Matthias Apitz
Monday June 30th, 2008

Large and small Computers — but please with UNIX

Here is the first article from Matthias Apitz <guru@UnixArea.de>

No article should start with “I”, (so first this sentence). I, Matthias, am glad to accept the invitation from my long-time colleague/partner Roland Dürre. From time to time I shall write about UNIX or other Open Source Projects. For more than 25 years I have worked with and for UNIX and believe that I have thereby learnt a bit. I am happy to pass on whatever I have not meanwhile forgotten. Enough of introduction; anybody who wants to know more about me, please see my home page.

First, something about large and small computers. A few days ago I bought my smallest computer yet, (excepting the programmable calculator TI 59 that I had as a student). It is a so-called sub-notebook, Asus eeePC 900: What is super about it is that is so small, but just big enough that one can really write on it and also read from the 9 inch (1064×600 pixel) display. It has no disk, only a 20 GByte SSD (Solid State Disk). That is storage as in a USB stick, but the operating system sees it as a normal ATA disc. 20 GByte is plenty. The operating system with everything needed for reading, writing and working takes 3 away, but then 17 remain. It weighs less than two pounds and is completely silent (unless one plays music or watches a film on it). And it comes not with Windows, but with a Linux-derivative from the firm Xandros, (more about that later). A version with XP is coming, but the SSD will then be only 12 GByte, because after all Microsoft must be paid (bad quality has its price) and the total price should not exceed 400 Euro. This is the smallest UNIX computer I have had so far. More about it later; but what about the largest?

Whoever looks at my home page will see that I come from East Germany (DDR). I went to University there, and later worked, researched and lectured on computers and programming languages at the Technical University in Leipzig. Germans of my age may well have heard of CoCom. Others can find it in Wikipedia. We were then not supposed to have any computers and certainly none with UNIX. That could not work, so the DDR built its own. Some were clones of IBM machines (IBM /360 and /370 became the DDR ESER 1055 and 1060) or of DEC (the PDP-11 was our SM4-20). Usually cloned operating systems of the American makers were used, but not always. The DDR universities had a research project to get various UNIX versions to run on this hardware. (Again contrary to CoCom rules, we had the sources). We managed this very well on the ESER 1055. It ran there in a virtual machine of the SVM as VMX (Virtual Machine uniX) and was used for teaching and research. The computer filled the whole computer room; the biggest disks were 29 and 100 MByte and looked like top-loading washing machines. I cannot remember the main store size (ferrite core store), but it was certainly less than 1 GByte. That was the biggest computer that I ever installed UNIX on, and yet its performance was much less than that of the eeePC, my smallest.

In those days, it was not easy with UNIX. It needed enthusiasts to beg for valuable computer time on the mainframe. Mostly we got this in the middle of the night. I shall skip other matters, such as the security aspect when visiting the holy machine room. There was also resistance as today from colleagues and chiefs who thought that an operating system could only come from IBM (today from Microsoft). But we prevailed.

Now naturally I work with a proper notebook, about 2 to 3 times as powerful as the nice little eeePC. OK, the display is 15 inch, not 27, but otherwise 2 to 3 is right. Neither XP nor Vista runs on it, nor will they ever! For many years, (with a short Linux interlude), I have used FreeBSD. The desktop with KDE or Gnome looks just like modern Linux, but still FreeBSD is for experts and admirers. Normally, as alternative to XP one would use a Linux version such as that from Novell, the (once German) SuSE Linux, or simply Ubuntu. Essentially they are all the same; they differ only in the installation and in outfitting. That holds for FreeBSD too. When it has been properly installed and configured, the difference from Linux on the desktop (KDE) is hardly visible.

I keep hearing four arguments against Linux/FreeBSD. All four are false!

Missing Hardware Support – that was earlier! Today almost all hardware is supported by Linux. When some exotic driver is missing, it usually soon appears. The cooperation between manufacturers and the Linux community (publication of specifications etc.) has improved; some manufacturers and service-providers themselves support Linux, e.g. Skype. The situation is now reversed, some hardware works with Linux, but not with Vista, (so Microsoft cannot take XP from the market).

Missing Support – false! If support via internet is not enough, one can get commercial PCs and laptops, with Linux pre-installed and with support. The internet support is unbeatable; a solution for every problem, or an answer to any question, comes almost immediately. And look how hard it is to get a solution to a Microsoft problem. I don’t think I need to give examples.

