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Low Tech Solutions to High Tech Problems

When I got to work today I walked into my co-worker’s (Michael’s) office and saw this:



Data was scrolling by on the screen in rapid fashion. So I asked him what he was doing and he said he got tired of mashing the inner-butt-n  (that’s the way we say “pressing the the return key” in Texas). Works for me. He could have probably written a custom shell script with proper error checking and whatnot, but why, when the stapler was sitting right there.

I always thought the best programmers were basically lazy. They always seem to find ways to get more done in less time. When I was a young programmer my goal was to write a batch job that would run all month. That way I’d only have to come in on the first to kick it off for the next month. I never quite got there but I had fun trying.

Which reminds me of something that happened at my first programming job. I worked for an oil company that had more money than sense. We had two of everything. We actually had two Cray’s. Anyway, my boss had one of the very first transportable computers, a Grid. The Grids were very futuristic back in 1982. They looked pretty similar to what we have today. So anyway, my boss told me this story after returning from trip with his brand new Grid. He said he was on the airplane and decided to get his new toy out and play with it. So he gets it out of the bag and sets it up on the tray (I guess it was after the flight had taken off due to the electronics restrictions, oh yeah, they didn’t have those then!) – so anyway, he starts getting all the stuff out of the bag and getting organized, and by this time he says everyone within 10 rows is staring at him because no one had ever seen a laptop computer before. And he’s looking around smiling at everyone, thinking yeah this is pretty cool. Then he gets the last part out of the bag, … a power cord.

and he looks at the power cord …

and he looks around the cabin for a place to plug it in …

and he looks at the power cord again …

They didn’t have batteries on those early models. (they didn’t have ethernet jacks either, but they did have a 1200 baud modem BUILT IN!)  So anyway, he sheepishly puts the computer back in the bag and pretends to sleep for the rest of the flight.

Here’s a picture of the Grid computer (notice the wire running out the back <grin>):

My favorite low tech solution though was provided by a friend of mine that got a job right out of college working for an oil company. His first assignment was to fix a bug in an extremely complex reservoir simulation program. Apparently they had been trying to fix the bug for months.  The bug manifested itself by producing a result for one of the calculations that was always off by 1. And they just couldn’t figure out where the error was. They ran test case after test case through it and it was always off by 1. My friend worked on it for a day and then demoed it for them and it worked flawlessly. When asked how he did it, he said “Well, I just went to the end of the program and added 1 to the result”.


Your comments are always welcome.

2008 Dallas 100 – Enkitec

I went to the Dallas 100 awards banquet last night. The Dallas 100 is an annual award for the fastest growing privately held companies that are based in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. Enkitec was ranked 42nd in our first year to be eligible. They have it every year at the Morton Meyerson. It’s a beautiful place by the way, with one of the worlds greatest pipe organs.



Ray Hunt was the speaker. He had a couple of insightful things to say (of course I’ll have to paraphrase).

He said the oil business was the only business he was aware of where you could look forward at the first of every year and know that 90% of the decisions you’ll make that year will be wrong. Which means that the other 10% have to make up for all those wrong decisions and still provide a reasonable profit to the business. He said his background in the oil business made him very tolerant of failure and that America in general was very tolerant of failure which he thought was a good thing. He then told a story about one of his managers telling him that his department had not made any mistakes in the previous 12 months. To Ray that meant one of two things (and both were bad). Either the manager had lost complete touch with reality, or his department was not being aggressive enough.

He went on to list his top 5 attributes of successful companies. He said he thought the most important characteristic of a successful company was it’s Culture.

He defined Culture as the combination of the shared values and the shared work ethic of a group of individuals.

Other attributes that made his top 5 list were:

  • Adaptibility – the ability to change
  • Agility – the ability to move quickly
  • Differentiation – the ability to recognize, retain, and enhance that which sets you apart
  • Contrarian – the ability to question the accepted practices

Pilot Error

Here’s a very brief story in response to Doug Burns’ post at his blog calling for stories on Human Error.


