Upgrade my servers? Yeah, right.

In software engineering, laziness is a positive attribute. If one can accomplish the same task in 3 lines of code instead of 30, a good engineer opts for the 3-line version. That’s why libraries of code are so popular.

Engineers are also risk-averse. Every change you make to the system can possibly de-stabilize it, so engineers like to leave a running system alone. Fred Brooks writes in The Mythical Man-Month that every change has about a 50% chance of introducing a new bug. Two steps forward, one step backwards.

But laziness and risk-aversion can be really negative attributes. How can you ever make any progress if you never touch the system? What if WordPerfect 5.1 was still the state of the art in 2003? We’d be missing out on a decade of improvements like WYSIWYG.

Consider the hypothetical case of the guy who’s trying to get the other 599 engineers at the company to upgrade their web servers to version N, when the vast majority of folks are still running version M.

If I’m happily running version M, what’s my incentive to upgrade? Sure, the guy who maintains the web server says it’s got some great new features, is faster, gives you some better management tools, and fixes a couple of bugs. But I don’t have time to skim the README to see if any of those features would be useful to me. Version M seems just fine to me, and something could go wrong if I go to version N.

Most importantly, senior management does not require that I pay any attention to the guy who maintains the web server. Even if I procmail all of the web server guy’s messages into /dev/null, I can still get a good review at the end of the year just for keeping my crappy property up and running.

The bummer for the guy who works on the web server is that he also happens to be one of the folks who spent the past 2 years trying to improve development process at the company. He helped build a software package-management tool that can tell you in near-realtime what versions of what software are installed on what servers. And when he checks the stats, he finds out that a lot of folks are running really old versions of the web server: versions J, K, and L. Getting people to upgrade to version N is going to be even more difficult.

Maybe this explains why most of his co-workers are still running Netscape 4.08.

Orna’s Sesame-Lemon Salad Dressing

I’m making Orna’s famous Sesame-Lemon Salad Dressing for tonight’s green salad. Here’s the recipe:

  • 3 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • a couple of dashes of Tabasco
  • 1 tsp. sugar (optional)

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

New cartoon from Brian Frisk

off-my-lawn.gif Brian Frisk, creator of the We Are Robots cartoon series, has just published another cartoon entitled Off My Lawn#2: The Terrorist.

“Flag-waving is a fun, colorful pastime that’s great exercise for your arms while helping to stick it to the terror organization of your choice. But sometimes it isn’t enough. Thank God for Clyde. He’s one of the heroic few working to make sure that in this brave new world, you’re always innocent until proven different-looking.”

I am still AngryBot.

big@boss.com virus update

If you search Google for big@boss.com, you’ll see that I’m #2 today. And the #1 site is in German.

It’s been a week and a half since I first wrote about the fact that I couldn’t find any information about the big@boss.com virus, and the blog comments keep streaming in. One of them even claims that big@boss.com is an MIT conspiracy!

Maybe if the anti-virus vendors stopped calling it the W32/Sobig@MM virus they’d move higher up in the Google search results.

Pagong Chair

POÄNG Chair from Ikea Ariella and I assembled our Pagong chair from Ikea last night. It’s beautiful and bouncy.

We first visited Ikea in 2000 during the first season of Survivor and were tickled to see that Ikea had named a chair after one of the tribes. But we waited almost three years before making the purchase.

Sitting in the Pagong chair last night, I smiled as I thought about the first Surivor season and how we watched with Gil & Becky every week. Maybe I’ll get a Rudy action figure for my birthday.

(Yes, I know that the rest of the world mistakenly calls it the Poäng chair. They’re wrong. If everyone else decided to jump off a bridge, would you do it, too?)

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software I finished reading Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software a couple of weeks ago (it’s on my reading list for 2003). Sam Williams spins a compelling story about a man who is so passionate about a single idea that he ends up alienating most people he meets.

On the whole, the book is well-written and insightful. I found chapters 10 and 11 (“GNU/Linux” and “Open Source”) the most interesting. These chapters are less autobiographical and more historical. They do a good job of explaining why the Open Source movement is important (the Free Software Foundation is a bunch of religious zealots that don’t care to understand or work with the business world).

When I heard RMS interrupt and insult a speaker at the 2002 O’Reilly Open Source Convention because the speaker used the term “Free Software” to refer to “Open Source” software, I didn’t really understand why he would be so rude. The other chapters in the book, as a whole, tell us why he’s such a jerk. They don’t condone his behavior, but they do offer an explanation of how he came to be the person he is today.

The whole St. Ignucius shtick makes me embarassed to be an Emacs user. I can’t code without it, but I hate the pseudo-religion that RMS attaches to its use.

Lastly, a comment about e-books: Although I could’ve read the book for free online, I ended up getting a print edition. It’s so much easier to read in print that I think it’s worth spending the money on the actual book.

(I downloaded Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom to my Palm Zire last week because I’m tickled by the Creative Commons licenses, but I’m having a hard time with the poor contast delivered by an LCD. There ain’t nothing as easy to read as black ink on white paper.)

Shabbos Dinner at Flexie’s

It was over 24 hours ago, and I’m still kvelling about the meal.

