or:
If production nd development chains become too complex, they might easily break (down).

I got the ideas for this article during a short discussion about whether or not our developed society might – technologically – regress into the pre-electrical era. The person I discussed it with thinks such a thing is not possible. This firm believe made me thoughtful.

A small brother and a very small brother of the flat package I describe. The telephone shows how small the individual parts are 🙂

In the early 1970ies, I studied mathematics and computer science at Munich Technical University. I was also a student working for Siemens. After all, they had great computers and students could really make good money, considering the times.

My working place was in the “Koppstrasse” camp buildings. Our tests were conducted in the Feurich-Building – which was in the Siemens AG central building at Hofmann-Straße. Life in the camp was great, it was truly an F&E atmosphere, just like you would wish to find it today with a good start-up.

I already described my first project in the IF-Blog. It was about calculating the biggest possible Mersenne prime numbers. The task was one for people who liked working by themselves.
Then I became more and more part of the team and almost intoxicated by the challenges of our task. Together with other colleagues, I developed the PALOG-A- and PALOG-B systems.

PALOG is short for “PrüfAutomat für LOGik”. A PALOG-A device was supposed to test the function of “maxi flat modules” that were built serially. These modules had various functionalities in big computers. The functionality and correctness of the underlying logic had already been tested.

All we had to do was check if the serial production was error-free and if the manufactured components rendered the desired results reliably. I will explain the extended function of PALOG-B later in this text.

A maxi flat module is a huge board; it is rather broad and thick, but not very high. The boards you see on the picture are from a later time and were a lot smaller.

On one side, a maxi flat module had 128 pegs that had to be pressed into the rear wall of the big computer. The computer fed the board with digital patterns following the number of pegs, then the board returned a result and further processed it.
(I might be wrong and the number of pegs was only 64, but I seem to clearly remember 128.)

On the surface, the board was full of electronic modules that had a few larger or many smaller feet. These feet were pressed into the pre-arranged holes of the board. The entire construction was then brazed and soldered from underneath. In case of serial production, it was done by a dipping solder bath.

Sometimes, the building modules on the board we used had been developed and produced by Siemens. Some of them had to be bought. I particularly remember chips by Motorola that sometimes cost up to 1,000 DM.

If some of what I said here is not correct, please forgive me. I never specialized in hardware, instead always developing software.

The placement and soldering processes were far from trivial. Consequently, it was absolutely possible – and it happened quite frequently – that these maxi flat board modules rendered no or erroneous post-manufacturing results. Sometimes the individual parts delivered along with the products were also faulty.

But how can you find out about this? How can you test such a maxi flat board module?

Our method was quite simple. We sent bit patterns into the objects to be evaluated and then checked if the answer was the right (expected) one. Naturally, for reasons of efficiency, you cannot conduct such a test for all kinds of input patterns. It was the task of our software to generate relevant patterns that made it possible to prove with as few test steps as possible that the logic of the maxi flat board module worked correctly.

Back to the younger and smaller brothers of the maxi flat board module.

To this end, it was mounted in the PALOG-A machine and sent over the 128 pegs according to their functionality. The answers were compared with the desired results. If the actual test patterns were identical to the desired ones for all test patterns, then it was validated that the maxi flat board module worked without a glitch.

Seeking and finding the relevant test patterns was not at all easy and we developed it from the functionality following a rather “mathematical” procedure. The programming was a “cross” procedure on BS1000 and soon also on BS2000.

The actual patterns, along with the correct answers, were generated on process computers of the 300 series. Incidentally, they had a 6-bit assembler with two accumulators beautifully named PROSA. The “three-hundred-computers” were reputed to be incredibly fast.

The 306 was the top model. But even this Siemens machine that, at the time, was considered the fastest ever, easily took a week or more for calculating the necessary patterns.

In those days, the computer rarely ran for an entire week without breaking down. Mostly, it would break down within such a long time period at least once. Consequently, the software had challenges besides the algorithmic one, such as the reloading of the program in case of a system breakdown. At the time, this was not at all a matter of course.