Compatibility – we need compatibility in our internal file formats and office products, and even more so compatibility with our customers. But that is really no argument against Linux. If the whole firm used Linux, we would certainly be internally compatible; certainly more compatible than at a firm where both MS Project 2003 and MS Project 2007 are running. Customer compatibility is no problem with the new Open Office products Version 3.0.

Nobody can really run it; nobody understands it – that was earlier too, when UNIX had only the command line. Modern desktops (KDE, Gnome) are more ergonomic than XP, simpler, faster and especially better documented. My wife comes from Columbia and is a computer amateur. She uses the computer mainly for surfing in internet (browser Firefox), email (hotmail.com with the browser), watching films (MPlayer plugin in Firefox), putting her photos in internet (Krusader, a sort of Norten-Commander where one drags and drops the files from the local file system to a remote ISP). Her notebook runs with FreeBSD and KDE. She knows that (because I once told her), but she doesn’t notice it. She has no problems and no viruses.

Occasionally I am forced to use XP, because some document is required to come from XP, e.g. an MS Project Plan, (that one could perfectly well do with GanttProject). For such cases I have a virtual machine with XP on my laptop. That gives the required compatibility.

Linux and FreeBSD have great advantages. They cost less (no license fees). They are more robust (no crashes). They are more secure (no viruses; any holes in the security get fixed at once). They are modern, open and ready for the future. Whole countries are changing to Linux. Munich city is changing thousands of workplaces to Linux. Perhaps I shall live to see my firm change completely to UNIX.

Why have I bought this little eeePC? There were two main reasons. The eeePC comes with a Xandros Linux, and everything else that one normally needs: Firefox, Skype, WLAN, OpenOffice, … and everything is nicely available via icons and tabs. Any child could operate it. I briefly scanned round it and saved a few files (e.g. the graphic-config of the X-servers) and then deleted everything! I was simply eager to manage to install FreeBSD on this midget without any CD/DVD for booting. Whoever wants to know how that is done can look at this link. Everything worked, except the on-board camera. The second reason was more normal, (and important for me). Almost all the books that I read privately are in Spanish, so I need the Royal Spanish Academy Dictionary when I am traveling. Now I have that too on my eeePC, which is no bigger or heavier than a book..

MAP

Matthias Appitz will contribute regularly to the IF-Blog about the chances that the Open Source world offers.

mehr »

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

Ein Bild der E1-Jugend (97er Jahrgang) des TSV Hohenbrunn-Riemerling im InterFace-Trikot in der Allianzarena am 23.5.08. Leider ist der Christoph (Sohn unseres Storage-Spezialisten Jürgen Rathmer) nicht auf dem Bild, da er im Urlaub war.

We at InterFace AG organize presentations for our employees, customers and partners on a regular basis. With this, we aim at high-quality information and discussions about current and inter-disciplinary issues based on first-hand experience. The presentations are always quite an experience. We already welcomed very famous orators as our guests. Not quite so famous ones, however, also usually make a very good impression.

Roland Dürre wrote a separate post about the last in-house presentation by Dr. Franz-Josef-Bierbrauer of Osram on “the future of light”.

Together with RISE, we organized a presentation with Dr. Simon Grand in the spring of 2008 in Munich for our customers and partners. It was a valuable enrichment for all of us, which is why I will report on it briefly.
We met the audience of around 60 at the Hotel Munich City Hilton, directly next to the Gasteig. Dr. Grand was to speak about:

Innovation as Creative Demolition:

A Challenge for Entrepreneurs and Managers

Innovations promote entrepreneurial creation of value and economical growth. This correlation mostly determines the current debates without leaving room for questions.

Yet, experienced entrepreneurs and managers know that the identification, realization and application of innovative ideas, as well as establishing new technologies, business and enterprises goes hand in hand with fundamental uncertainties and paradoxes:

  • not every innovative idea is commercially a success,
  • many new ideas are initially rejected as being too unconventional or unrealistic,
  • it is mostly unpredictable who will actually benefit from a new idea financially,
  • innovations imply creative demolition,
  • mostly, innovations are evaluated in a controversial way.

RISE Management Research, a research centre at St. Gallen HSG University, analyses how successful entrepreneurs and managers deal with these paradoxes in a productive way. Dr. Simon Grand, director of RISE, introduced us to the results of innovation research at RISE. He also described the current challenges for enterprises and managers and the application of these results into entrepreneurial management in practice.

