Fun Friday – Now, What is it About Unix or Yourself You’d like to Change?

Well, it probably comes as no surprise that I read Physics Today. But it sure came as a surprise to me to see GRE and research proposal disguised as recruitment ad…

Some of the questions are very interesting. Like question 5, “What’s broken with Unix? How would you fix it?” or question 4, right out of Adventure Unix days, or 12 “In your opinion, what is the most beautiful math equation ever derived? (perhaps Hamilton’s, as any physicist knows, but I’m sure they don’t). Even 14 – What will be the next great improvement in search technology?

It’s a GRE-styled booklet test. Not an ad. A booklet. If it had been blue instead of green, it would have been a classic “blue book” from Berkeley for exams. It was made for scientists – not just compsci people. Remember the most beautiful equation question – that’s speaking to a physicist’s heart and also a mathematician, but I don’t know if they bother with hearts at Google or any other Silicon Valley company these days.

It’s called the GLAT (Google Labs Aptitude Test). Would you know how to solve in a 2-d rectangular infinite lattice of 1-ohm resisters the resistance beteen two nodes a knights move away? (I’ll give you a hint – we use an infinite lattice to avoid edge effects so the equations are simple). 🙂

Interesting? Especially the Unix question…this shouldn’t be here in a “work for Google” ad. Nor the Adventure one. Or should it?

Digerati Watch the Guy with the Glasses, Women Entrepreneurs Listen to the Voice of Experience

Well, last Friday was the “invite-only” conversation with Bill Gates of Microsoft and John Hennessy, President of Stanford University, at the Computer History Museum. I must admit, even if it was invitation-only it sure seemed everyone was invited – even me!

Matt Marshall in the San Jose Mercury News notes today that even Frank Quattrone joined the crowd to hear Gates speak. I didn’t notice him myself – there were just too many people with multiply colored labels and press tags everywhere. But since I got the invite to that event myself, does that mean I’m a “friend of Frank” too?

I’m sure many others will cover the discussion, so I’ll mention the other stuff. Did anyone there notice how “non-networking” the crowd was? I spoke briefly to a few people, but really – no one was talking to anyone else. Instead of a “happening” event, it was more like going to a funeral. Not really fun or upbeat. And I had my cool purple jacket on and everything.

Second, we weren’t allowed to wander about the museum before the talk. Now, wandering about among the old computers is actually my favorite part of visiting the Computer History Museum, especially when people are not very sociable, because the computers give everyone something to talk about. But alas, no wandering. Guess I’ll have to wait until the Vintage Computer Faire.

On the other hand, I had a lot more fun hearing Margaret Heffernan talk up her new book The Naked Truth last Weds night at Golden Gate University’s San Jose campus. Margaret is a very enjoyable many-time CEO and Fast Company columnist who has a lot of very interesting things to say about the experiences of women in business. But don’t just take my word for it – watch her for yourself as she discusses women, networking, and business.

I know everyone will be talking around the water cooler today about the guy with the glasses, and that’s OK. But it’s just too bad only the guys get the mainstream press coverage, while an experienced businesswoman and columnist gets all but ignored – but I guess that’s what Margaret’s talking about.

Video on Demand over TCP and Jitter

A recent question to me from a “born back bencher” eavesdropping on the end-to-end groups musings asked “…how they can even believe they can accomplish a good result with TCP for VOD [Video On Demand]? Yeah they gave me good on SACK and NACK and no matter how many RFCs and drafts they quote, which I have never read, the logic still seems obtuse if the window is end to end”. Actually, this isn’t a silly question – it’s a good one in that we need to examine our environment and definitions carefully and has a lot of richness. Just what a physicist loves!

VOD isn’t just TCP, although end-to-end quality is very much based on how the customer perceives the stream (if you’re truly streaming). If you’re transiting through wireless, all bets are off – no one does good work in this area (yet) as I discuss in Buffer, Buffer, Where is the Buffer? on Byte.

But to get to the gestalt, in a video quality study I conducted several years ago we found you had to deal with VOD at several levels, from production of video for the Internet to TCP streaming optimization – in this case we used SiliconTCP here at the datacenter as well as client end (see SiliconTCP, EtherSAN, and Scalability). It’s really the big pipe / little pipe problem at the customer end that’s the bigger issue here – but we’re now in Internet infrastructure land, and that’s a hard-fought area. But in all cases, jitter is the key!

If You Can’t Beat Them, Go Lower

I remember when Linux was just gearing up, and many of the Sun people (who started with BSD, remember SunOS?) mocked them. I heard about what a lousy architecture it was (yes, that’s true, but what did it matter to someone who got something working for nothing?), that it wasn’t good enough for enterprise (well I’ve seen a lot of enterprise crap over the years, so that doesn’t wash), and that you’d never get it working or supported (seems that isn’t true either from the look of things).

The problem with smart people is that they can easily come up with a lot of good-sounding excuses when they don’t want to see it like it is, and what it is right now is that people don’t want to pay for free software – and I suppose that’s why it’s called “free”. This hits Sun pretty hard, since they built a pretty nice OS and want to get people to show their appreciation by actually paying for it. So it looks like Sun is taking a page from the Microsoft playbook (you know, “open source is evil, expensive, evil, and did we mention evil”) with today’s announcement.

Excuse my Bios, but…

Check out the Phoenix Technologies announcement on their BIOS hardware authentication scheme.

People like Bruce Schneier lecture us all on how hard it is to create a trusted network verification model that holds up under a variety of conditions and needs. And who needs this (very few)?

Some of you may recall how Microsoft had to pull back on their extra evil hardware authentication when it turned out XP didn’t work when you added a device like a DVD. Everybody complained, vendors got really annoyed with customer support, and Microsoft got blamed (well, it was their fault). They’re trying to moderate this in practice, but it’s not a deterministic strategy for a host of technical and practical reasons.

But Microsoft has an OS monopoly and can get away with failure. Does Phoenix have a monopoly on the BIOS? Don’t think so. The customer hates this process of verification – it makes him feel like a criminal. So the vendor notices the customer hates the product, buys another BIOS from AMI or any of the hundreds of others, gets rid of this nonsense for the customer, and the problem is self-correcting.

And now Phoenix is going to disallow network access from people who don’t match this same faulty hardware profile? Great – it didn’t work before, so let’s make it even bigger this time. Sounds like lunacy? It is. Phoenix has been trying this trick for years and years – and it won’t work unless you keep people from upgrading / fixing their PCs.

Can you imagine how people would react if you told them they couldn’t change the oil filter on their cars, or take it to the local oil changers and buy a standard filter? You’d have to throw the car away – sorry Charlie.

As the real security guys will tell you, verification of trusted networked sources is actually a very difficult game, even using hardware and secure links. You fool yourself into believing that you can live in a black and white universe. In reality, with security this brings more problems, because too narrow a window results, so exceptions are made to the rules and soon you’re back to the same corner case issues as before. The real success comes down to knowing the character of the individuals and the use / practice of measures, such as the friend/foe rules of engagement process used in the military.

The last thing everyone needs is an Internet where people are refused access for arbitrary reasons, subverting the entire point of TCP/IP and networked communications – to exchange information – by preying on people’s fears of the “bad guys” gaining access. Maybe if Microsoft would just secure their OS better, we wouldn’t have this fear in the first place.

Now that I’ve pointed out the problem from the perspective of an Internet expert, we could all use a crafty rebuttal from a security expert as to why this is just another brand of snake oil. Hey Bruce, where are you?