January 2003 Archives

January 29, 2003

Phil Wolff: Project Management as Journalism

Phill Wolff has come up with a lovely little item: Project Management as Journalism.

A few quotes:

Project journalism.

PMs cover a beat.

As journalists, PMs interview and research. Their sources are project members and external resources and stakeholders.

PMs verify information, find trends and patterns, dig up urgent and important news.

Reporters use notebooks and tape recorders. Use blogs to organize your notes and sources.

You write status reports, exception reports, issue reports.

From Phill Wolff's A Klog Apart.

January 26, 2003

Slammer - doesn't take much to push 2 gigabits ....

I talked to a friend who works over at Georgia State.  He was called into work about 3:00am Saturday morning, and stayed there until 4pm that afternoon, trying to get control of the network.

He says the Slammer worm was pumping out about 2 gigabits a second out to the Internet.  The real surprise to me - that traffic was from only 30-40 infected hosts.  It actually makes some sense, if you break it down:

  • Once a host is infected, it starts sending 376 byte UDP packets as fast as possible
  • 2e9 bits/sec = 250 mbytes/sec, or ~ 665,000 376 byte packets/second
  • Over 40 hosts, that's 16,000 packets/second, or about 50 mbits/second per host. 

So each host is using about half of a 100mbits/sec ethernet connection.

The scary part of that number: assuming the worm probes the net randomly, Georgia State alone sending out almost 2.4 billion probes per hour.  No wonder this thing took down the net so quickly.

January 23, 2003

Useful klog presentation/introduction

Joe Katzman gave a seminar back in November at the University of Queensland about the use of weblogs as a knowledge management tool.  Here's a pointer to Joe's message to the klogs group pointing to a PDF of that presentation.

This is ground that has been covered before, but Joe did a nice job of tying together information from other sources.  Worth a look.

K-logging pilot report

Not new, but new to me: Rick Klau published a nice summary of a pilot klogging project.  A key point:

Have a problem to solve. Just telling people "things will be better" when they don't know that there's a problem is tricky. As mentioned above, weblogs are many things to many people. In our pilot, we started out by simply saying we wanted to see if people found them useful. In other words - we weren't trying to solve a problem.

This is true of any collaboration software.  If people have a problem to solve, and the tool make it better, people will use almost anything.  If the tool doesn't solve a problem for them, no tool will work.

That's just a corollary of what I've longed practiced as a manager: you can't get people to do what they don't want to do.  Not for long.

(Thanks to David Gammel for the pointer.)

Compact Fluorescent bulbs - hey Mikie, he likes it!

I recently got involved with a church-based effort encouraging the stewardship of the environment through the use of "green power" - power generated from less polluting sources than coal, which is biggest source of power.  The effort I'm involved with is called Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, which is an offshoot of an effort known as Episcopal Power and Light, which started in California.

The folks involved in these efforts are also big on energy conservation, not surprisingly, and they've been talking about Compact Fluorescent Bulbs, or CFLs.  CFLs fit in standard light fixtures.

I've never been very keen on fluorescent light.  I much prefer the warmth of incandescent light; the coolness of most fluorescent lights just doesn't do it for me.  Light is a personal thing; I have no interest in having my bedroom lit up like a elementary school classroom.  Conservationists have urged switching to fluorescents in the home for years; "Yeah, right" has been my response.

But I've started noticing the CFLs at places like Home Depot and Costco, and given that I'd agreed to work with the Green Power folks, I  thought I ought to at least check one out.

So when I was out at the grocery store last night, I picked up a CFL that was a replacement for a 100w bulb; it uses 23w, and should last about 6000 hours.  If you use it 3 hours per day, that's over 5 years.  (The incandescent bulb it replaces is rated at 750 hours.)  Georgia Power charges me 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour; according to the box the bulb came in, I should save something like 30 dollars in electricity over 5 years. 