Afterwards, small groups met informally for a lively discussion, along with an informal dinner in a relaxed atmosphere. We were at it until long into the night.

We would once more like to thank Dr. Simon Grand and his colleagues at RISE for the deep insights he gave us and the extremely exciting way in which he presented them.

Our series of orators will be continued at the end of June and some time during the fourth quarter of 2008. The next issue will be a philosophical one, before we go on to our constitution and the “oil peak”…

CST
(Translated by EG)

Klaus-Jürgen Grün
Wednesday June 25th, 2008

Sin and its Cleansing Power

We welcome in the IF-BLog Dr. Klaus-Jürgen Grün (KJG). Here comes his first contribution:

„Es ist in der Welt nicht schwer zu bemerken, daß sich der Mensch am freisten und am völligsten von seinen Gebrechen los und ledig fühlt, wenn er sich die Mängel anderer vergegenwärtigt und sich darüber mit behaglichem Tadel verbreitet.“ – “It is easy to see that in our world, men feel most at ease and totally free from pain when they dwell and expand on other people’s shortcomings”.

It was not the much-scolded Nietzsche who came to this conclusion about the mechanisms of ethics and morality, but the German’s favourite poet Goethe. As you can easily imagine, most admirers of Goethe are rather reluctant about citing it.

Goethe’s insight might shed an unexpected light on a question frequently asked these days because of the scandals involving Zumwinkel and VW: Can we morally excuse the behaviour of more and more German managers? Based on Goethe, we would have to say: “Yes”.

He calls it “a rather pleasing sensation” whenever we elevate ourselves by “disapproving and disparaging others”. Nothing can rival the “comforting satisfaction it gives us to sit in judgement over our superiors and kings”. According to this theory prevailing among people, the wrong-doing managers are doing us a great favour, because they are acting poorly as our substitutes; and they bear the brunt playing the same role. Once in a while, our moral sentiments need an object on which to unload. Thus, it stills our hunger for great deeds without demanding from us to do them.

The temptation that some of the rich, beautiful and powerful in our country found it impossible to resist at a huge scale is something the common man is quite familiar with: cheating on the tax declaration, extra motivation through bribes, joy-rides paid for by the company. Who would resist the temptation – if the opportunity arises? And what about the enjoyment for those who resist, sometimes feeling the pain of paying the price for their honesty? They get the catharsis: the cleansing, agreeable feeling of being able to discredit people to whom in most respects they can not hold a torch to.

„It is wisdom to back down“- with this famous proverb, you manage to turn the experience of helplessness into a gesture of power in no time. Our narcissism gets a huge boost whenever we can tell ourselves that the reason for backing down was not our own weakness, but a higher power, namely superior wisdom.

By giving the masses an opportunity to feel good, those who create taboos for the people are doing a great service to their moral.

It is not the ill-doers alone who represent what went wrong in our society. As Adorno said, there is no correct life hidden behind a wrong life. What is incorrect and wrong is based on the double-moral of an entire people. Once in a while they need scapegoats at whom to point their fingers in order to get “a rather pleasant feeling”. By “comfortably reprimanding others”, as Goethe said in “Dichtung und Wahrheit”, we redeem ourselves from all the small temptations and sins. The great and powerful receive the punches.

KJG

Starting now, Klaus-Jürgen Grün will regularly write for our IF-Blog. Thanks a lot!

Translation by Evelyn Gemkow


One of my friends has been made redundant. He is 55 years old. He used to be a very successful manager in a pharmaceutical company. He wrote about 100 letters of application and received nothing but negative replies. His discussions with various head hunters were initially promising, because his reports and references were extremely good. However, by now it is realistic to assume that he will not get another job. He is too old. If you are older than 50, you hardly stand a chance, unless you build your own small firm.

Why is that so? At the age of 55, you have approximately 10 years of gainful employment ahead of you. If you are 30, you will most likely want a career and therefore probably see the firm just as a starting point towards future success elsewhere. A “youngster” in a company is subjected to a rather time-consuming trainee program. The company invests heavily in him. But how often have I myself seen people eager to do a trainee program in one firm and then, now with even better qualification than before, apply for a job in another company?

One of the reasons for this rubbish seems to be the neglect of a model by the “Freiburger Schule”. The “Freiburger Schule” developed the program on which Ludwig Ehrhard’s social market economy was based. The actual “inventor” of social market economy was probably Alfred Müller-Armack, but it was Ludwig Erhard who applied it politically. The model shows the production factors of an enterprise.

