Have Computicles Arrived?

So, I’ve written quite a lot about computicles over the past few years.  In most of those articles, I’m talking about the software implementation of tiny units of computation.  The idea for computicles stems from a conversation I had with my daughter circa 2007 in which I was laying out a grand vision of the world where units of computation would be really small, fit in your hand sized, and be able to connect and do stuff fairly easily.  That was my envisioning of ubiquitous computing.  And so, yesterday, I received the latest creation from HardKernel, the Odroid HC1 (HC – Home Cloud).

20170902_072503

Hardkernel is a funny company.  I’ve been buying at least one of everything they’ve made in the past 5 years or so.  They essentially make single board computers in the “credit card” form factor.  What you see in the picture is the HC1, with an attached SSD of 120Gb.  The SSD is 2.5″ standard, so that gives you a sense of the size of the thing.  The black is aluminum, and it’s the heat sink for the unit.

The computer bit of it is essentially a reworked Odroid XU4, which all by itself is quite a strong computer in this category.  Think Raspberry Pi, but 4 or 5 times stronger.  The HC1 has a single Sata connector to slot in whatever hard storage you choose.  No extra ribbon cables or anything like that.  The XU4 itself can run variants of Linux, as well as Android.  The uSD card sticking out the right side provides the OS.  In this particular case I’m using OMV (Open Media Vault), because I wanted to try the unit out as a NAS in my home office.

One of the nice things about the HC1 is that it’s stackable.  So, I can see piling up 3 or 4 of these to run my local server needs.  Of course, when you compare to the giant beefy 64-bit super server that I’m currently typing at, these toy droids give it very little competition in the way of absolute compute power.  They even did an analysis of bitcoin mining and determined a number of years it would take to get a return on their investment.  But, computing, and computicles aren’t about absolute concentrated power.  Rather, they are about distributed processing.

Right now I have a Synology, probably the equivalent of today’s DS1517.  That thing has RAID up the wazoo, redundant power, multiple nics, and it’s just a reliable workhorse that just won’t quit, so far.  The base price starts at $799, before you actually start adding storage media.  The HC1 starts at $49.  Of course there’s no real comparison in terms of reliability, redundancy, and the like, or is there?

Each HC1 can hold a single disk.  You can throw on whatever size and variety you like.  This first one has a Samsung SSD that’s a couple years old, at 120Gb.  These days you can get 250Gb for $90.  You can go up to 4TB with an SSD, but that’s more like a $1600 proposition.  So, I’d be sticking with the low end.  That makes a reasonable storage computicle roughly $150.

You could of course skip the SSD or HDD and just stick a largish USB thumb drive, or 128Gb uSD for $65, but the speed on that interface isn’t going to be nearly as fast as the Sata III interface the HC1 is sporting.  So, great for a small time use, but for relatively constant streaming and download, the SSD solutions, and even HDD solutions will be more robust.

So, what’s the use case?  Well, besides the pure geekery of the thing, I’m trying to imagine more appliance like usage.  I’m imagining what it looks like to have several of these placed throughout the house.  Maybe one is configured as a YouTube downloader, and that’s all it does all the time, shunting to the larger Synology every once in a while.

How about video streaming?  Right now that’s served up by the Synology running a Plex server, which is great for most clients, but sometimes, it’s just plain slow, particularly when it comes to converting video clips from ancient cameras and cell phones.  Having one HC1 dedicated to the task of converting clips to various formats that are known to be used in our house would be good.  Also, maybe serving up the video itself?  The OMV comes with a minidlna server, which works well with almost all the viewing kit we have.  But, do we really have any hiccups when it comes to video streaming from the Synology?  Not enough to worry about, but still.

Maybe it’s about multiple redundant distributed RAID.  With 5 – 10 of these spread throughout the house, each one could fail in time, be replaced, and nothing would be the wiser.  I could load each with a couple of terabytes, and configure some form of pleasant redudancy across them and be very happy.  But, then there’s the cloud.  I actually do feel somewhat reassured having the ability to backup somewhere else.  As recent flooding in Texas shows, as well as wildfires, no matter how much redundancy you have locally, it’s local.