My very first job out of college was with a large oil company that had Oracle running on bunch of VAX/VMS systems. We had a lot of code written in FORTRAN with OCI calls (this was back in the early 80’s, so no pre-compilers yet). I was working late one night from home, which in itself was an unusual thing because not too many people were able to work remotely at that time. We only had 1200 baud modems for crying outloud, so it was painful to do much of anything remotely. At any rate, I was working on a program with some kind of iterative processing which took a while to complete. So I’d make a few changes and run it, make a few changes and run it. Well I noticed that the execution time slowed down somewhat and so I went looking to see what else was running on the system. (brief digression: I had become a neophyte sys admin due to my being the Oracle DBA and needing to have some system privileges for doing upgrades and whatnot) So I had a look to see what might be slowing my program down and sure enough there was a batch job running that was really using a lot of cpu. Well I had learned about the ability of VMS to set process priorities and so I thought to myself, “that batch job has all night to run it shouldn’t be slowing me down right now”. So I determined to change the priorities so my program would not be competing so heavily with the batch job. Unfortunately, instead of lowering the priority of the batch process, I jacked the priority of my process way up. (you’ll see why I say “unfortunately” in a minute) So anyway, the priority change worked out great. My program executions began running even faster than they had prior to the batch job kicking off. So I went back to my programming routine. Make a few changes, execute the program, check the results, make a few changes, execute the program, check the results… until I executed the program and it didn’t come back. I remember thinking, “Uh oh, I think I messed up the check for getting out of that loop”. So I thought, “well I’ll just ctl-C out and fix it”. Unfortunately, in a stupendous example of Murphy’s Law,  it was at just this point that my modem lost it’s connection. Great! So I tried to reconnect. The modem was able to establish a connection, but the machine was so busy running the process with the insanely high priority that it didn’t have enough spare CPU to log another process in. (Unlike most systems today, VMS had a very hard priority system. The process with the highest priority basically stayed on the CPU as long as they wanted – oh and by the way, there was only the one CPU) So anyway, the program ended up running most of the night and only stopped because it filled up the disk with a log file that it was writing. Needless to say, the real sys admins were not too happy with me the next morning when I showed up at work.

Candy Apple Shell

My Mac got a new shell (for my birthday). It’s candy apple red. Appropriate color I guess. It’s a hard, semi-transparent, plastic shell that snaps on to the Mac. You can get one at the Apple Store. Here’s a picture:

or two:

Anyway, I am starting to get the hang of using a Mac (I think). I like the less clicky keyboard. The single mouse button drives me a little crazy, but I have a blue tooth mouse that has two buttons and that helps (as long as I remember to take it with me). I had a presentation last week and of course the Mac has a non-standard video out connector – different than the rest of the world. So I had to get a little dongle to connect it to our projector (and every other projector in the world). Unfortunately, Apple has not one, but two non-standard video out connectors, so you guessed it, I ended up at the presentation with the wrong dongle. I hate dongles! I used to have a network card in a laptop, remember the days when laptops came without network cards, and you had to buy one to go in those slots in the sides of the laptops, and they all came with their own special dongle that would only work with that one card. I mean really only one card. I think the manufactures created a unique dongle for each individual card they manufactured. Probably as a security measure. But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about my presentation. I was able to copy the power point file onto a thumb drive and use another guy’s PC. I was a little worried that the PC wouldn’t be able to read the file from the MAC, but it worked without a hitch.

I’ve made the switch to iCal now which works pretty well. Actually I’ve got a wiz bang tech guy that set up our email/calendar stuff on our server with Zimbra which means the data is stored on a linux box and I can access it from iCal on the MAC, Outlook in VMWare, or my phone. Seems to work pretty well. I haven’t tried changing things in Outlook since we set it up but I have looked at the the calendar events there. And changing events on the phone or in iCal definitely works. The phone even syncs wirelessly – no plugging it in to the computer. It’s pretty cool really. A bunch of guys at the office have iPhones and that’s suppose to work even better but honestly, I don’t like to change things unless I have to, and my Treo has about 100 books on it, so for now that works just fine.

For work stuff the Mac has a terminal session utility called iTerm which works great. I occasionally have to switch to Windows under VMWare to use some flavor of VPN. When that happens I revert to putty under Windows, but there’s not much difference between iTerm and Putty, so switching back and forth is not too painful. And there is the side benefit of being able to stay connected to the internet on the Mac side even when connected to a client that restricts access (it’s pretty common these days for companies  to block access to most websites and especially email from servers outside their domain).

There are still certain things that seem counter intuitive to a guy who has been using Windows since the stone age, but I haven’t touched my old laptop for over a week, so I guess I’m adapting.

I guess the biggest issue I have is that the Mac is too smart for it’s own good sometimes. Like when I wanted to save a plain text file in TextEdit (I was surprised they didn’t call it iText by the way). There’s a dozen options for saving files as rtf, rtfd, xml, html, doc, docx, and some I never heard of, but can I please just save it as an ascii text file for crying out loud? (if anyone knows of an easy way to do that please let me know) I figured out that if I open a text file that I created on my old PC, it gives the option to save as Western (MAC OS Romain), whatever that is. It’s still not quite a plain text file but at least it uses a fixed width font and I can email to my PC using friends.

So that’s it for now. I still haven’t had time to set up iTunes or do anything with the bazillion images from my camera, but that’s supposed to be the Mac’s strong suit, so I’m sure that will work fine when I get around to it.

Presidential Tongue

Well I did the early voting thing last week. It’s the first time I’ve voted in a presidential election since I was 18. I voted for Ronald Regan in that election. I think he did pretty well. This year’s election has been interesting.


Boy, John McCain sure has an expressive face!



Here’s a comparison to a lizard of some sort.




And then there’s Tina Fey. I think she makes a better Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin. Here are a couple of her best shots. The first one is her imitating McCain, but the second one is just her talking.