I took it home and decided to try it in my the floor lamp in my 10-year-old daughter's bedroom.  I just had to change a bulb for her, and it strikes me I had changed it just 5 months ago.  I also figured she'd be less picky about the color of the light than I am.

But here's the part that surprised me: the light it casts looks more or less like the incandescent light I'm used to.  I'm sold.

Downsides: the bulb I bought was $7, which is probably at least 10 times the cost of a 100w bulb.  CFLs also tend to dim over time; one source said the bulb would dim by 30% by the end of its life.   The bulbs tend to be taller than incandescents; they won't fit in all fixtures.  And being a fluorescent, it starts out a little dim, and then brightens up over perhaps 20 seconds.  (It's actually more like 60 seconds if the bulb is cold.) That's not such a bad thing when you turn on the light in the morning; it gives your eyes a chance to accommodate.

The bulb I bought was a 'spiral' model, which GE claims distributes the light a little better. It sure looks funky.;GE Spiral CFL bulb

And my daughter even likes it. "Thank you, daddy," she said. "Will you buy me another one when I'm 15?"

January 21, 2003

Freebsd 5.0 under VMware: no go (updated)

FreeBSD 5.0 was released over the weekend. I've been playing with FreeBSD lately, so on my MLK day off I decided to try to install at at home under VMware 3.2 Workstation under Windows 2000.

Many hours later, I was only able to get a minimal install up, and I wasn't able to download anything else beyond that - no ports, no source. This is one of those cases where it's not clear if it's VMware's fault or Freebsd's fault. The symptom is that when I get part way through anything more than the basic install, the whole install starts slowing down. What started out reading anywhere from 300-600kBytes/sec from the CD ends up down in the < 10kB/second range: it just ... keeps .. slowing .. down.

I don't know the cause, but I have an interesting theory. Just after the first level FreeBSD loader boots up under VMware, it spits out a message: "acpi: bad RSDP checksum". Then, when the system boots, a large number of system processes have "31Dec69" as their start time. (Processes started later have the current date/time.) My hunch: the boot loader can't get the time from the VMware BIOS. FreeBSD sets the system time to 0, which under Unix is defined as midnight, December 31, 1969. (This is also known as the epoch.) Later, the time gets correctly set to some 33 years later. Some of the system processes go a little nuts trying to cope with a time difference of 33 years.

I don't know if it's true, but it sounds cute. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to wait until someone sorts it out.

If you want more details, I responded to a thread on the USENET group vmware.guest.linux with a few more details.

Update 1/25/02

Not surprisingly, I'm apparently off-track on why 5.0 slows down under VMware.  A thread on a bsd mailing list suggests that the problem is with with I86 instruction CMPXCHG, which VMware apparently emulates very slowly.  There's apparently a kernel complication option for 5.0 that will avoid the use of this instruction.  The problem is that you'd either have start with a 4.7 system and do a full build world with a custom kernel, or build a boot floppy with a custom kernel and use that for the 5.0 install.  The latter sounds more reasonable, but also a pain.  The good news: if someone does it and makes a floppy image, every VMware user should be able to use it: all VMware virtual machines look the same.

Updated 2/20/04:

I finally got around to trying this again. This time, I tried the beta release of VMware workstation 4.5 and tried to install FreeBSD 5.2.1. This time, it worked: no problems at all.

However, I tried installing 5.2.1 again using VMware 3.2, which I the version I own - and I still get the same problem as before: the install gets slower and slower, and finally stops. This could have been fixed in some release between 3.2 and 4.5, but 4.5 is what I tried.

Boxes and Arrows Favorite books

I adore book lists, especially ones that are more like annotated bibliographies. The web design journal Boxes and Arrows published a wonderfully eclectic list of their favorite books for 2002.

January 16, 2003

David Allen's tips for using a Palm

Keith Devans got a Palm IIIe from a friend who got another Palm. Keith notes that he might try configuring his to-do and memo list categories in the way that David Allen suggests (PDF). (David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done.) Allen's tips are actually pretty useful; I used them on my Palm back when I was at CNN and had many more meetings and action items than I do now. I haven't needed them as much this last year.