Then there’s compute.  Like I said, a single beefy x64 machine with a decent GPU is going to smoke any single one of these.  Likewise if you have a small cluster of these.  But, that doesn’t mean it’s not useful.  Odroid boards are ARM based, which makes them inherently low power consumption compared to their intel counterparts.  If I’ve have some relatively light loads that are trivially parallelizable, then having a cluster of a few of these might make some sense.  Again with the ubiquitous computing, if I want to have the Star Trek style “computer, where’s my son”, or “turn on the lights in the garage”, without having to send my voice to the cloud constantly, then performing operations such as speech recognition on a little cluster might be interesting.

The long and short of it is that having a compute/storage module in the $150 range makes for some interesting thinking.  It’s surely not the only storage option in this range, but the combination of darned good hardware, tons of software support, low price and easy assembly, gives me pause to consider the possibilities.  Perhaps the hardware has finally caught up to the software, and I can start realizing computicles in physical as well as soft form.

Advertisements

Technical Advisor in the office of the CTO

So, I received an email a few weeks back which essentially said “would you consider a role working for the CTO as a Technical Advisor”.  Well, at first, I wasn’t sure what to think, but then I actually talked to who was asking me the question, and I thought, “wait a minute, this could be a really cool thing”.

It’s like this.  At Microsoft, we don’t always have a person in the role of CTO.  Bill Gates was “Chief Scientist” at one point, and Craig Mundie I think had the CTO role, as did Ray Ozzie.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a distraction.

The current CTO is Kevin Scott, and before I actually met him, the #1 comment everyone said about him was “he’s a really cool guy”.  Well, after meeting him, I have the same sentiment.  Kevin’s not an industry luminary from the birth days of the personal computing industry like Ray Ozzie was, he’s an engineer’s engineer with a pedigree that extends through Google, a startup adMob, and LinkedIn, where he continues to be responsible for their backend stuff.

I’ve been at Microsoft for 18 years, which means I’ve done a fair number of things, and I know a fair number of people.  The first aspect of being a TA is getting around, meeting with people, and spreading the word that there’s actually a CTO.

What does the CTO do?  Well, the best description I can give is the CTO acts as the dev manager/architect for the company.  The scope and responsibility of the CTO can be very broad.  Part of it is about efficiency of our joint engineering objectives.  Part of it is making sure we’re marching to the beat of a similar drummer.  Can you imagine, Microsoft has a few multi-billion dollar businesses, led by business managers who are fairly autonomous, and have quite strong independent personalities, or they would not be in the positions they are in.  And along comes the CTO to help unify them.

Really, the job is being fairly impartial where necessary, and just reminding people of their shared goals and objectives, and helping them to reinforce achieving them.

Being a TA to the CTO?  Mostly it’s about going deep in areas.  Kevin Scott is a fast learner, fully capable of digesting tons of info, and fabricating a well informed opinion on his own.  The challenge is one of time.  Microsoft is vast, and if you want to go beyond the surface level in many areas, you’d spend all your time in meetings, and not actually be able to synthesize anything.  So, the TA role.  We have those infinite number of meetings, going deep on multiple topics, synthesizing to a certain level, and surfacing interesting bits to Kevin where decisions and direction might be required.

The the surface description of the role and responsibility.  The truth is, it’s not at all a well defined role.  Eric Rudder was Bill Gate’s TA, for five years, and he was quite a force, doing more than just feeding Bill Gates opinions on what he heard in the company.  We’ll see what our current office of the CTO is capable of, and what kinds of value we are going to impart on the company.

I am excited for this latest opportunity.  I think it’s a fitting role for where I’m at in my career, and what value I can contribute to the company.  So, here we go!


Note to self – subtlety is not an option with Donald Trump

Just yesterday, I wrote Donald Trump is not a dumb guy.  In that missive I was telling myself not to be fooled into the mass hypnosis that Donald Trump is currently performing on the world.  But, alas, someone I actually respect posted a comment questioning my beliefs, and suggesting that I was ok with mass murder.

