Archive for the 'Dell' Category

The app hell of the future

Just over 5-years ago, in April 2011, I wrote this post after having a fairly interesting exchange with my then boss, Michael Dell, and George Conoly, co-founder and CEO of Forrester Research. I’m guessing in the long term, the disagreement, and semi-public dissension shut some doors in front of me.

Fast forward 5-years, and we are getting the equivalent of a do-over as the Internet of Things and “bots” become the next big thing. This arrived in my email the other day:

This year, MobileBeat is diving deep into the new paradigm that’s rocking the mobile world. It’s the big shift away from our love affair with apps to AI, messaging, and bots – and is poised to transform the mobile ecosystem.

Yes, it’s the emperor’s new clothes of software over again. Marketing lead software always does this, over imagines what’s possible, under estimates the issues with building in and then the fast fail product methodology kicks-in. So, bots will be the next bloatware, becoming a security attack front. Too much code, forced-fit into micro-controllers. The ecosystem driven solely by the need to make money. Instead of tiny pieces of firmware that have a single job, wax-on, wax-off, they will become dumping ground for lots of short-term fixes, that never go away.

Screenshot_20160524-113359Meanwhile, the app hell of today continues. My phone apps update all the time, mostly with no noticeable new function; I’m required to register with loads of different “app stores” each one a walled garden with few published rules, no oversight, and little transparency. The only real source of trusted apps is github and the like where you can at least scan the source code.IMG_20160504_074211

IMG_20160504_081201When these apps update, it doesn’t always go well. See this picture of my Garmin Fenix 3, a classic walled garden, my phone starts to update at 8:10 a.m., and when it’s done, my watch says it’s now 7:11 a.m.

IMG_20160111_074518Over on my Samsung Smart TV, I switch it from monitor to Smart TV mode and get this… it never ends. Nothing resolves it accept disconnecting the power supply. It recovered OK but this is hardly a good user experience.

Yeah, I have a lot of smart home stuff,  but little or none of it is immune to the app upgrade death spiral; each app upgrade taking the device nearer to obsolescence because there isn’t enough memory, storage or the processor isn’t fast enough to include the bloated functions marketing thinks it needs.

If the IoT and message bots are really the future, then software engineers need to stand up and be counted. Design small, tight reentrant code. Document the interfaces, publish the source and instead of continuously being pushed to deliver more and more function, push back, software has got to become engineering and not a form of story telling.


(My) Influential Women in Tech

Taking some time out of work in the technical, software, computer industry has been really helpful to give my brain time to sift through the required, the necessary, the nice, and the pointless things that I’ve been involved in over 41-years in technology.

international-womens-day-logo1[1]Given that today is International Women’s Day 2016 and numerous tweets have flown by celebrating women, and given the people I follow, many women in Technology. I thought I’d take a minute to note some of the great women in Tech I had the opportunity to work with.

I was fortunate in that I spent much of my career at IBM. There is no doubt that IBM was a progressive employer on all fronts, women, minorities, the physically challenged, and that continues today with their unrelenting endorsement of the LGBT community. I never personally met or worked with current IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, she like many that I did have the opportunity to work with, started out in Systems Engineering and moved into management. Those that I worked with included Barbara McDuffie, Leslie Wilkes, Linda Sanford and many others.

Among those in management at IBM that were most influential, Anona Amis at IBM UK. Anona was my manager in 1989-1990, at a time when I was frustrated and lacking direction after joining IBM two years earlier, with high hopes of doing important things. Anona, in the period of a year, taught me both how to value my contributions, but also how to make more valuable contributions. She was one of what I grew to learn, was the backbone of IBM, professional managers.

My four women of tech, may at sometime or other, have been managers. That though wasn’t why I was inspired by them.

Susan Malika: Sue, I met Sue initially through the CICS Product group, when we were first looking at ways to interface a web server to the CICS Transaction Monitor. Sue and the team already had a prototype connector implemented as a CGI. Over the coming years, I was influenced by Sue in a number of fields, especially in data interchange and her work on XML. Sue is still active in tech.

Peggy Zagelow: I’d always been pretty dismissive of databases, apart from a brief period with SQL/DS; I’d always managed fine without one. Early on in the days of evangelizing Java, I was routed to the IBM Santa Teresa lab, on an ad hoc query from Peggy about using Java as a procedures language for DB2. Her enthusiasm, and dogma about the structured, relational database; as well as her ability to code eloquently in Assembler was an inspiration. We later wrote a paper together, still available online[here]. Peggy is also still active in the tech sector at IBM.