Well, so far so good. At least, PALOG-A allowed a reliable validation about whether or not a maxi flat board module was free of errors. But quite frequently, we had poor product quality. What to do with that? The very fact that the construction elements were so expensive was a discouragement against destroying or dismantling them. Not much would have been won by this, anyway. Consequently, it was desired that all of them can be repaired.

If you wish to repair an error in a complicated flat board module, you will first have to find out where exactly on the board it is. In our case, you cannot simply solve the problem by logical thinking or code reading as in a program. Neither did we have a debugger. After all, the question is which individual part of the module is faulty, which soldering does not work, or similar problems …

This is where our system PALOG-B came in. Whenever a PALOG-A maxi flat board module was discovered to be faulty, it was transferred to the PALOG-B system. As soon as it arrived there, it was subjected a (so-called) PFAD procedure, i.e., it was processed with totally different test patterns. The returned data made it possible to circle the error on the board. This is how we managed to correct all possible mistakes by multiple circling. Afterwards, the board was again tested with PALOG-A – and if it worked, we celebrated.

I am sure you can easily imagine why the procedure was called PFAD. It is German for PATH and all the different input patterns had to run through the various paths. And as soon as you determined which of the many possible paths does not function, you are a lot closer to finding the bug.

I tried to describe the procedure as simple and comprehensible as possible. In reality, it was a lot more complicated and based on know-how that had been developed and handed down over many years.

Our software was only a small part of the design and construction software necessary for the efficient development and production of IT systems. At Siemens AG, they continued to work in huge steps. A few years later, the Siemens AG had an extensive work bench consisting of many software systems for the development of their chips. It was probably far superior to all the competition.

Unfortunately, I forgot the abbreviation, but I do remember that the application allegedly was the world’s most complicated software solution and contained the most lines of code of all the known programming systems.

And then the downward spiral for the data processing area started and all the know-how disappeared.

But then who cares about the “delights of yesterday”?
Let gone-byes be gone-byes!

I can easily imagine that the know-how and toll chain you need to develop and produce an Intel processor or an IBM Power today are by far more of a challenge than the rather limited flat board modules.

And it is quite possible that, today, not only a high tech processor, but also a “simple” electric motor or power generator simply cannot be produced without a similarly complex machinery. And what happens if – for whatever reasons – such a machinery breaks down?

This is where the circle closes and I return to where this article started. The total immersion of these tool and production chains in all technologies and sectors – chemistry, energy, farming, mechanics, pharmacy, physics,… – I can easily imagine that our system might collapse and we will have to start at ZERO. And that may not be easy.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
I wrote the technological issues totally without checking back in any documents, only relying on my memory. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is not really much help with such exciting computer science topics. I find it a pity that, especially when it comes to the very technology that made Wikipedia possible, there is mostly no sufficient description of said technology to be found on its pages.

So please accept my apologies if I occasionally did not remember the correct abbreviations or made similar mistakes. There was nowhere I could look up anything that could have helped my memory. So much the more would I be grateful for any corrections and notes on the technology I described.

About stand-by-jobs, facilitation and driverless underground trains. And about Uli.

I short time ago, I was introduced to Ulrich Sendler. Uli is an “Independent technology analyst” and musician. He writes books (that are even translated into Chinese, where they are best-sellers), gives presentations (judging by what I saw of him, I assume his presentations are rather competent and entertaining) and he also works as a counsellor and moderator. When we met, he told me that he will soon be speaking in Gütersloh on the keynote topic: “Automated Society”. You order a service via internet and the delivery or service will be carried out automatically.

For me, “automated society” and “self-service society” are also “buzz words” often used when people characterize our “new digitalized society” in our “post-fact everyday life”.

These expressions immediately triggered a few association and ideas:

Technology is there to make life and work easier for humans. There is a nice and nowadays often used buzz word for this:
Facilitation!
In Wikipedia, you find the definition: 
Facilitation is any activity that makes tasks for others easy, or tasks that are assisted.

In everyday life, this is responsible for the fact that work humans used to do is now easier because of technological advances. We might even end up having to do nothing at all.

