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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bet the House

I'm not a gambling man, but as they say, you can't win if you don't play. I didn't realize that was a truism. In fact, if you played the subprime mortgage gamble, you not only CAN win, you WILL win. If only I knew.

Bush Mortgage Plan Will Freeze Certain Subprime Interest Rates for 5 Years

So if I gambled on a low adjustable interest rate and now when the rates are due to increase, I cry, I can get my low rate extended? What a dope I was settling for the 30 year fixed. I should have taken a lower adjustable rate and when the increase came due, I'd just have the government bail me out.

Oh well, I missed out on that gamble but I'm going to take that lesson learnt, head to Vegas and bet my life savings on 21 black. If it doesn't come up, I'm sure the casino will give me my bet back ... right?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spank You Very Much Mass.

It's obvious that Kathleen Wolf needs a spanking for being such an idiot; however, the Massachusetts state legislature needs a whack upside their collective heads for entertaining such a ridiculous proposal - [Reference Boston Herald article on proposed bill that would prohibit parents from spanking their own children.]

Now let me get this straight Massachusetts, you can legally kill an unborn child, but you can't spank a live one?

Monday, November 12, 2007

IT'S IT NOT IS

While Information Services (IS) exists as a term, there is a reason that the infrastructure, applications and protocols that make up modern enterprise networks are collectively called Information Technology (IT). High level manager-types today try to talk in terms of offering services to end users. They try to define service models with Service Level Agreements (SLA) that provide end users with some sort of satisfaction that things will work as they expect.

Information Technology is made up of technologies – not services, so to try to characterize the technologies as services is not only inappropriate but also dangerous. Nowhere is this more evident than at the most basic level that glues the enterprise together – the network.

The network is the most abstracted layer when IT is talked about in terms of services. A service – say global videoconferencing –relies on a set of processes, procedures and Service Level Agreements to be offered to end user groups. This abstraction level relies upon a vendor and their physical assets and protocols – such as Polycom using the VSX product line with H.323. Finally, this "solution" must run on the network – the most basic building block. The network is regarded as electricity – plug in the computer and it comes on like a light. While this can be expected of a well designed infrastructure, the fact is most enterprises have a cobbled framework of interconnected devices that supports minimum IP connectivity between remote sites.

I believe this is the result of the paradigm shift away from the "T" (technology) and into the imaginary "S" (services) that exist nowhere in the name of the job description that managers in the field fulfill. Instead of improving technologies that will serve to create the foundation for the elusive services yet to come, they strive to exceed user expectations by promising wildly optimistic visions while also committing to cost cutting and staff reductions in an effort to appease management. The drastically overworked and underfunded IT professionals are soon pushed beyond their breaking points and the inevitable discussion of outsourcing rears its ugly head.

But is the problem the IT worker? Is it the IT managers? Is it the high-level muckity-mucks that demand more for less? The outsourcing model would have you believe the problem is the network. After all, that’s what is always outsourced – along with the jobs of those who run it.

Assume the "network" is the problem - after all, I've already stipulated that most enterprise networks aren't the case studies for proper vendor-endorsed showcase examples. But the network works - again, we've stipulated basic end-to-end IP connectivity exists. And any network architect worth his or her salt can make a poorly performing network perform better given the right amount of resources – people, talent, time and of course – money.

Therefore, don't outsource the network, outsource the problem. Again, the problem is not that the network can’t deliver PINGs from end to end. It's that the network can't deliver a high-quality, consistent and reliable experience for a particular application for user A, B and C. That isn't a "network" problem. It's a quality problem. And in network terms, quality is addressed with Quality of Service (QoS).

QoS – in some circles – is a show stopper. This is mainly because those talking in terms of "services" don't understand how "technology" makes their services possible. It's like trying to explain an engine tune-up to a beauty queen.