Donna Dillenberger: Sometime in 1999, Donna and the then President of the IBM Academy of Technology, Ian Brackenbury, came to the IBM Bedfont office to discuss some ideas I had on making the Java Virtual Machine viable on large scale mainframe servers. Donna, translated a group of unconnected ideas and concepts I sketched out on a white board, into the “Scalable JVM”. The evolution of the JVM was a key stepping stone in the IBM evolution of Java. I’m pleased to see Donna was appointed an IBM Fellow in 2015. The paper on the JVM is here.(1).

Gerry Hackett: Finally, but most importantly, Geraldine aka Gerry Hackett. Gerry and I  met when she was a first line development manager in the IBM Virtual Machine development laboratory in Endicott New York, sometime around 1985. While Gerry would normally fall in the category of management, she is most steadfastly still an amazing technologist. Some years later I had the [dubious] pleasure of “flipping slides” for her as Gerry presented IBM Strategy. Aside: “Todays generation will never understand the tension between a speaker and a slide turner.” Today, Gerry is a Vice President at Dell. She recruited me to work at Dell in 2009, and under her leadership the firmware and embedded management team have made steady progress, and implemented some great ideas. Gerry has been a longtime advocate for women in technology, a career mentor, and a fantastic roll model.

Importantly, what all these women demonstrated, by the “bucketload”, was quiet, technological confidence; the ability to see, deliver and celebrate great ideas and great people. They were quiet unlike their male peers, not in achievement, but in approach. This why we need more women in technology, not because they are women, but because technical companies, and their products will not be as good without them.

(1). Edited to link to correct Dillenberger et al paper.

Touch screen and the desktop

I just posted a response over on a CNET discussion topic. As often is the case, rather than write, review, edit and post; I banged away a response and submitted, as always I made a few typo’s, so here is a corrected version.

I’ve just retired from an senior engineering position at Dell, specializing in software and firmware but I also participated in a number of usability studies for hardware/software combinations. I was the originator of the NFC enabled server systems management concept. I’d offer a few thoughts to confirm what some others have said, but also a slightly different perspective.

1. yes reaching across a keyboard to a monitor mounted at the back of a desk is ergonomically unpleasant.

2. Touch is an interesting technology, but for fixed monitors and TV’s etc. it is less than optimal. There are numerous efforts underway to come up with a more responsive, natural way to control a UI. Think X/BOX or Nintendo, or the Samsung SmartTV gestures, voice ala Amazon echo etc.

3. That said, I for one would never go back to a non-touch laptop screen. I can lift my arm from the keyboard and prod the “submit post” button below much quicker that I can use the touchpad, or grab an extrnal mouse and click.

4. If you want a touch screen desktop I’d highly recommend getting an all-in-one with a touch screen and mounting it into a desk. I had one of the Dell XPS 27’s and had an IKEA draftmans desk. We cut a hole 99% the size of the screen; mounted the screen into the hole; secured it with picture wire in a # format across the back. I gave up using a physical keyboard and mouse, bought a Targus Stylus and went 100% touch. The advantage of the IKEA desk is that you can easily angle the surface to one that suits you. Also, it came with a medal lip which stopped things sliding off the edge; also it came with a built in glass area, which was great for to-do lists, notes etc.

One final note, on Touch screen PC’s. As with Windows 10, when switching over to touch screen you have to try to stop doing the way you did them with a mouse and keyboard. The Adobe PDF app for Windows 10, is much easier to use than the Adobe desktop app for Windows 10. Using a drawing program for line art, block diagrams etc. either with your finger, or with a stylus is a huge leap forward to messing about with Word and Powerpoint. In the case of slides, and powerpoint, it made me released me from decades of serial text mode slides.

So rather than ask why so few touch screens for desktop computers. Ask, what are top-5 applications I use, and how could touchscreen make them better, easier, or me more productive. If it’s email, calendar and web browsing, it probably won’t. Although even in those cases, zoom in and zoom out is an improvement.

Retired Until Further Notice

RUFN. I can’t remember where I first saw this, I think on an ex-colleagues linked-in status(*1). Back in September I declared I was done with cube life and it didn’t take long before it was time to part company with Dell.

I’m at an important crossroads, starting to pack up my Austin home, and move to a new house my partner, Kate, and I are building just south east of Boulder CO. Kate is already living in Boulder, where we are partners in Boulder Bodyworker.

