On the Road Again with Microsoft Research

Microsoft Research had its annual “Roadshow” event to demo all their new ideas. After the usual introduction in the traditional Klingon style (how big they are, how many battles they’ve won and enemies they’ve killed, and so on), Jim Gray said a few words about “TerraServer”.

TerraServer deals with the issue of large datasets. It is a 20 Terabyte data source (of USGS images) handling 10 million hits per day as a web service. On the insides, it uses commodity X86 servers (surprise – and everyone in 1989 said “port to Alpha, not the X86”, but AlphaBSD didn’t sound as good as 386BSD). Jim’s also looking at astronomical images, which are also pretty big.

But where do I see the big growth? Easy, right in your own digital camera folder.

Tech Outsourcing and the Dwindling CS Major

In my discussion a few days ago about the Anita Borg get-together at Google, I discussed the impact of outsourcing, the loss of tech jobs, and parents refusal to pay for science degrees as interconnected.

Karl Schoenberger of the Mercury News SF Bureau actually decided to drill down on some of my assumptions. So for those of you who wanted more, I’m going to let him cross-examine me for your reading pleasure:

Karl: I can see how taxpayers subsidize free trade when the US Treasury and the Fed have policies in place that weaken the dollar against foreign currencies, making our merchandise trade more competitive.

Lynne: As seen with such stars as Enron, you can do a lot with clever macro economics. Lots of fast, little transactions add up fast. And it can take a while before the accountants with the eyeshades see the net conclusion.

Remember when “design” meant “reliable”

Dennis Rockstroh of ActionLine in the Merc attempted to handle the frustration of a Sony Vaio user recently. Turns out the poor man continually had the power just blit out on him while working on his laptop. Back and forth to the factory it went, never seeming to get any better. Dennis helped the gentleman get a replacement laptop from the factory, but no one seemed to understand why such a problem was occurring and why it required a complete replacement to rectify. Sony didn’t wish to discuss it, and the frustrated user couldn’t figure it out other than noticing that wiggling the power connector sometimes worked.

How do I know this? Because I bought a Vaio PCG-FX-310 for my husband a few years back, and soon after acquiring it, the power connector began to fail. But since I’ve been putting together systems since the days of Symmetric Computer Systems, plus all that work on 386BSD and X86 systems from lunchboxes to desktops to laptops, we didn’t just sit around griping about the problem – we tried to figure out exactly why this happens – both as a good little example of the importance of design in a consumer product, and as an illustration of the difference between American and Japanese audiences.

Hey, why don’t we just turn off that pesky congestion control…

Alex Cannara loves to push those “why don’t we just turn off that pesky congestion control” papers my way. I think he does it just to annoy me. Which is correct, because I can’t imagine ever getting such a paper approved. But, as Britney likes to say, “Oops, they did it again…”.

It seems like every other CS grad student thinks he can get away with “disabling of TCP’s congestion control” and suddenly he’s solved the problem of congestion. Or, to put it in medical terms – it isn’t the disease, it’s the treatment. Everything is wonderful if you just stop treating the condition – even if the patient dies? Very much like a physics student thinking he’s gotten around energy conservation, when he doesn’t get what total energy of a system means, and wow, he’s invented a perpetual motion machine.

Google, Tech, and Dinner

Last week I attended the It’s Never Too Late: Careers in Computer Science gabfest at Google’s main campus organized by the newly renamed Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (aka Systers). Google was in high-paranoia mode, given their pending IPO, but I wasn’t there to hear about the rightness of Dutch auctions or the Securities Act of 1933. I was there to hear about women in technology and sample their famous conference snacks – not in that order.

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau” stated the introduction to the event, “high-paying occupations for computer workers and IT specialists are projected to have some of the steepest gains over the next several years.” This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – tech always needs to innovate. However, they go on to say that “Despite the doom and gloom headlines about outsourcing, prospects for meaningful jobs in these fields is bright.”

“Doom and gloom” is right – it sure doesn’t look good for tech people right now. Karl Schoenberger wrote about a steep decline in CS majors several months back in the Merc, and I wrote a lead business page article last year for the San Francisco Chronicle while attending Anita Borg’s memorial service, Paving the Way for ‘Systers’, which explored the declining numbers of women in technology, especially at the managerial level. “The numbers from Berkeley of the 1980s indicate that our technology workforce should have a considerable number of women in management and CTO positions by now” I wrote in September of 2003. “Where have all the women in technology gone?”

Lessons Learned in Massive Video Production for University Alumni Outreach

Today I am scheduled to present my paper at 4pm on massive video production from work done with Berkeley at the ACM SIGCHI Advances in Computer Entertainment 2004 (ACE2004) Conference held this week at the National University of Singapore. The paper is entitled Lessons Learned in Massive Video Production (MVP) for University Alumni Outreach.

Abstract: In this paper, we describe lessons learned in creating a Massive Video Production (MVP) mechanism and filmography environment for the University of California at Berkeley. The goal was to provide a university department mandated to expand alumni outreach with personalized university-branded alumni VideoGreetings using a convenient and dynamic alumni outreach tool with modern multimedia production standards coupled with commonplace digital camera raw clips with no intervention on the part of the alumni coordinator and department other than editorial approval of the finished production. The actual mechanism consists of a hosted production engine, filmography and search environment, review and editorial functions, and subscription and protection.

Unfortunately, I had to inform the committee chair that I would not be able to present due to a death in the family today after several months of decline. So I am posting the paper in the hopes that others can enjoy it and send me comments at my website. I look forward to hearing from all those great people who I will miss today, and I hope they will understand.

Is Linux “GNU”?

Last week Griff Palmer thanked me for not getting all worked up over nits in his article on Linux, but wondered if he’d hear from Richard Stallman (RMS to those not in the know) because he called it “Linux” instead of “GNU/Linux” (those difficult editors, again).

Well, sure enough, just as Griff predicted, RMS struck back with exactly that complaint – “For months now, my home machine has run nothing but Linux. but that cannot be true. Linux by itself would not run without the GNU operating system. He must be talking about GNU/Linux and calling it Linux, as often happens.” But are we being a bit loose with history here?