some of our problems.

Lovecraftian design

October 17th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

The H. P. Lovecraft Institute of Software Design

How many times have you heard a product architecture referred to as “sheer insanity?”

How many times have you rolled out a product and wiped out an entire knowledge structure?

Have you heard software developers use words that are clearly unpronounceable by human tongues?

If, during a post-mortem, you’ve heard someone shout, “Ygnailh… ygnaiih… thflthkh’ngha…. Yog-Sothoth …HELP! HELP! …ff – ff – ff – FATHER! FATHER! YOG-SOTHOTH!..”

… perhaps it’s time to admit that what you’re trying to create isn’t so much “software” as “a portal to another dimension, filled with beings eager to devour your essence.” And maybe you’ve already opened that door a little bit wider than you’d like to.

Management thinks what we do at the H.P. Lovecraft Institute of Software Development is build customer relationship management software, but once you’re on the inside you’ll know you should never boot up our software unless you’ve got a monkey’s paw dangling from your neck and a line of salt between you and the hard drive.

Sound familiar?


October 3rd, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

Via The Register, NIST has chosen a winner in its competition to select a new secure hash algorithm, SHA-3. The winner, Keccak, was apparently selected at least in part because it doesn’t belong to the MD5 family of hash algorithms that SHA-1 and the four SHA-2 algorithms belong to. One of the four authors of this algorithm, Joan Daemen, was also a coauthor of the Rijndael algorithm that was selected for AES.

Also, NIST seems to be saying that SHA-3 should supplement but not replace SHA-2, which is still considered quite secure. (Cryptography guru Bruce Schneider, whose Skein algorithm was one of the five finalists for SHA-3, said last week that he hoped NIST would decide not to pick a new algorithm, because “We didn’t know [in 2006 when the SHA-3 contest was announced] how long the various SHA-2 variants would remain secure. But it’s 2012, and SHA-512 is still looking good.” He seems OK with the result, though.)

2012 Ig Nobel prizes awarded

September 21st, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

This year’s Ig Nobel prizes were awarded last night, you can see all the winners. My favorites:

LITERATURE PRIZE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

REFERENCE: “Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies,” US Government General Accountability Office report GAO-12-480R, May 10, 2012.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.

REFERENCE: “Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles.” Raymond E. Goldstein, Patrick B. Warren, and Robin C. Ball, Physical Review Letters, vol. 198, no. 7, 2012.
REFERENCE: “Ponytail Motion,” Joseph B. Keller, SIAM [Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics] Journal of Applied Mathematics, vol. 70, no. 7, 2010, pp. 2667–72.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Joseph Keller, Raymond Goldstein, Patrick Warren, Robin Ball

I was just commenting to my wife the other day that every time I see a girl running by with a pony tail, I wonder how much energy it takes to make the pony tail bounce up and down. I guess I wasn’t the only one.

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

REFERENCE: “Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction,” Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, 2009.
REFERENCE: “Neural Correlates of Interspecies Perspective Taking in the Post-Mortem Atlantic Salmon: An Argument For Multiple Comparisons Correction,” Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-5.

ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford

Hacking the culture

September 19th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

Culture Hacking, Reloaded

University culture is basically feudalism. (It started, after all, in the middle ages.) That’s likely non-optimal.

Not a bug

August 8th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

Apparently the problem that I blogged about last week where Knight Capital lost $440 million in 45 minutes was not caused by a software bug. Instead, it looks like the program written to generate fake transactions while testing in the lab was accidentally included in the package when the trading program was moved to a live test. I wouldn’t want to be the person who put together that package.


August 6th, 2012  |  Published in Uncategorized

While IBM’s John Ward was upgrading the memory on our z10 BC Sunday morning, I took some pictures.

Front of the z10 BC Central Processor Complex drawer

The front of the Central Processor Complex drawer on our z10 BC

Starting from the left, there are power supplies, then two service processors (little computers that manage the configuration and microcode and such), then six slots for I/O fanouts (only two are populated, since we only have two I/O cages and no coupling links), and then two timing circuits.

Top of Central Processor Complex drawer without memory

Top view of the CPC drawer with all memory removed

Here is the top of the drawer after John removed all the old memory cards. In the front you see the top of the heat sinks for the processor and controller chips. The four chips on the left and right are the processor chips while the two in the middle are system controller chips (they manage the clocks and memory accesses and contain L2 cache.) To the left are the tops of the power supplies. At the back are the empty slots for the memory cards.

Filled memory slots at the back of the Central Processor Complex drawer

The new memory cards after installation

Here’s the back of the drawer after John has finished installing the new memory.

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