The production factors:

Among the hard factors are:

Labour: the contribution towards the product value by the employee.

Capital: money invested and ready to be invested.

Property: has been replaced either by environmental use or, in the case of banks by investment capital. I guess a bank hardly consumes environment.

Among the soft factors are:

The company culture: the way people treat each other in a company. It was Johann Gottlieb von Herder who first defined the modern term “culture”. He meant it as the living (starting, developing and ending) concept of a social being. Company culture shows what is being nurtured in a special way in an enterprise; the importance of results, communicative competence, conflict solving, virtue, knowledge.

Mobility is physical and mental mobility. Physical mobility can be experienced both passively and actively. Employees can be moved to another department, but this should not happen against their wishes. Mental mobility expresses the ability to understand new concepts well, fast and reliably.

Knowledge gets its prominence from the fact that our current, post-modern society is an information society. What matters here is the percentage of the production factor “knowledge” in the total product value. And in my opinion, this is higher today than it used to be. The same is probably true for services. However, I am sure that neither an information society nor a service society can survive by itself. But what is knowledge? If you mention Machiavelli, then the answer will often be “the ends is more important than the means”, even though Machiavelli himself never wrote that sentence (at least I found it in none of the translations I could lay my hands on). I guess Francis Bacon with his “scientia est potential” is a similar case. Read in the correct context, it probably should have been more like “power of knowledge”. Taking into consideration that Bacon lived between late 1500 and early 1600, the etymological meaning of the term “power” was probably closer to his heart than it is today: Power is Know-how, ability and capacity to make a difference. We might therefore translate “scientia est potentia” as “knowledge is ability to act”. That would also take care of the aspect of having to solve problems in an enterprise.

This is how knowledge, although only a soft factor, becomes an important production factor. When we talk about knowledge, we do not mean the mere information, which can easily be gained through computers or the internet, but the knowledge processed for the actual managerial situation. It is paramount to activate that knowledge which is able to solve managerial problems. That is a factor often destroyed by enterprises these days. Through their own redundancy politics, many companies abandon an enormous part of their vital knowledge. Many employees who have spent most of their lives in a company take huge amounts of knowledge with them, never to be used again.

The preference of hard factors in more than a few enterprises might well accelerate their downfall. In the long run, only an allocation of all the six productive factors makes a company a success.

Another reason is that labour, according to the Cobb-Doglous formula, is replaced by capital and knowledge (i.e. the hard factors).

In a capitalist system, the cost of labour is kept at the lowest possible level, the same is true for the investment in the environment. Any enterprise that does not adhere to this is at a disadvantage.

The situation is now that all managers try to keep labour and environmental costs as low as possible in order to maximize capital. This is a world-wide phenomenon.

That means that capital is the resource which, in the long run, is the least costly.

In countries with low-cost labour, it is not economically prudent to substitute capital for labour. Moreover, if environment is also available at cheap rates, it will also be used.

The problem the western world faces seems to be that it is still economically competitive and thus should use the environment as a free commodity. At the same time, labour is replaced by capital as soon as it gets too expensive. That means you have to make the labour force as small as possible. Where this cannot be done, you export labour. This is exactly what happens, but everybody is surprised.

Regardless of it being outrageous, if some people say that in Germany the law against firing people is too strict, they are correct. The national economy suffers greatly under a law that forbids certain substitutions of expensive labour by capital. And the same law restricts the use of the environment, too. Consequently, companies leave for countries where it is allowed.

The Cobb-Douglas formula is important because in a capitalist society, we wish to achieve the optimum value for Y. Living in a capitalist society; we try to replace labour by capital as far as possible. Wherever machines can do the work of humans, it happens. That means that the factor labour can be neglected. Global capitalism can economize on labour to an ever-growing extent – especially in sectors where new areas of profitable production are opened up. Labour and the organizations representing it get less and less important and influential. Thus, inequality gets a new meaning: There is a class distinction between those who have work and those who do not. Unemployment is no longer an individual (often only temporary) problem, but a structural element of society. Moreover – as aforementioned – the type of unemployed people will change. While during the first (machines driven by humans) and second (machines driven by energy) industrialisation unskilled labour had their places, they will no longer be needed in the third (information-based) industrialisation

The unemployment problem in the western hemisphere is caused by us applying Cobb-Douglas formula to the letter and substituting machines for labour.