On a similar note, my Palm Vx died this Fall. I was putting off getting another one, but my two sons went in together and bought a new Vx off eBay. That was more useful to me than getting a newer model, because I had all the accessories for the Vx. (I also don't think any of the newer Palms are really worth the money right now. Not enough improvement over my Vx.)

Useful tips for Apache's mod_rewrite

Over the holiday break I was messing with Apache's mod_rewrite package as part of something I was doing for work. Practical information about mod_write is a little difficult to come by, so I was very pleased to find pointer to several useful weblog posts about mod_rewrite. Thanks to Dean Peters of the Heal Your Church Web Site. Dean's charter is to help out "designers of church, para-church and other charity organizations."

January 15, 2003

Viridian books

Former colleague Paul Beard to made reference to "Viridian Design." I haven't really groked what that means yet, but I did found a list of Viridian recommended books. There are some very interesting titles on that list; if these books are related to the Viridian movement, I'll have pay more attention to it.

January 14, 2003

Flash: FreeBSD beats Debian for getting newer software

I've been playing with FreeBSD recently, and it brought home a point Paul Beard has made to me a number of times. Debian packages make it trivial to install new software, but there's a good chance that that software will be an older version that what you want. If you want a newer version, expect pain. FreeBSD ports will more than likely have the version you want, but it will take longer to install it, because you'll have to compile it from scratch. But if you want that newer version, you'll get there faster with FreeBSD than with Debian. See my essay on the subject for more details.

The collapse of VNS

Ziff-Davis's Baseline magazine has a nice piece on how the Voter News Service completely collapsed during the November 2002 elections. Fascinating story. The reasons are not surprising: too many new technologies, lots of old data to integrate, no strong single control. (VNS is run and paid for by a consortium of news organizations, CNN among them.)

Back up to Election Day, Nov. 5. The balance of power in Congress was up for grabs. Yet by 10 a.m., the TV networks confirmed what they had feared for months: They couldn't derive any meaningful exit-polling data from a system they had just spent between $10 million and $15 million to overhaul.

Disasters were almost comical. Many of the more than 30,000 temporary workers collecting exit-poll information were disconnected from VNS' new voice-recognition system before they could finish inputting data over

Ziff-Davis's Baseline magazine has a nice piece on how the Voter News Service completely completely collapsed during the November 2002 elections. Fascinating story. The reasons are not surprising: too many new technologies, lots of old data to integrate, no strong single control. (VNS is run and paid for by a consortium of news organizations, CNN among them.)

I had only indirect contact with VNS at CNN. We worked with a consultant who had basically a full time job interfacing CNN's various systems to the VNS data.

The article ends with a less-than-comforting thought: now that the networks have basically killed VNS, they have only 51 weeks to get ready for the Iowa caucuses in 2004. January 2003, and we're already into presidential election season. And I thought it was bad enough that Christmas starts before Halloween.

Transparent hardware RAID for your PC

Here's an interesting product: The Accusys 7500, a transparent hardware RAID device that can be installed in any PC. It takes two IDE hard drives and invisibly clones one to the other, keeping them in sync from then on. It lets you hot-swap in a new drive if one of them fails. All this is done in hardware; to the local OS, it appears as a single hard drive. It fits in the space of two 5 1/4 drive bays.

Tiger Direct sells it for $220. I've never seen one, but Motherboards.org has a review of it, which says it works as advertised. It takes about 3 hours to clone an IBM 40gig/7200RPM drive.

If your average hard drive costs $100, for an extra $300+ you can a significantly more reliable box. Sounds nice for a home server setup.