QoS isn't (just) queuing, marking and Differentiated Service Code Point (DSCP). These are technical components of a QoS "service" (See, we can talk in terms of services – when appropriate). QoS is an umbrella term that incorporates a suite of technical components to address all concerns in network transport. Congestion management and avoidance, call admission control, priority queuing for real-time applications and link efficiency mechanisms for low-speed Wide Area Network (WAN) pipes are all pieces of the QoS puzzle. Given the features and depth of a QoS solution, you don't turn it on and walk away. You need planning and global consistency. You don't implement everything; you tailor the solution to fit the requirements – and just so you management-types don't get confused, we're NOT talking about business requirements, we're talking about technical requirements.

Link efficiency mechanisms make T1's look like T3's. Queuing allows Voice over IP to perform like a normal landline call during both normal and intense network congestion. Advanced buffering algorithms detect network congestion before it happens to minimize impact. Advanced call admission control techniques ensure that limited bandwidth is not oversubscribed by bandwidth intensive applications. The end result is a tuned network that performs like a dragster rather than a drag.

If management-types need a "service" term to explain this to even higher management-types, talk in terms of Quality of Experience. QoE can address the non-measurable but required metrics of end user satisfaction in terms of consistent reliable performance for a given application or service. QoS is the tool of the "technology" to achieve the performance of the "service".

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Reality YouTube

I'm afraid the Writer's Guild strike of November 2007 will spell the death knell for television as we know it. Based on the last time this occurred, we were hit with a wave of reality television since writer's aren't required when average Joe's are put in front of a camera - insanity ensues. That was certainly the death of the sitcom as we knew it at that time.

Given the penetration of YouTube in today's society, no longer is the average Joe just put in front of the camera by some TV type exec, now the average Joe controls the camera and the broadcast. With new content ...

[DIGRESSION]
I am in no way implying that any of the YouTube "content" is of any value to anyone at all, much in the same way that reality television can actually be considered "entertaining" even in the most remotest sense of the word.
[END DIGRESSION]

... available by the minute in an on-demand model, traditional television - broadcast media for that matter (TV, movies, etc...) will not return "as was" unscathed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Getting to the Point of Point Solutions

I attended a presentation at this fall's VON discussing the road from Quality of Service (QoS) to Quality of Experience (QoE). As I was expecting, it was fluff designed to justify a layer of management above yet another perfectly sound technical concept that does not need managers who fundamentally don't understand the underlying technology making policy decisions that influence the deployment of said technology.

Last year's big topic at VON was IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). This is another perfect example of adding a management layer to an already existing technology concept - convergence. Of course, we can't use the word "convergence" anymore. It lacks pizazz. We need to call it "unified communications". We need to implement a framework. We need IMS. In reality, we don't, but pundits and managers alike need it because some smart technical people were getting too much recognition inventing new concepts and getting work done. They needed to be stopped - or at least slowed down.

And now it's everywhere. You need Unified Threat Management - which of course is an overarching concept that covers vulnerability asessment, intrusion detection/prevention and firewall functionality. We have Enterprise Management, which is a layer on top of the classics (like HPOV) to provide dashboards and metrics. And why are the metrics needed? To justify the existence of all the managers who took the place of all the IT people whose jobs were outsourced to save money.

When I first starting consulting, a client would give us a business requirement - "I need to connect my two remote sites to share data." We would give them (what is now called a point solution) a router. Configured, tested, job done.

A few years later, a client would have the same requirement, but now we needed - and for some reason the client wanted - a Plan, Design, Implement and Operate lifecycle. This of course involved planning why they needed the router, designing the deployment of the router, configuring and implementing the router and providing knowledge transfer to their staff for ongoing support of the router.

A year or two later, the same requirement demanded a "solution". A strategic relationship with a router vendor needed to be formed. A strategic relationship with a carrier to provide the circuit needed to be executed. A strategic relationship with the implementation resource had to be established. A holistic solution was provided that included a router and a complete industry standards based, best practices configuration for said router.