I can’t seem to find any bad pictures of Obama (so I had to make do with this cartoon of Obama O’s – with Hope in Every Bowl!). 



Same goes for Biden (he does kind of look like the grinch though).



Anyway, all this buzz about tongues made me think of another a couple of other guys with famous tongues. Remember this guy?




But the one I was really thinking about was MJ. We always thought he was pretty cool, even though his tongue was hanging out about half the time.






Got a MAC

Well I guess I have officially  joined the cool crowd since I am now the proud poppa of a bouncing baby MAC.



The best things about it so far are:

  1. It runs windows so I still have a safety net if I get to feeling totally lost. I’m using VMWare which allows me to jump back and forth.
  2. It runs some flavor of unix as it’s operating system. (so I can run top, ps, sar, etc… – it’ BSD but it beats the crap out of DOS)
  3. It’s about a million pounds lighter and half the size of my old Sony laptop.
  4. It’s faster than my old laptop.
  5. At 4G, it’s got 4 times the memory my old laptop had.
  6. The video iChat thing is pretty cool.
  7. It’s the worlds biggest iPod.

It is pretty cool but I just hate the process of going from one machine to another. Even without the frustration of the keyboard changes that the Mac inflicts, changing just makes for some amount of unproductive time. I have to do a presentation next week in Fort Worth at an Oracle Technology Luncheon thing (here’s a link to the presentation: 11g Advanced Features) So anyway, I am working on the Power Point slides using the MAC and it makes me feel like I’m typing with mittens on. I’m sure that will get better over time. I am finding that there are a lot of options with this setup though. Almost everything I am doing can be done in more than one way. Like I can do my calendar stuff in MS Office or in iCal (or on my phone for that matter).  



I have to admit that old laptop was starting to have a lot of problems. Wireless was flakey, it would freeze every other day or so, and last week the keyboard quit working. Kind of reminded me of the PC/MAC commercial where the PC was sick.

Anyway, so far so good. Now if I can just figure out how to make the F11 key work in windows instead of turning on the speaker I should be in good shape.

My First Blog

Kerry Osborne

Kerry Osborne


So I decided to finally join the 21st century. For the past several years I haven’t listened to any music to speak of. The radio went fuzzy in my car about three years ago and since I have a high tolerance for pain and was basically always busy doing things that were more important to me, I never got it fixed. Also, I moved a couple of years ago and still haven’t hooked up any sort of stereo at the new house. So this year I got a new car with a working radio. It’s one of those Toyota FJ cruisers that look like the old Land Cruisers.



Toyota FJ Cruiser

It was a demo unit that the dealership had put a fancy radio / GPS system in. I really only bought it for the radio. It was pretty expensive for a radio, but it has a nice blue paint job and doesn’t take up any space in the new house. But I digress, the fancy unit in the dash has AM/FM and satellite (XM) radio, a cd player, a DVD player, blue tooth phone integration, traffic information, and a griddle for making french toast while you’re driving. You know, basically everything the 21st century has to offer. It even has a hard disk recorder that can automatically record CD’s while you’re playing them so you can play the songs later in case you loose the CD I guess. Oh, and the ability to load up your own image files to display when you reach a favorite location (remember the GPS) or just for a pretty background while listening to the radio. The best part about it is the XM radio though. Of course I can’t hear it if I go in a parking garage or if it gets really cloudy, because it looses reception, but other than that it’s great. No commercials, except for XM’s own plugs for themselves, but that’s to be expected. No harm in a little self-promotion I guess. Although, you’d think the people hearing the ads would already be subscribers.

Anyway, after a few years of not listening to any music I found out that I really like listening to the stuff on the way to and from work. For several weeks I’d come busting into the office and grab the first person I’d see and tell them about the cool music I heard on the way to work. Usually they would take the ear buds out of their ears and then give me that look like I was from another planet. I imagine it’s the look Rip Van Winkle got after his 20 year nap. After a while I stopped telling people about it and just kept the joy to myself.

Here’s a picture of one of my co-workers who’s pissed because he had to take his ear buds out to listen to me drone on about music.


While I was at it I decided to buy an ipod. Wow! It’s a lot better than the Walkman I had back in the 80’s! My new car stereo let me hook it up so I could control it and play it through the system. So I basically keep it in the glove box all the time. I mostly listen to it when I’m in a garage, or it’s really cloudy, or when I can’t find anything good on the 170 or so stations provided by the satellite radio guys. Or when I just have a particular song or artist I want to listen to, but that doesn’t happen that often.


Anyway, now that I have joined the 21st century from a music stand point, I decided that maybe I should check out this blog thing. At first I didn’t see much that interested me, but lately I have started to see some value in it. I plan on mainly using it for work related stuff. I work for a small consulting company that focuses on Oracle databases (Enkitec) and I am fortunate to get to work on interesting things (for me anyway) on a fairly regular basis. I’m hoping this blog will provide a convenient way to share some of the stuff that I’ve learned and get some feedback as well. So, here’s to the 21st century.