January 5, 2003

Hits now coming from VMware searches

Annoying, if you host your blog with Userland, they don't give you access to your actual server logs.  You do, however, get referrer logs. These are actually reasonable useful if almost all your hits come from search engines, as mine appear to do.  (Mind you, we're talking about at most a few dozen hits per day, not much more than that )

Up until last summer, most of my hits appeared to be on the subject of ice tea jars, because of this post

More recently, most of my hits appear to come from searches about VMware and Debian or Redhat.  These are almost certainly because of my essay on VMware.

Given the kinds of things I write here, I'm guessing what I write would be of of interest to more folks who come here for VMware than for ice tea. 

My new domain name: BluePenguin.us

After spending an entire evening trying to come up with a good domain name, I finally made a choice: bluepenguin.us.  (My favorite that I couldn't get was darkmatter - but all domains that I would care to use (org,com,net,us) were take.)  bluepenguin.us isn't the best I could come up with, but it's good enough.  Other possible ones that didn't make it: naughtypenguins, chickswithbricks (Dr. Seuss, but not everyone might know that.)  There was even one that my son really liked, but I objected to as too hard to spell; it was .. no, better not mention it. Maybe it will still be available if he wants to get his own domain.

I used Dotster to register the domain, and DynDNS to host DNS for me.  Dotster seems like a good deal: $12.95/year for a domain, much better than Verisign's $35/year. And they were fast: the domain was active within three hours of signing up.

So changes are coming.  My current (old?) domain is leased from tzo.com - that domain is good until July '03.  I may need to hold onto after that, but my intent is to try to get all email and other traffic off it ASAP.

And now that I have a domain of my own, I'm almost certainly going to give a shot at moving this blog to movabletype on my shiny new domain. The biggest downside, as I've noted before, is that Google now finds Paul Holbrook at radio.weblogs.com, and probably won't find me for a while at a new place.  I might have to go on a mini campaign to get the "good" links to me - like the one from Jon Udell - to point to my new address.   But before I can do the move, I'm going to have to get all my entries out of radio and into a MovableType blog.  I'll say more about that as I find out more.

January 3, 2003

Good things from 2002

In the spirit of the New Year, here are a few of my favorite things from 2002 in no particular order.

  1. Time to look at technical things

    Five months of not working gave me plenty of time to look at technologies issues and to get more hands on than I had in a number of years. A number of the things on my list are fallout from that time.

  2. Weblogs (personal)

    I credit Radio Userland with showing me that weblogs could be more than teenage diaries. I'd come across that form of weblog in LiveJournal. (LiveJournal's "show me a random LiveJournal" feature was addictive.) I wasn't interested in keeping an online diary, but looking at blogs from other Radio users showed me that a blog could be more technical focused; that resonated with me as something I could do.

    Radio's aggregator feature also introduced me to the community aspect of blogging.

  3. Weblogs (professional)

    I got a job at Georgia Tech at the end of May '02, and started working on on Tech's project to roll out a campus portal. Partly so I could digest what I'd found, and partly to leave something for those who followed me, I started a weblog and a Wiki. The weblog took on a following when we found that the software we were using for the project - Campus Pipeline's Luminis product - could directly read RSS files and make them available as portal "channels". I used the weblog to document our early efforts with our portal software installation and technical explorations. It also gave me an excuse to try MovableType, which I liked it so much, I'm considering it for my personal blog.

  4. HTML and Emacs

    This was the year when I finally got comfortable rolling my own HTML. We're not talking fancy HTML, not building wonderful sites out of frames (bad) or CSS (good), but just being able to build web pages using simple tools. My preferred method of composing posts for blogs is now Emacs 21.1 on Windows, the Emacs HTML Helper mode, and ispell. It ain't fancy, but the tools fit my hands. (Back in June I wrote a little piece about my tools of choice: Emacs, Screen, and Pine.)