And now clients want services - so integrators offer that. They own the router. They manage the router. If the client wants a tiny new function supported, they charge large amounts of cash to type a few configuration commands into the router. Pundits and integrators have done a great job convincing enterprises that the original router they needed (and that worked fine 10 years ago) is no longer adequate. It must be bundled with services and business justifications that deliver value adds.

I'm not down on the whole services thing. Unified communications is a wonderful new suite of collaboration tools that will enable distributed users to communicate seamlessly and effectively. However, no one can tell anyone what "unified communications" actually is. Cisco has their idea. Microsoft theirs. Some interoperate. Some don't. Some promise the world, but deliver nothing more than beta products with a vague "roadmap" to panacea. So outsourcers base their delivery on the visions (or lack thereof) offered by the vendors. <sarcasm>And enterprises reap the wonderful benefits of outsourcing.</sarcasm>

Reduced to it's most common denominator, if the enterprise needs a router, give them a router. The managed service router is great for the outsourcer who reaps the monthly charges from the enterprise. The enterprise is now paying a monthly recurring charge for something that could have been done as a two week one-time cost. And if done correctly, still be working 10 years later.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fat Chance

I just saw a commercial about a revolutionary new breakthrough. It reported the "cure" to body fat. Skeptical, since body fat isn't a "disease" and thus, doesn't require a "cure", I listened. It reported that the main causes of body fat were stress at work, poor diet and lack of exercise. I immediately new the "cure". Or so I thought I did.

It went on to say the Obesity Research Center has worked with drug companies to develop the cure to body fat: a drug (whose name I won't mention so as to not create anymore unneeded publicity).

This is the problem with classifying obesity as a disease. It then doesn't need to be addressed with self discipline and hard work, but can be treated with drugs as a cure to the disease.

In case your "fat head" hasn't figured it out yet, the "cure" is to reduce stressful situations at work, eat a balanced diet and get some exercise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pink Panther 2 Filming

During our trip to a wedding in Ipswich at the lovely Crane Estate, we captured the Pink Panther 2 filming crew.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Reach the Beach Relay - 2007

As an ultra team in the 2007, 9th Annual Reach the Beach Relay my experience was quite different than past RTB Relays. In many ways, it was worse – lack of sleep, longer runs and pain, and in many ways it was far more rewarding – lack of sleep, longer runs and PAIN. However, there was so much more support this year with half as many team members. Competing teams learn you are part of an ultra team and you are suddenly elevated to an entirely different level.

We decided to run 2 legs together. This allowed us to complete our six legs apiece with only three (long) runs like in previous RTB Relays we finished. Each run would be twice as long; however, we thought the trade off would work best. On the first half of my double first leg, I passed a runner as he was getting a water break from his team. No more than a few hundred feet later, I ran past my van and grabbed some water on the go. His support team must have noticed the "Ultra" placards in our van’s window as they passed because the next time I passed their van waiting for their teammate, they asked, "you an ultra right? Do you need some water?"

Midway through the first half of his last double leg, John told me during his water pickup that he was going to make a quick stop at the transition to get a bathroom break. After ending his 17.1 mile distance by climbing brutal non-stop hills in the pouring rain completing his 44.5 mile total he told us the story. "I ran through the transition and told them I was an ultra running through. I stopped at the Port-o-Potty line with about 50 people in it. I ran to the front and yelled – 'I'm part of an ultra team and I'm in the middle of my run, I still have the next leg. Does anyone mind if I cut in front?'" Needless to say, no one objected and he was in and out like a NASCAR pit stop. The kicker: he finished that 17.1 mile run climbing brutal non-stop hills in the pouring rain completing his 44.5 mile total with a 7:43 pace on that last run – including the bathroom break!