Ariella and I were blessed with an invitation to Friday night dinner at Flexie’s, and as expected, it was a feast worth writing home about. I guess the Big Guy Upstairs wants me to be happy after all.

After kiddush and motzi, we began with the appetizer course. First came around the challah and some eggplant-red pepper tapenade, and some chumus. Next followed three kinds of sushi (salmon and avocado, cucumber, and plain avocado) with wasabe and pickled ginger. We had not one, but two green salads. The first had slices of strawberries and mangoes; I didn’t even have a chance to try the second. Next came fried tofu, bean sprouts, and cucumbers with peanut sauce. Delicious. And just writing about the warm curried salmon with garbanzo beans is making my mouth water again.

The next course was a spicy tofu-noodle soup. Flexie said she thought it was too spicy, but it was just right for me.

Then came the meat course. I’m trying to recall just how many different kinds there were:

  • roast chicken
  • spiced Singapore brisket
  • potato puffs with something non-vegetarian inside
  • curried chicken and potatoes
  • beef ribs (my favorite)
  • chicken egg rolls

When you eat a meal at Flexie’s, you think you’ve died and gone to heaven. No, Toto, this isn’t Kansas. It’s Los Angeles!

All throughout dinner we spoke about Israel, Los Angeles, and Singapore. Who’s the guy that’s running against Sharon that’s going to lose the election? Have you seen the ugly houses they’ve been building in Beverly Hills? Will Ari and Akiva get a great job working security for some Hollywod celebrity or executive?

durian, the king of fruits Eliass and Stuart had us clutching our sides with laughter as they spoke about the durian fruit, a delicacy in Asia. The fruit itself is creamy and delicious, but it’s got some nasty attributes. First of all, the fruit is apparently the size of a soccer ball with spikes all over it, so it’s extremely difficult to open. In addition, although it tastes out of this world, it’s got a rather unplesant odor. Stuart was telling us how they’ve got signs on the subway in Singapore that say “No durian allowed” because it’s so fetid. We wondered if there were durian and non-durian hotel rooms or rental cars.

We didn’t actually get a chance to try any durian at the meal, but Eliass said he’d try to get some in Chinatown and invite us back. I can hardly wait!

With our bellies full, Dr. Herzberg passed out some text for us to study and led us in a shiur about Miriyam the Prophetess. The week’s Torah portion was Beshalach, when the Israelites are leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. The discussion focused on the phrase “Miriyam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the drum in her hand, and all the women followed her with drums and dancing.” (Exodus 15:20) As usual, the shiur was superb. Dr. Herzberg has a way of making the text come alive.

He was about to lead us in a zemer or two and bentching when Flexie reminded him that he had forgotten something important: dessert. New plates were passed around, and we were treated to fruit salad, a large selection of fresh fruit (yes, there were two kinds of fruit), cake and cookies.

Finally, we finished up with some bentching and some zemirot. Everything was right in the universe. These are the things that make Shabbos so much more special than just Friday night and Saturday. It’s a time for sharing wonderful meals, participating in great conversation, and some learning with your family and friends. Nourishment for the body and soul.

Exactly what I needed.

Psychoanalysis and the Palm Zire

palm-zire.jpg I have some new insight on the Palm Zire I bought last week.

As I was talking to my shrink today, I mentioned buying the Palm and not the PocketPC as an example of the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mantra. Au contraire, he countered, it’s actually the perfect example of not wanting to move out of my comfort zone. I’m too afraid to try something new.

“Michael,” you say, “Surely your choice of what PDA to buy isn’t nearly that profound. You picked a the best product for the amount of money you wanted to spend, so don’t try to read more into it.”

Maybe not. My therapist might have stumbled onto something important here. So much of what goes on in life is completely beyond our control. Sure, I’d like to delude myself into thinking that I can control my own destiny. So I gravitate towards the familiar. It gives me comfort. It doesn’t challenge me. The status quo is just dandy. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

When I got my annual performance review last month, I was really surprised. Exceeds Expectations. What’s shocking about that was I wasn’t giving it my best. Not even close. So what the hell? How was it possible that I was exceeding expectations?

Perhaps I’m so talented that a mere 50% of my effort still knocks their socks off? Fat chance. More likely everyone else is doing a lousy job because the company got so huge and nobody knows what they’re supposed to do. The fact that I average about 20 lines of code a week and can reply to emails within one hour looks good in comparison. Corporate America is all about predictability and mediocrity. Anyone who does too much or tries something too new threatens everyone around them. So I’m doing my part; I’ve got the mediocrity thing down cold.

But I’m afraid to do more. I don’t want to take it to the next level. And I’m not just talking about my job here. I’m talking about the emotional and spiritual stuff, too. What would happen if I really was committed? What would that look like? I’m freaked out about what’s behind door number three.

So I resolve to fix myself by embracing my anxiety head-on. (How’s that for a 2-weeks late for New Year’s resolution?)

Even though it’s going to bring up a bunch of shit that I’d rather push deep down inside of me and forget ever happened, it’s far better than the alternative. The way I see it, if I don’t confront my fears, I’m either going to end up depressed (ha, as if I weren’t depressed already) or the anxiety will fester, magnifying itself to a point where things really start to fall apart.