  5. VMware

    VMware has allowed me to indulge my love of playing with systems without having to have lots of computers. If you've got a P4 with 512MB of memory, gigs of free disk space, and VMware, you can go to town. On my Dell P4 at work, I have a Debian install which I use for my primary work server, Redhat 7.3 and 8.0 installs, three small Debian installs I used for testing firewalls (set up a firewall install, and put two more instances of Debian running 'behind' that firewall - with all three running on the same P4 at the same time), a copy of Win XP, a FreeBSD 4.6 install, and just this last week, a FreeBSD 4.7 that I've been using to learn lots about FreeBSD. Nothing gives you confidence that you can tear down and build back up a system like VMware. (Before I did a 2.4 kernel upgrade on my home system, I tried it out in VMware.)

  6. Libraries

    I made good use of our public library and the Georgia Tech library this year. Each has advantages: as a staff member, I can check out books from Tech's library for up to a year(!). And DeKalb County Public Library's excellent web interface has allowed me to search for books I've heard about, put them on hold, and then get email when they come in. DeKalb County also lets me review my holds, books checked out, and lets me renew books, all via the web. Wonderful!

  7. Getting my hands dirty

    At CNN from '96 to '01, I managed other technical people: I never got to put my hands on boxes system. At Georgia Tech, I've been playing the role of web architect, managing no one, and doing much more hands-on technical work. Fun stuff. I'd still like to get back to managing, but it's fun to see that my technical skills are still good.

January 2, 2003

The Art of Blogging

The Art of Blogging is a very nice piece by George Siemons about what blogging is and how to get started. Nothing startling new here, but if you've made a New Year's resolution to look in the web log phenomenon, it's a good place to start.

I want a domain name

I'm looking for a permanent domain name. I've been using mesa.tzo.com for the past 1.5 years, but tzo.com belongs to TZO; they sell me a $25/year where I get a name under their domain that can be used with the dynamic IP addresses provided by Bellsouth on my DSL line.

I bought that service before I discovered DynDNS, who will do that same service for free. Furthermore, for a $30 one-time fee, DynDNS will DNS for your own domain name. I'm already using them for a domain for my wife's small business.

So now I need to find my own domain name. Ideally, I want something that isn't tied to my own name: holbrook.{org|com|net} isn't available; jpholbrook is, but that ties it to me too closely; it wouldn't make sense for other members of the family. It should also be easy to type and spell; I don't want to have the problem my in-laws do ("Halasz; that's Hotel-Alpha-Lima ...")

I'm fond of the the word 'mesa', which is Spanish for table. I've toyed with widemesa, or darkmesa, or some variant of that. I spent a while yesterday looking at New Mexico place names, but all the nifty sounding ones are Spanish. I also don't want one that will feel like a tattoo that you want to get rid of; I suspect my friend who chose fatlazybastards might feel differently about it in a few years. But then, he could just get another domain ...

January 1, 2003

My new digital camera

My big Christmas gift this year was a digital camera. Back when I worked at CNN, I got to borrow a Nikon Coolpix 990 for a while, so I got spoiled for buying a cheap camera. This year I had my eye on the Canon Powershot G2. When my father suggested that he'd help contribute towards a digital camera, I went out and bought the G2 that very day.

There's no question that the amount of money you pay for a good digital camera today is a bit silly; for the same dollars, you can buy a much nicer 35mm camera. But I've had a 35mm before, and I just don't use it; the difference between 35mm and digital for me is that I actually get out and take pictures with the digital camera. The great photographers have shown again and again that actually getting out and getting shots - working at it - is more important than what kind of equipment you use.

I intend to make a page of favorites, but for now, if you're really curious, you can see the results in my family photo album. If you like nature shots, check out the fall pictures. (Be warned: my dad says I have "a thing" about leaves. Hey, when you get a new digital camera in the fall, what else are you going to take pictures of?) There are some nice shots from around Georgia Tech as well.

On the geek side, I've been using the open source package called Gallery to manage my on-line photo album. It's not perfect, but it does a good job for the price.

In any case, it's been fun. I'll have more to say about the G2 and what I've been up to another time.