The amount of unsolicited support from other teams and volunteers truly was amazing. I passed a woman early into the first half of my last leg. We chatted for 30 seconds and I was off. I was pacing myself, I still had 6.8 miles on Leg 32 to accomplish and I was running with folks who at this point had about 1.5 miles to go to finish their final run. As I approached the transition, the young volunteers smiled and yelled encouragement – "You’re almost there, only 100 feet left". I shot back, "I wish". She replied, "No really, the transition is right there," pointing to the cones and other runners gathered waiting for their teammates. I answered back, "I'm an ultra. I’m running through the next leg." She just said, "Whoa!" As I passed through the transition, I looked to the officials and said, "370, Ultra, running through." Everyone at the transition started yelling and clapping as I crossed the street and continued on. About 2 miles into the second half of my final leg, I saw the woman I had passed earlier. She was with her team van waiting for their runner to offer support. I made a quick joke, "Didn’t I pass you? How did you catch up?" She smiled and then dropped her jaw when she recognized me. "Oh my god, you did. You’re the ultra". Her teammates must have told her about the guy that ran through the transition where she had handed off. For the rest of that 6.8 mile leg, every time that van passed to hopscotch their runner, they honked, yelled and cheered.

But perhaps the best story – or rather anecdote – for this past year's RTB Relay came during the second half of my first 10.8 mile run. As I was passing a Conway Public Works depot, a man in a pickup in the lot leaned out his window and noticing me, the runner in front and in back of me all wearing race bibs; he asked, "how long is the race?" I replied, "200 miles", without further clarification. I was tired, going uphill and running with a bunch of fresh legged runners on their first (short 3.5 miler) after I had already run the previous leg. About 30 seconds later, I noticed the pick up truck had pulled up to me, slowed and the driver leaned out his window. With a rather amazed look, he asked, "how long do you have to finish it?" I just smiled and gave him the RTB Relay tag line ... "24 hours". His eyes popped, jaw dropped and he quite incredulously exclaimed, "good luck", as he drove off. It occurred to me 10 seconds later that he must have assumed I was running all 200 miles myself and the good laugh helped me finish off the remaining miles quite happily.

And that about sums up the RTB Relay. You may feel alone with a 200 mile task in front of you – especially at night, during the rain, slogging uphill, with no runners in sight both in front or in back of you. But inevitably, you come upon your support van, you hear their cheers, get some water and Gu and you’re on your way again. Running is a team sport. Reach the Beach Relay - 200 miles in 24 hours!

Ultra Genetically Challenged - Men's Ultra

97/351 - 7/12

From left: Ted (Position 6: leg 11, 12), Vince [Me] (Position 4: leg 7, 8), Jason (Position 3: leg 5, 6), Gabriel (Position 2: leg 3, 4), John (Position 1: leg 1, 2), Rick (Position 5: leg 9, 10)

NOTE: This year, the course started at Cannon Mountain and took us over the Kancamagus Highway.

Distance Difficulty Time Pace
Leg 7
Leg 8
7.3
3.5
Moderate
Easy
1:21:30 7:33
Leg 19
Leg 20
7.2
4.5
Very Hard
Moderate
1:41:30 8:41
Leg 31
Leg 32
2.5
6.8
Easy
Moderate/Hard
1:10:30 7:35
31.8 4:13:30 7:58

Monday, June 04, 2007

Silent Reflections

I understand that you can't say "A Moment of Prayer" at a town meeting for fear of inciting a mob of crazy "separation of church and state" radicals. However, the traditional replacement - "A Moment of Silence" is equally offensive. It is offensive to deaf people who hear nothing but silence all the time. Noting that they can't even hear the phrase "A Moment of Silence" is little consolation; for if the meeting were completely politically correct, someone up front would be signing the words "A Moment of Silence" and thus, deaf people would "hear" the phrase with their eyes.

Thus, the "A Moment of Silence" phrase should be changed to "A Moment of Reflection". This would only be offensive to blind people and vampires. Blind people obviously cannot see their reflection and vampires don't have reflections. It is questionable whether this would pertain to a blind vampire who not only couldn't see his reflection if he had one, but wouldn't be able to not see that he in fact does not have a reflection in the first place. However, both of these objections can be easily dismissed.