Well, I am by no means a trump supporter, nor a war monger.  I’m a great many things, but probably none of the things that this person now believes about me.  It’s worth being more direct, so here it is.

Thoughts on Donald Trump.  First of all, it’s probably worth me describing myself in terms of nationality, ethnicity, political and religious leanings.  I am a 52 year old black man born and raised in the United States of America.  I grew up in the very conservative Orange County in California.  Home of John Wayne, and the John Birch society, if you know what that is.  I grew up in a time when my father, who repaired typewriters in schools, had to suffer the indignity of being called a nigger by children in the schools where he worked.  In my home, we were born Christian and while my father was alive, we went to church regularly.

My neighborhood was just a bunch of working class Mexicans and some blacks.  The barrio by any other name.  A place rough enough for the police to only show up in twos if they knew what was good for them.  Migrant workers (“wet backs”), just working people trying to raise their families.

My dad died when I was 7.  At age 10, my mom decided we’d had enough of the Mexican upbringing, and we cast our eyes on a new housing development a couple miles down Orangethorpe.  A new 2 story 4 bedroom house, surrounded by respectable white folks!  Gee, we were moving on up.  So, I went through middle and high school like that, still as Christian as ever, although we didn’t go to church after dad died.  Mom was probably mad and disillusioned with god.  At any rate, I made it through high school, went to Berkeley to study electrical engineering, and eventually started my first company, Adamation.

I did software that was off the beaten path.  Yah, there was this Microsoft thing out there, but these were the days of Mac, NeXT, Taligent, BeOS, and that fledgling Linux thing.

I married a woman I met in college (she was from Goa India), we had a child, we eventually got divorced.  I did not become a hindu during this time, but I was certainly immersed in a lot of hindu ritual and culture.  I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, and various other Hindu texts.  They seemed quite alright, and offered up a more ancient view of how the world works from a religious perspective.

Roll forward some more years, and I made the move to Microsoft (1998).  The heady days of the birth of XML (which I helped drive for 5 years), and the birth of the CLR and .net frameworks.  And then, 9/11.  I went to work to see panic in the halls.  Colleagues with vague middle-eastern or southeast Asian ancestry or looks, scurrying into my office with reports of their friends being beat up in other parts of the country.  My own fiduciary responsibility driving me to tell close friends that I would have to fire them if they continue to distribute incendiary emails imploring people to route out the terrorists and get rid of them.

Very challenging times.

Roll forward a few more years, 2005, I find myself moving to India to create the Engineering Excellence group in Hyderabad, a relatively new development center for Microsoft.  Somehow, drawn to India again.  This time around, I fall in love with a woman who is muslim.  So, I read for the first time the Quran.  What an eye opener for a Christian such as myself.  Turns out, we (jews, Christians, muslims) are all praying to the same god.  Go figure.  Men have created the dogma around killing each other in the name of this god.  And so, I wanted to marry this woman.  And to do so, I needed to be a muslim man.  Lucky for me, I was already circumcised…

And so, I’m now married to a muslim woman, I consider myself to be a muslim, and we have two beautiful children who are also muslim.

My journey back to the US was less than positive.  My wife had a 10 year visa, but on one of our returns (2009), the border agents at the airport pulled us aside, and into the dreaded interrogation room.  We’re not going to let you into the country until you have a green card, even though you have a valid visitors visa…  Yep, we flew back to India the next morning.  But why?  This is my wife?  “Sorry sir, we don’t know who this alien is, and once she enters the country, she may not leave”.  So, even though we were married, in process of obtaining a green card, and all that, we could not enter the country.

Roll forward to 2016.  Donald Trump, that figure from my past who had always been there, as an entertainer, but never any real significance in my life, is tearing up the Republican party.  They are nothing but deer in the headlights of his red neck hick mobile fueled by bigotry, misogyny, racism, and all the other things that tear apart civil society.  He is tearing back the curtain of political correctness, and essentially relieving the pressure that a set of Americans feel has kept them bottled up far too long.  They made, and they’re somewhat active.  His opponent, an ineffective democrat who did not have the pulse of the people in the way that President Obama did before her.  All excuses aside, I’m not sure having Hillary in office would have been that effective with a house and senate controlled by republicans.  But, I digress.

