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Waving the Dead Chicken

Posted: August 14, 2016 at 9:07 pm   /   News

I read something on the net a month or so ago. It said “Six years after 9/11, airport screeners are getting pretty good at spotting terrorists — as long as they’re inept amateurs. Tests by federal agencies show, though, that there’s an excellent chance that anybody who has been trained to get past airport security – like, say, a member of Al Qaeda — will succeed.” However, I’m pleased to report, if you’re a normal traveler carrying a bottle of Coca Cola or a pair of scissors, you’ll never get past security unscathed. They’ve caught me with scissors (at Gatwick), a while ago, and they got me on the Coca Cola this time (in Houston). I’d forgotten all about the liquids thing.

“Waving the dead chicken”, as I noted in a previous posting, is the act of carrying out a meaningless ritual to satisfy “public opinion”. The security rituals at the airport are, imho, a good example.

Another good example is the complex ritual carried out on airplanes by air hostesses before take-off, which is usually announced by a voice over the PA that implores you to “listen to carefully” as though they were about to tell you the “Ten closely guarded secrets of how to win at Poker”.

So here’s the routine: “Those are the emergency exits, front and back” arms flailing about like a disco dancer doing the Makarena, and here is how to attach an oxygen mask to your face (you’d never work it out if they didn’t show you), and last of all, here is the life jacket – by which I mean of course, the plastic inflatable dead chicken.


Has an airplane ever dropped out of the sky, landed smoothly on water and then had the passengers don life jackets and one by one jump off the wings into the water? It may have, but I don’t think so.

And yet there’s a whole industry, somewhere out there in the world, making meaningless plastic inflatable dead chickens for the air hostesses to demonstrate to you in over 100 different languages, day after day, on thousands of air flights, many of which don’t even travel over water. And these lifejackets are expertly made, being exactly the right size to be stowed under airline seats. They have pull chords to inflate them, a mouth tube to blow into should the pull chord fail and a nifty little whistle to blow as you bob up and down in the water waiting for some handy search vessel or other to pluck you from the merciless waves.

It’s a comforting vision, but the truth is that if your plane drops into the drink you end up sleeping with the fishes.

I scanned the Internet to find any examples of any of these millions of plastic inflatable dead chickens ever seeing action. Yes there are undoubtedly millions of them and no, I could find no examples. What must it feel like to work in a factory making life-jackets that exist …

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What is Presence and Why Should I Care?

Posted: June 14, 2016 at 9:05 pm   /   Articles

First came Service Oriented Architecture. I knew that was going to be a monster trend as soon as I realized that it was (roughly speaking) an integration architecture that actually could work. Then came virtualization. That wasn’t hard to spot early on either – how the industry allowed VMware to dominate the field for so long is a complete mystery. The industry needed virtualization in 2002 and, by the way, both IBM and Sun were offering it to some degree. Never mind, virtualization is now a big hit.

So what’s next?

Here’s my guess. Next comes “presence”. Presence will drive a long term trend, a megatrend if there is such a thing. If you’ve not already heard the magic “presence” word from one or more communications vendors, believe me you will. You will also start to hear it from Unified Communications vendors (if you’re not sure what Unified Communications is, read this) which currently include IBM and Microsoft, and will eventually include Google, I believe.

As more and more applications get threaded into work flows, as they inevitably will, and BPM and SOA continue to advance, business software will become increasingly interested in “presence”. So what is it?

Simple Presence

Simple presence is the answer to the question “are you contactable right now?” If you’re sitting at your desk with a phone on the desk that works, then the answer might be “yes”.

I have to use the words “might be” because:

I might not have that particular phone number, or I might have it but it may be one of several phone numbers I have and I don’t know which to ring.
I might not know you are at your desk.
So why don’t I just ring every number I have for you and find out?

I could do that, but that will take time. I will save time if I know which number to call and I know for sure it will get to you. Knowing about presence saves communication time.

Complex Presence

You must have known it wasn’t going to be all simple, but I’ll bet you had no clue as to how complicated it could be.

Let’s assume that you’re a fireman. I’m in charge of the need to respond to emergencies. All I want to know is whether you’re around and ready to fight fires. I don’t actually want to communicate with you, I just want to know that five firemen are present, so we can send a fire engine out if we need to.

That’s one kind of presence, but let’s be very specific. Being able to answer a call doesn’t cut it. You might be “present” near a mobile phone on a beach in Hawaii lying next to an attractive blond and that’s not the kind of presence I ‘m after. I want you present at or near the fire station. If I don’t have five firemen with that kind of presence then I know our ability to respond to an emergency is …

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More on PC Blades and PC Virtualization

Posted: May 14, 2016 at 9:00 pm   /   News

In the posting entitled Which Client Virtualization To Choose; VDI or PC Blades? which dates back a week or two, I ploughed in to the topic of the cost of a PC Blades based approach to desktop virtualization as opposed to the cost of using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), which is roughly the same, except that you put a hypervisor on the blades and create virtual PCs – so you need fewer blades.