The word "reflection" in the context, "A Moment of Reflection" does not refer to a visible-type reflection such as one would actually see with eyes in a mirror or other similar "reflective" surface. Thus, blind people can not be offended by this usage. And as far as vampires go, I'm pretty sure they don't exist.

Monday, May 28, 2007

At Trilogy's End?

I keep hearing that "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is the final installment in the Pirates trilogy; however, after seeing the movie, it's quite clear that much is left open for a possible next installment.

I didn't see "Brokeback Mountain" so I can't say "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" is THE worst movie ever made; however, it is one of the top two worst movies ever made.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Networks Are The IT Plumbing

We can best understand how networks (switches and routers) work by comparing them to plumbing. The pipes of plumbing are the links that connect the network infrastructure and equipment like water filters, pipe joints, water heaters, boilers and circulators are the network equipment. End user devices are faucets, showers and toilets.

We can compare users and applications to people that live in houses, which represent enterprise networks. A poorly written application (person), one that is fed bad data (beans and burritos) tries to interface with the network (via the toilet) and literally craps all over it. As applications (people) are planned and added (via births) and haphazardly piloted and allowed to leak into production (sometimes via births and in-laws outstaying their welcome) the network interfaces and pipes become overloaded. You can add a new network interface (toilet) to deal with fault tolerance and high availability; however, unless the pipes are upgraded you may have a problem with your Storage Area Network (SAN), which is represented by your septic system.

Your options here are to move to Network Accessible Storage (NAS) in the form of city sewer for scalability. This of course outsources your and offshores your data (crap) storage requirements.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Presence 2.0

In April 2005, I wrote a white paper describing how presence can help develop the case for a converged network. Looks like it's time for an update.

With location based networking - using wireless access points to triangulate signals on RFID enabled devices - companies are able to track assets throughout their physical spaces. The next logical step is to track the RFID enabled ID badges that all employees must wear. Thus, the simple buddy list with green and red balloons that is getting "smarter" can be improved one thousand fold by changing the person list interface into a map layout that tracks people's movements throughout the wireless enabled campus.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MBA = Massively Brainwashed Arse

Is it just me, or does it seem like the whole IT supporting and enabling the business strategy has become more like business people talking about business things that have business implications, oh and go do something technologically impossible to satisfy the business stuff we just talked about in our business meeting. Without some tech savvy folks in the respected levels of business, companies are heading for IT disasters as they role out complex systems they have little understanding of and then outsource the management of those systems.

Take for example an effort to control costs in IT spending driven by haphazard user requests. The business solution is to sit the users down and get them to forecast their requirements for the year and then create a single IT budget. It sounds like a good solution; however, without some technical knowledge, the budget is a shot in the dark and the initial problem is not solved.

If your child asks for money for a bicycle do you just give him $500 to buy the bike? What if he buys a $100 bike and spends the other $400 on pot and while he's high riding his cheap bike, he crashes it into a tree and breaks it. He comes asking for money again to repair the bike because there was no initial accountability; no assumption of risk on his part that the bike he wanted to purchase was of sound quality and would work as advertised.

Instead, use an approach that shares responsibility for financial and technical decisions throughout the stakeholders. Ask your son to do some research. He doesn't know anything about bikes, but of course, neither do you. However, when he gets a bike, you can teach him to ride it.

End users don't know the first thing about storage and network requirements, just as we in IT have no insight into the latest and greatest piece of specialized vendor software that the user must have to increase his department's productivity. Put the onus on the user to develop a plan by researching the vendors and preparing a proposal for the IT budget committee. Allow IT staff to flush out the technical details so a comprehensive plan (not a detailed design at this early phase) is developed so money can be intelligently and accurately assigned.

If a user has an IT budget request that simply demands an application rather than provides a 'plan' for adoption, the IT department needs to make a lot of assumptions on behalf of the requester and I believe that will end in a disappointed customer and a poorly implemented solution. Instead, if some of the due diligence - which I call planning (not design), but simple due diligence planning and research - were pushed back to the customer so they made an educated and informative presentation request to the IT budgeting process, the end product would more align with the end user's vision and ultimately be more supportable since the end user was a stakeholder from the onset.