Now the question is not only about replacing labour by capital, but also which kind of labour to replace. This is exactly where managers focus totally on costs, rather than on internal value. Since an older employee is usually more expensive than a young one, the old one is made redundant. If the company would take the value exploitation into consideration, it would soon be obvious that the older employee mostly has a far higher internal value than the young one. But unfortunately, the alleged efficiency is more important. An employee is allegedly efficient if he is the first in the office every morning, seldom calls in sick, is very creative and has the reputation of getting things done. This efficiency says nothing about value exploitation.

The de-humanisation of humanity

Underlying this sentiment is a deep de-humanisation of humanity. The concept of humanity is reduced to a mere function The more useful someone is in his or her function, the more important he or she is. That is the rule. I am sure there are exceptions to the rule that you are no longer needed among the labour force if you are older than 57. If you have reached that age, your reputation is automatically that you are senile and slow-witted. Alzheimer’s disease can already be spotted. It is quite amazing that this concept of humanity is widely held and yet most of those who hold it are not even aware of its inadequacy. Mind you, I am not denying that there might be situations when it is ethically responsible to make older employees redundant. But then the ethical responsibility has to manifest itself in a responsible weighing of priorities. Which is exactly what is often missing.

The idealization of youthfulness is part of our inhuman treatment of the elderly. It is stupid to hire two trainees who will make the typical beginners’ mistakes and spend several hundred thousand Euros on their training while at the same time sending an older employee into early retirement that again costs us a hundred thousand Euros. There used to be a time when politicians advised early retirement in order to make jobs available for the young generation! After some time, this got too expensive for the state. To this day, the unions want a legal manifestation of the part-time model for the elderly. Occasionally, this has been made part of labour contracts. Fortunately, some legislation has intervened. It would have been logical to put all the burden for such a procedure on the shoulders of the employers.

What is interesting is that the theory of early retirement has a tendency not to apply to the managerial elite. The reasoning is that directors, etc. should work past their 65th birthday, because “a longer use of their experience, higher continuity on the managerial level and keeping their know-how” is beneficial to the company. What a pity that, apparently, this does not seem to be true for the industrial “labourer” or employee in a medium position.

To be sure, it is imprudent to assume that there is automatically a correlation between old age and experience. The process of ageing is a chance to gather more experience. However, the interpretation process that should be coupled with gathering experience is not necessarily a question of age. It is more a question of intellect, an individual’s willingness to process information and learn. These days, we have the unfortunate situation that soft factors (creative knowledge, mental and physical mobility and company culture) are set to zero. The only possible exception is the physical mobility, in that we want an employee to be a potential world-wide player.

We have created a cult of youthfulness that does not make sense. It is neither economically nor anthropologically justifiable. For an enterprise, the economical side is what counts. Making an employee who is in his fifties redundant does not make sense economically. The code of conduct shown to older employees by the companies sees to it that the tendency towards using younger people increases, rather than decrease. The reason for this senseless behaviour is the dogma: ‚As a matter of principle, young people are fitter than old’. This may be true for purely physical labour, but automatically applying it to mental fitness is rubbish. At first sight, it even seems plausible to say: “If someone can run a hundred metres faster than someone else, then he must be better qualified to do other jobs, as well”, but for a company it is quite stupid to say this.

The exploitation of value is what counts

What is important in an enterprise is not the employee’s age, but the extent to which he exploits the value. The question is who, due to his or her experience, attitude towards clients, products, special interests inside and outside the enterprise, can achieve this. Taking this into consideration, the elderly do not do badly. However, it is always the elderly who are first made redundant, which costs the enterprises excellent know-how.

There is a pyramid of value exploitation. Its peak, due to the then starting lack of mental flexibility and resistance against innovation, is around the age of 50. The value of a 50-year-old roughly equals that of a 30-year-old. A 60-year-old can be compared to a 25-year-old. Thus, making older employees redundant does not make sense. By doing that, an enterprise disregards the inter-personal relationships of an older employee. Since they have taken decades to grow, these relationships are economically quite important. If you abandon them, you have to invest enormously in order to have young employees re-establish them adequately.


UDP
mehr »

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

Roland Dürre
Tuesday June 24th, 2008

(Deutsch) Das größte Schwein im Land …

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

mehr »

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.