This is not a trivial issue, because a fairly substantial number of companies are trying one or the other or even both of these solutions together. The simple question is “which is most cost effective?” and, as explained in the previous posting, although intuitively VDI feels as though it should be cheaper, often the VDI solution is actually more expensive – which is counter intuitive until you analyze the costs.

The extra per seat costs of VDI come from addition SAN costs which can be around $300 more, and software license costs for the VMware VDI suite (around $200), MS-Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktops (about $300) and MS-Software Assurance, which is needed for VM solutions and comes in at around $150. Considering we’re talking of per seat costs, the additional per seat expense can be as high $950 per virtual PC and I’ve assumed enterprise discounts in this. The only variable part of the $950 is the SAN costs which could be lower.

But $950 more than covers the additional hardware costs in a PC Blade which are about an extra $500 per seat. So it can be cheaper to just give everyone a PC Blade and not bother to virtualize. However, I have little doubt that virtualization is becoming the way of the world and the cost equations will inevitably change. So I expect that the more prudent approach will be to embrace both solutions.

David Caddick’s Contribution

David Caddick, who is a Solutions Architect with HP pinged me with an email to provide further information and the benefit of his experience. I don’t think there’s any HP bias in this, but you can judge for yourself. His comments are italicized:

With the BladePC option you can again use the old statistical aggregation model that is also used with Citrix implementations you would typically only need to look at between 65 and 75% to provide 100% service – so that for 1,000 users this would only need 650 – 750 blades.

That’s probably true with VDI too. The point being that 1000 seats are really more like 700 seats.

When comparing VDI (based on any Hypervisor) with another model based on physical hardware do be mindful of the potential GPU Load? By this I am referring to the fact that in most normal PC’s there is a dedicated GPU of 1/3 to ½ of the CPU & the Graphics RAM of 256 to 512Mb is also typically something like 10 times faster?

(A GPU is a Graphics Processing Unit)

The main point regarding mentioning the Graphics is …

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Of Ball Lightning and Thunder Stones

Posted: March 14, 2016 at 8:57 pm   /   News

This morning, I came across an article on ball lightning entitled Ball Lightning Bamboozles Physicists. the point of the article was that ball lightning is an unexplained phenomenon. There are actually lots of unexplained phenomena in science, like for example, the exact mechanism by which evolution occurs. The lack of an explanation here has given credence to the “intelligent design movement” which I take aim at in a posting entitled Evolution or Intelligent Design?

Nevertheless, the biosciences have done themselves no favour by skipping over this gap in the evolution narrative.

The Credibility of Ball Lightning

Physicists did the same with ball lightning for many years. Basically they simply denied that the phenomenon existed no matter how often it was reported. And then in an airplane traveling over New York City during a thunderstorm in the 1960s, one of the passengers reported seeing a glowing sphere emerge from one wall of the aircraft, drift considerately down the aisle, avoiding passengers, and disappear through the rear of the aircraft.

This observation of ball lightning aligns entirely with many other descriptions of it, particularly in the fact that ball lightning “passes through walls”, whether they be the walls of houses or the fusilage of an airplane. What was different about this report was only the reporter of the event. He happened to be Professor Roger Jennison of the UK’s University of Kent. If the distinguished Prof had reported meeting aliens or spotting Big Foot, then in all probability, he would have been urged to “spend more time with his family”. However, ball lightning was only a few yards North of believable and the emergence of a credible eye-witness dragged it into “believability”.

The Irreproducibility of Ball Lightning

There have since been many reports of ball lightning documented. The phenomenon may be related to the strange lights that appear and disappear in some locations across the world (see
Mysterious Lights in the Night which describes balls of light in the night phenomena) – the only difference being that these “lights in the night” are not associated with thunderstorms at all. Ball lightning and the appearance of unexplained lights are not disputed by science, they are just not credibly explained by science.

Physicists have not yet managed to reproduce floating balls of electricity. And worse than that, every potential explanation they come up with is to some degree testable in the laboratory – which means they haven’t found a credible explanation yet. In my view this is a good thing, because it serves as a reminder that there are many things that we do not know.

And On To Thunder Stones

Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry and a brilliant pillar of the French scientific establishment proclaimed that “Stones cannot fall from the sky, because there are no stones in the sky.” He wasn’t the first to advance this argument, Aristotle was, arguing that “the heavens were perfect and thus couldn’t contain loose stones.” and Isaac Newton agreed with him. Lavoisier’s argument was …

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