Donald trump using a series of tactics that are so obvious from an outside observers perspective that I’m always surprised (becoming less so) that they work.  Like Penn and Teller (magicians), he tells you exactly how he’s deceiving you, how he’s using misdirection, how he’s manipulating your emotions, appearing to join your perspective, and then he pulls the wool over your eyes and you still can’t believe how he’s pulled that off.  It’s just sickening.

His first few months in office have been typical for someone full of bluster, but little political experience.  First he shocks the world by essentially saying “all bets are off.  You can throw out all your past assumptions, there’s a new sheriff in town”.  That’s a tactic.  Now everyone is on pause.  Is he as racist, isolationist, bigoted, misogynistic as his bluster portrays, or is he simply the best Democrat that could be elected at this time to deal with the Republic controlled house and senate.

And so, he bombs Syria.  Now, it strikes me as a lifelong pacifist that bombing people is nothing to be proud of.  Every time a building of “collateral damage” is destroyed, every time a truck plows into a crowd of people, every time a government chooses to gas its own, every time we shoot a petty dictactor in a hidey hole, my heart sinks.  We should never be proud of our ability to hunt down and destroy human beings.  It’s sad that we have people we believe horrible enough to have this done to them, and it’s sad that we’re horrible enough people to do this.

For ever cop that kills a black man, I’m scared for my safety.  For every muslim identified terrorist that pulls off an atrocity, I’m scared for the safety of myself, and my family.  For every executive order issued by my own government, I afraid I will be rounded up and placed in an internment camp or worse.

I live in a world now where I have a contingency plan for rapidly departing my own country as soon as the “muslim registry” rears its ugly head.  Fleeing the country may be no solice, nor refuge though.  Our next best stop is India, and they have a tolerance, but not love for muslims.  Anywhere else is a dice role with an American passport, and a family with mixed heritage.

And so, to rephrase my previous post on the subject.  Donald Trump is not dumb.  He just blew up a Syrian air base in response to the Syrian government using chemical weapons on its own people.  Using chemical weapons is an international crime easily deplored by all countries.  The Syrian government should be held accountable for this action.

Donald Trump has gained enough political saavy to exploit this situation to his own gains.  I doubt he cares much about the loss of life in Syria, but he does care about getting China to deal with North Korea.  He will  use his bombing of the Syrian air base to show that he’s got big guns and is not afraid to use them.  He will say this in plain word’s to China’s president, as he has him sitting in his own private resort, sitting on his own patio, drinking from his own wine glasses.  This is big dog diplomacy 101.

So, in short, to my colleagues who might question where I stand on subjects of Donald Trump, muslims, war, and the like.  I would rather go to jail than go to war (never registered for the draft, got three threating letters from the government on the same).  And for those who think I’m a hypocrite for such a stance, I guess I’m the worst kind of conservative.  I will defend my family til the death, but for a country that would just as easily shoot me at a traffic stop, or stick me in an internment camp, or call me nigger and equate me to the lowest of animals, I say “fuck you”, I’m surviving as best I can, and I’m going to do right by mine, to survive and thrive, and raise my kids to build a better society that doesn’t suffer from all this nonsense.

 


Note to self – President Trump is not a dumb guy

I have to make a note to myself as a way to mark various events that are occurring, while I can still remember.  A little time capsule if you will.

I did not vote for Mr Trump in the 2016 election, but I am certainly an observer of human behavior. I recently read an interview with Scott Adams in which he explained his views and observations of trump as essentially a mass hypnotist.  I tend to agree with this view.  That and the fact that Mr Trump is decently good at quite a few things, but probably not a master of anything.  His combined skills on those several things have kept him in an elevated position his entire life.

But, what do I observe today, Friday April 7 2017?  A couple weeks back, North Korea doing saber rattling as usual.  US and Japan doing military exercises near them.  Syrian government allegedly using chemical weapons on their own people, and the Chinese president Xi Jinping doing a world tour, stopping by the US colony to check on things.