As managers move more and more towards business and further away from technology, it seems they fail to realize that ultimately, technology drives all business. You don't need to know how to configure a router or deploy a Storage Area Network, but you better damn well know the application whose deployment you just authorized will require both.

Friday, March 09, 2007

US Leads Worldwide PC Movement

Today, I overheard a colleague talking with his counterpart in Germany. My colleague asked the German gentlemen who a name was that was CC'd on an email. The German man replied with: "She's the group secretary, I mean administrative assistant, whatever you call them."

With this post, I wanted to let all you liberals know that your efforts are working.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Your Welcome 93 Commuters / I'm Sorry 128 Commuters

I would like to say "your welcome" to my fellow South Shore commuters who travel into and out of Boston each day via Interstate 93. I feel the multitudes of unsung praises directed towards me for your prompt and timely commutes during this week. This is no doubt due to my temporary alteration of commuting habits to accommodate a training course in Burlington necessitating my travel via a popular stretch of Interstate 95 North - commonly known as Route 128. Of course, all incompetent motorists hell-bent on crashing their vehicles into guard rails and other commuters have followed me - as they always do.

This of course forces me to express my heartfelt condolences to those long standing Route 128 commuters who day in and day out travel a not too busy, yet also not too open expanse of highway. For this week will surely be fraught with commuting woes beyond your worst nightmare as inept travelers follow me whilst desperately trying to derail my greatest ambitions of arriving at my destinations at a predetermined hour.

Alas, this short repose for my fellow Interstate 93 commuters will come to an abrupt end whereupon next Monday, my triumphant return will no doubt be met with an absurd amount of careening jackasses whose sole purpose in life is to forfeit theirs to destroy our open highway system.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

United Airlines Sucks

After navigating phone menu hell in search of a person to update me with the status of my lost luggage, I felt it necessary to document the United Airlines lost baggage telephone menu options for those of us that are not content with getting spoken to by a machine.

First, don't dial the lost baggage line at 1.800.221.6903. This is a farce. It does not work. After guiding yourself through menu hell and finally breaking down (or if you decide to go right for the jugular) and asking for an "agent", you'll promptly be transferred to a non working number. If you insist on dialing the lost baggage line as you are looking for your lost baggage and it seems to make the most sense to dial the lost baggage line, lie to the automated machine. He won't know the difference. Instead of saying "delayed bag", say "other baggage questions". Before he starts in on you again, you can say "none of the above". From there, answer "no" to the question about whether your travel is within the 50 states. It is imperative that you answer "no" to this question even if it is a lie. Answering "yes" will lead you back to the non working number.

After answering "no", you'll be transferred to an international operator. After waiting on hold for quite some time, you'll be connected to an international booking agent. That's correct - a booking agent; as in reservations, not lost baggage. At this point, if you are speaking with a foreigner, you may as well hang up and dial again or risk being sent to India call center limbo. Ask about your bag. You'll be told you called reservations. Apologize and ask to be transferred to a baggage agent - specifically say "agent". With any luck, the reservation agent will bypass the menu for you and put you into a baggage agent answering queue (exactly where you need to be spending your precious time on hold).

Alternatively, you can try to call United reservations at 1.800.864.8331. From there, use option 2 and then 2 again. You'll hear the same smug bastard that recorded the baggage call menu but this time he's petering on about reservations. Say "agent", although I've found that sometimes he doesn't understand this and saying "customer service" jogs his memory. Again, answer "no" to travel within the 50 states. You'll get directed to an international agent and you can pick up from the middle of the previous paragraph.

Please note that getting frustrated and asking the reservation agent to escalate to their supervisor sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. I've also found that for some reason, calling during the day directs my calls to India call center hell while the later I called (after 9PM), the more I got in touch with actual English speaking people who understand what good customer service is all about.

United Airlines - f-ing you in the friendly skies! (And I don't mean flying.)
 

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