Archive for the 'justforfun' Category

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”

Getting into it…

Former IBM Colleagues, especially those who’ve been working in the X86 server business, which is being sold to Lenovo, might enjoy listening to the latest This American Life, #516, Act 1 of Stuck in the Middle. It starts out with this introduction, “he spent his entire career working for IBM, going back to the 50’s and 60’s, when working at IBM was like working at NASA”.

Obsessive, compulsive types rejoice, you are not alone. You can click on the sound bar, the act starts at 11:50’ish, or go here on the This American Life website. Hear it out.

Oh yes, Opus No.1 is here. Tim never made any money, he didn’t get a drink for it, he never used it to pick-up women. This American Life is offering Opus No. 1 as a download, here.

Good at PowerPoint?

Customer service – You’ve been Zappos’d

When I first ordered from Zappos.com and they screwed up with the packaging, craming a $200+ dollar jacket in a shoe box, so much so I had to have it professionally steamed to get the creases out, I was prepared to forgive them. After another order they put me on their VIP list, free shipping both ways[read shipping included in the price, since they are anything but cheap.] Zappos is an Amazon.com business.

My 3rd order was for some shoes, I ordered a 12, they shipped an 8. I returned them free, instead of a refund, I got a credit note. I’d have happily accepted the right size, but they didn’t have them. I did do at least one more order, but have backed off recently.

Then late last week I got an email telling me they’d been hacked, some of my data and my password had been compromised, they’d reset my password and I should logon and change it. So I tried. Their system responded “”We are so sorry, we are currently not accepting international traffic. If you have any questions please email us at help@zappos.com”.

Here is my summary email sent back to them today. What’s clear is that their customer service, average under normal circumstances, is less than what I’d expect, VIP or not.

“No wonder you got hacked. Let recap, please read carefully…

1. You got hacked
2. You write to me telling me to change my password
3. Your system won’t let me change my password because I’m overseas attending my father’s funeral.
4. I ask you to remove my account and ALL my data
5. You write back telling me to change my password
6. I write back telling you that wasn’t what I asked, and to delete my account and remove all my data
7. You write back telling me to deactivate my own account
8. I can’t. See #3
9. I write this email back pointing out how useless you are.”

I need…

I had planned a long year end post that was around of all that happened in the past year, including some important updates on some of the software development that’s been going on here at Dell. Suffice to say the complexity of writing something that wouldn’t get me in trouble either for disclosing too much, or making it sound like finger pointing, which it wouldn’t have been, meant it never got written.

I had a great end of year Christmas trip back to the UK, the main reason for the trip was to get a new US Work visa, since my change of status, Permanent Residence aka Green card hadn’t been approved. After a few days in the West End dealing with that, I decamped to Islington and spent a few days out there including a great trip out to Stratford and the site of the 2012 Olympics. While in East London I caught this track a few times, called, I need – performed by Maverick Sabre who is now from Hackney, East London.

Maverick was of course one of our software project code names, the words made me laugh, “I need sunshine, I need Angels, I need something good and I need”. The irony won’t be lost. Enjoy.

The first Maverick Sabre album, Lonely are the brave, will be out Feb 6th, 2012.

An old man and money

I was just sent a link to this ConnectedPlanet article by Susana Schwartz, and given my background in mainframes and x86 asked what I thought of the central premise. The analogy that came to mind almost immediately was too good not share.

The question the article was addressing was “will the IBM zEnterprise make mainframes sexy again?” My analogy, Hugh Hefner! Do you think Hugh Hefner is sexy? He has all the money, is a great revenue generator has some good products, but mostly while they do the same stuff they’ve always done, are looking a bit long in the tooth. What’s interesting is what surrounds Hugh. Same with zEnterprise, only there are much better ways to get that smart technology.

After a few miss-starts with a google search for “old man and young girls” – that will have set off some alarm bells in Dell IT, I set Google safesearch to strict and search for “old man with young women” and here we have it, my analogy for the IBM zEnterprise.

Image courtesy and copyright of the sun.co.uk

Image courtesy and copyright of the sun.co.uk

Do you want Hugh Hefner in the middle? He’s worth loads of money…

Any similarity between Hugh Hefner and an IBM mainframe is entirely coincidental, after all we all know mainframes are older and come from New York. Hugh is from Chicago.

Feel free to use the analogy to argue either way… just be careful to keep the discussion work safe. I’ve still got that J3000 spoof press release somewhere as well.

Deviation: The new old

104 modules in a Doepher A-100PMD12 double case sitting on top of the A-100PMB case

Deadmau5 Analalog Modular setup

IBM 360/40 at Attwood Statistics

IBM 360/40 at Attwood Statistics

Anyone that knows me, knows that I’ve retained a high level of interest in dance music. I guess it stems from growing up in and around London in the early 70’s and the emergence of  funk, and especially Jazz Funk, especially through some of the new music put together by people like Johnny Hammond(Los Conquistadors Chocolate), Idris Muhammed(Could Heaven Ever Be Like This) which remain to this day two of my all time favorite tracks, along with many from Quincy Jones.

Later, my interest was retained by the further exploitation of electronics as disco became the plat de jour and although I, like most others became disenchanted once it became metronomic and formulaic, I’m convinced that the style, type and beat of music you like and listen to create pathways in your brain to activate feelings.

As so it was that with time, and energy on my hands over the past few years I’ve re-engaged with dance music. Mostly because I like it, it activates those pathways in my mind that release feel good endorphins, I enjoy the freedom of the dance.

I’ve been to some great live performances, Tiesto and Gareth Emery especially down in San Antonio and Houston, and anyone who thinks these guys are just DJ’s, playing other peoples music through a computer or off CD’s is just missing the point.

However, one electronic music producer more than any other has really piqued my interest, Deadmau5, aka Joel Zimmerman from Toronto. I first saw Deadmau5 during South by South West (SXSW) in 2008, when Joel played at the now defunct Sky Lounge on Congress Ave. The club was small enough that you could actually stand at the side of the stage and see what he was doing, it was a fascinating insight. [In this video on YouTube, one of many from that night, not only can you see Joel “producing” music, but if you stop the video on the right frame at 16-seconds, you can see me in the audience! Who knew…]

I saw him again in March 2009 at Bar Rio in Houston. This time I had clear line of sight to what he was doing from the VIP balcony. It was fascinating, I actually saw and heard him make mistakes, not significant mistakes but ones that proved he was actually making live music. [You can read my review from the time here including links to YouTube videos.] It turns out he was something he was using during that Houston concert was either a prototype or something similar to a monome.

Joel regularly posts and runs live video streams from his home studio, and recently posted this video of his latest analog modular system. It and some of the other videos are a great insight into how dance music producers work. Watching this, this morning, I was struck with the similarities to the IBM 360/40 mainframe which was the first computer I worked on, especially I can remember the first time I was shown by an IBM Hardware Engineer, who might have been Paul Badger or Geoff Chapman, how the system worked. How to put it into instruction step, how to display the value of registers and so on. I felt the same way watching the Deadmau5 video, I got to get me some playtime with one of these.

And yes, the guy in the picture above is me and the 360/40. It was taken in probably the spring of 1976 I’d guess, at Attwood Statistics in Berkhampstead, Herts. UK.

The power and capacity of the IBM 36/40 are easily exceeded by handheld devices such as the Dell Streak. Meanwhile, it’s clear that some music producers are headed in the opposite direction, moving from digital software to analog hardware. The new old.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally 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.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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