So, what happens?  The US drops a bunch of munitions (roughly 50 tomahawk cruise missiles) on a Syrian airbase that was supposedly a part of the use of the chemical weapons.  And, the next day, president Xi comes to visit…

Now, while the various pundits are wondering what this little show of aggression leads to in terms of the US involvement in Syria, I tend to think it has nothing to do with Syria at all.  It’s a calculated way for Mr Trump to show his lack of fear, and ability to act unilaterally.  He probably could not care less about Syria.  What he does care about is showing China that he’s not afraid to go after North Korea.  He’s trying to show the rest of the world that although his rhetoric is America first protectionist, it is in fact “American interests first”, which is subtly different, and means everything in the world.  Mr Trump is telling the world, he will use American military to advance and protect American interests around the world.

This gives teeth to the “China better do something about North Korea, or I will”.  Mr trump is going after the Vladimir Putin “strong man” leadership style.  He doesn’t care about his popularity, as he knows there’s nothing like a little world skirmishing in the name of American interests to boost that.  He’s playing the world, and the world is probably a step or two behind.  This will be interesting to see the interaction with China, because although Mr Trump might be playing the world, China plans 50 – 100 years ahead.

Grab your popcorn.


Building a Tower PC – one month on

The tower PC has found itself sidled up next to the desk in my office.  It’s not actually the best placement of the beast as you can’t really admire the innards from that position.  It’s really cool though because it’s fairly silent, causing a faint rumbling in the floor from the cooling reservoir.  You don’t really notice it until you turn it off.

As this thing is fairly quiet, even the occasional click click noise of the disk actual spinning rust disk drive becomes noticeable, and slightly annoying.  So, I decided to make my first mod to this beast.  I took out the Western digital 2TB drive, and put in a Samsung SSD 850 EVO 1TB.  There are a couple reasons for this replacement.  SSD drives are great for speed and silent, and low energy usage.  All good things.  They’re still a bit spendy though.  The 2TB version would have been twice as much, and then some.  So, 1TB is fine for now, as this machine is not intended to be a storage power house, just enough to handle local stuff fairly fast.

It may not seem like much of a change, but how has it worked out?  Well, when I had the spinning rust in there, I put all my repos on the D: drive, so downloading things from GitHub had a noticeable lag.  So too, compiling stuff with Visual Studio felt a bit sluggish.  My thinking was, why on earth would my laptop (all SSD all the time) be much faster at fairly simple compilation tasks, when this desktop beast is so much more powerful.  We’ll, I’ve just done a totally subjective test of compilation after installing the SSD and putting my repos on it.  Conclusion:  The snappiness level now meets my expectations.  I conclude that SSDs truly are a beneficial thing.

Now that I’ve got the snappy beast humming along, I’ll need to reconfigure my home office, build some new worktops, so that I can better display it, and have a much better work surface than my currently crowded desk.  One thing leads to another…


Not all media is good – climate trumped

During the mid 1980s through the 1990s, Apple was very interesting.  Going through swings of almost bankruptcy, to launching the all new Macintosh, to losing their illustrious CEO, and the birth of NeXT Computers.  During that time I was closely affiliated, either because I was selling a lot of those Macs, or because I was writing software on NeXT Computers.  The one thread that ran through the era was Steve Jobs, and the always present news story.  Steve had a way, and Apple has kind of gotten away from this a bit, of being in the news.  Whether it was because of tantrums in the engineering org, or his stylistic choices in architecture, Steve, and thus his companies, were always in the news for good or bad.  As such, Steve Jobs is a world renown name, and Apple is Apple.

Dare I say, the modern day Steve Jobs is Donald Trump.  This is how a modern political campaign is won.  He was always in the news, and everyone, especially his opponents, was always reacting to whatever he said or did.  That’s just the way it is, and now he’s about to be in the White House.

As humans, we are often afflicted by a fascination of all things human, and sometimes that leads us to believe we are all important, powerful, or penultimate if not on this planet alone, then in the entirety of the universe.  Then things start to happen that are far beyond our control.  Mt Pinatubo erupts, and suddenly atomic bombs look smallish.