So it seemed like an appropriate time to take some time out, and start an exciting new phase of life for me. I’ll be keeping busy, while I don’t have any active movie or music projects at the moment, I am behind on working on a project for Tri Equal and also a member of the advisory board  of the Professional Triathlon Union and continuing generally as an activist in the triathlon community.

I’m available for consulting work in the new year, especially for small to medium sized businesses that want to get an insight or review of their technology strategy; a perspective and advice on working with open source; data center operations.

Otherwise I’ll post here as appropriate and see how things develop next year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


*1. Yeah I’m aware of the slang usage.

Dell and EMC together

I’ve been asked a few times about the Dell/EMC merger/acquisition, I can say nothing, not because of financial or security regulations, but because I know nothing at all. Although it was clear some changes were afoot at Dell, the announcement came as a surprise to me.

A couple of things are amusing though in the industry analysis. The most amusing is the quotes coming out of other industry based organizations and their CEO’s. This is a classic of it’s kind, on the Register about Meg Whitman at HP, and then this one from Dietzen the CEO at Pure.

This moves comes out of ‘weakness, not strength’, claims CE Dietzen

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of this entirely predictable FUD a confident CEO would say something to the effect of

The acquisition will be challenging, but we welcome the increased competition and are sure customers and businesses will recognize and continue to benefit from the great products we already have, and those on our roadmap.

Of course no one would ever actually say that, one it doesn’t make headlines, and two because well…

The other thing that’s been disappointing is that other Dell trope, you can’t use Apple products. See as an example The Register:

I have one thing to say to MacBook users at EMC: Whoops

I have to say, I’m always surprised when I hear this kind of thing. Seriously, while I’m sure Michael Dell would prefer everyone use a dell tablet or laptop, I’m sure he’d rather have the most talented, productive people and being acquired and having to use new apps is enough of a productivity hit. Why on earth would he want to want to make it worse by enforcing a move of hardware, software and app paradigms. FYI there are a number of people in Dell Software Group, especially from the Quest acquisition, that have been using Apple products since the Quest acquisition.

Goodbye Cube life…

Goobye mau5trapThis month marks the end of my 41st year in information technology, IT; or a it was called back when I started, Data Processing.

Interestingly, officially yesterday I cleared out my “executive” cubicle at the mau5trap and for the first time became a remote (work-at-home) worker. I have to say I’d have preferred not to, but really given the distributed nature of our team it was simply a waste of time and space to maintain the cube, especially since I’m there infrequently; and for the most part, none of the other technical team members are.

It also means I don’t have to waste 90-minutes per day getting to and from the mau5trap, which has got significantly worse in the last 5-years. Yesterdays drive home was an epic waste of time, nearly 2-hours of which 90-mins was getting through downtown Austin.

Over the years I’ve worked at the head office of the businesses I’ve worked for; commuted by train, planes and automobiles to offices; worked on international assignment, temporary assignment, and virtual assignment; but I don’t ever recall actually giving up an office entirely before. In my later projects at IBM I was remote from the team and regularly worked from home; that was actually pretty demotivating.

As it turns out, it’s a pre-cursor to the start of other changes, and probably marks the beginning of the end of my technology career. I have no plans to retire just yet, but as someone who spent his career thriving off the enthusiasm and excitement created by being around others, spending days doing whiteboard architecture and design, I find the current state of tools, webex, powerpoint, chat and the omnipresent  email less and less an attraction.

Add to that my recent tendency to take-on the jobs and assignments no one else wants, or is hoping someone else will do, and there you have it.

| Edit. Thanks to #1 for pointing out I had too many “too’s”

O’Reilly Webcast – Extending Cassandra for OLAP

oreilly doradusColleague Randy Guck, who leads our open source Doradus project, recent gave an O’Reilly Webcast on the project and using Doradus to extend Cassandra for high performance analytics.

The discussion on how Doradus leverages Cassandra, its data model and query language, the internal architecture and the concept of storage services gave in-depth background to then understand the Doradus OLAP service and how it provides near real-time data warehousing.

Randys’ slides and webcast can be fund here. It does need registration, but is well worth the effort. The webcast was sponsored by Dell, which was entirely coincidental, since it was for a Hadoop services offering. Doradus offers some interesting ways to extend and use Cassandra and Randy covers most of them in the webcast. The key point is, that Doradus is an open source project, use and source code are free. Details on Doradus are in this blog entry.

About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formaly a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.

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