While I was running on the treadmill this morning, I was watching some video “Earth in 1000 Years”.  It’s basically a 45 minute expose on what’s happening with the polar ice caps and iceland.  I found it to be just factual.  Satellite photos, x-rays, ice core samples, and the like.  Explanations of what ocean currents are doing, what happens with tons of fresh water sliding into the oceans, how carbon is trapped and released, and how it all correlates to climate change, ice ages, thaws, and the like.  Nothing political, no exhortations to drive an electric car, no brow beating about how environmental accords need to be agreed to.  Just cold hard facts of what’s happening to our planet today, and what it will likely mean over the next couple hundred years.

Then, I read this story about how Miami Beach is losing its sand.  Once again, this is a cold hard fact.  The people who live their and manage the beaches know full well what’s going on, and the risk associated with a sea that is rising by .24″ per year.  It’s not the actual rise that’s killer at the moment, but that the surge is upward, so the sand is getting washed away.

And this got me thinking on the Trump connection.  There are any number of stories on Donald Trump’s beliefs when it comes to climate change, like this one.  Basically “ah phooey, that stuff is a bunch of bunk…”.  Yep, heard it before.  Perhaps the only debatable point is the level to which human activities have any affect on the climate, but changing it is.  But, here’s Donald Trump, in the media, saying anything to stay in the minds of the masses.  It doesn’t really matter what he say.  Facts, half-truth, made up reality.  As long as he says it, and people are listening, it will get spread, and we’ll all react.

I understand why people say “there’s no climate change”.  Because, invariably, they think the restrictions we impose on ourselves to deal with it are taking jobs away, suppressing profits, and generally just a bunch of governmental overreach.  Yah, ok, I can understand the sentiment.

So, at least for the next 4 years, the US govt. might not be a world player when it comes to driving climate change initiatives.  But what does that mean to me the average schmoe.  Do I have to return all my newly installed LED lights and reinstall wasteful incandescent bulbs?  Do I have to purchase an American made muscle car that gets 15 mpg instead of an electric?  Do I have to invest in coal mines to ensure that my electricity comes from the good old fashioned “when America was great” method of electical generation, or can I go ahead and install those solar panels and battery pack at my house?

At some point, we all think, “this is a big problem, what difference does it make what I do?”, but these problems are all actually locally modifiable.  If everyone on the planet could ditch their incandescent bulbs in favor of LEDs, at the very least we’d be using that much less power, which leaves more for other uses.  If companies like Tesla make great looking cars at affordable prices, then we can buy them, and reduce by that much.  These are tiny things, but they do in fact add up.

Politicians are so important when it comes to setting an agenda, and driving in a particular direction.  We as individuals and societies outlast them, and operate on a personal level every day.  No matter what is said in the media about climate change, I’m going to continue to purchase LED lighting, because it’s a fairly economical thing to do, and it just makes sense.  I’m desperate to make my next car an electric one.  I’m going to ride my bike to work more, when it’s not quite so rainy and dark.  I’m going to try and support companies that are like minded and creating products that are friendly to the environment, not because they were forced to by government regulations, but because it seems like a good idea to take care of the place we call home.

Donald Trump is in the news a lot, for all sorts of things.  He’s a media hound, and thrives off the attention, and ultimately it will suit his needs, whatever they may be.  He is no oracle when it comes to understanding climate change.  He’s just another human.  I’m not going to get trumped by his view on climate, and I’m going to do the best that I can as a human to try and make our planet a better place.

 


Things that make you go Hmmm – Cranes

I saw this notification in an email: Fri 11/18 Crane in parking lot 11/19-11/20 Building Closed

Now, it might be a sign of the times, or where I live, or my general gullability or stupidity or both, but this what my first thought:  Oh, there must be some rare bird which landed in front of that building, and they’re shutting down the building for a few days so it doesn’t get hurt.  I had visions of a rare bird, perhaps with a broken wing, maybe a whole family of cranes…

Then I thought, oh, wait, they’re talking about a construction crane, not a bird…

Just goes to show you the breadth and depth of knowledge, the openness, the empathy, that I as a programmer must possess…

Or, I’m just going senile.