Just think of Lufthansa pilots. Currently, they are often written about in the press because of their passionate attitude towards strikes. Your average poor pilot will only be allowed to actually become active for ten minutes of a long-distance flight, for instance to the Caribbean: when initiating and realizing the start and landing phases. He spends the rest of the time watching the plane fly. The poor pilot is not allowed to relieve his boredom by playing computer games. Presumably, alcohol is just as forbidden as visiting ladies – like stewardesses – in the cockpit. All that remains is boredom.

Wecker1In my vocabulary, these jobs are “stand-by-jobs”. Since I used to be a programmer, this would be like having to watch the computer programming itself and then being allowed five minutes to evaluate if the resulting program is what it should be. To me, such a job description sounds rather cruel. It is quite possible that such a stand-by job will cause depressions.

Two decades ago, there was a phase of about two weeks after I had switched to a new employer during which there was nothing to do for me. I sat in my office from morning to evening, was terribly bored and tried with all my might to do something meaningful. And the digits of the clock seemed to really, really creep.

Never again in my work-life was I as unhappy as then.

Münchner U-Bahnhof Dietlindenstraße (U6) - Urheber: FloSch - Eigenes Werk unter CC BY 2.5 (2005)

Munich Underground station Dietlindenstraße (U6) – by FloSch, under CC BY 2.5 published in Wikipedia (2005)

One of the systems the Stadtwerke München (SWM) supervise is the Munich Underground Network. The SWM are intelligent employers. They know that humans do not appreciate “stand-by-work”. Underground train drivers, too, have become “stand-by-workers”.

But the Stadtwerke want happy underground train drivers who are motivated to do their jobs. A short time ago, I learned that all underground train drivers have to exit at every station to control how full the train is. And after this has been done successfully, they have to signal that the train can continue. That is an important task.

This activity was introduced to make the platforms safer. Above all, however, it is a measure that serves the driver, because in this way his job gets more responsible and diverse, and he even gets a little exercise. That is good both for the body and the soul.

Except that in Nuremberg, the underground trains have been moving without a driver for many years now. And those in Lyon have been doing so for decades. And in both cases, the model seems to work quite fine, actually even better than with a driver.
May my readers come to their own conclusions.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
Yesterday, I used the MVG Bus number 210 from Neuperlach Station to Ottobrunn, Jahnstrasse. The driver sat in his dark cabin and was rather isolated. All contact between vehicle and passengers was automated: the display and announcement of stops. The driver is reduced to being the one behind the wheel. He will stop the bus whenever he can see someone at the bus stop or if someone has pressed the button inside the bus. On this evening, I was lucky, because the driver drove very sensibly. He never accelerated too abruptly or stomped on the breaks with too much force. I found that rather agreeable. But there are also some drivers who really let their hair down. That is when you think a self-driven bus might have its advantages. Technologically speaking, I am sure it is already possible.

Hans Bonfigt
Friday October 7th, 2016

DAMIT ICH MICH BESSER FRESSEN KANN

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

I told a nice story in my Entrepreneur’s Diary #41 (Unternehmertagebuch #41). I had heard the story from a US professor. It answered the question why the British Empire under Queen Victoria thrived so uniquely, regardless of communication at the time being all but easy and, above all, taking a very long time.

Today, I want to answer another question in a similar way – again metaphorically with an example:

Airbus A400M, Schattenrisse, created by Hilbertz, Quelle siehe P.S.

Airbus A400M, Shadow Images, created by Hilbertz, source see P.S.1

How is it possible that Airbus is so successful with developing products such as the A 380 while at the same time the M400 seems to be a disaster?

A380

As often, we can read all the important information about the A380 in Wikipedia. I am truly impressed to read the extraordinary achievements of the Airbus. They developed a new and totally extraordinarily big plane in high precision. They moved to new dimensions, also using totally new materials.

I would consider the difficulties that arose during the project as very normal and absolutely below the average for this size of project, especially if you consider the delays the competition Boeing had to accept with their “dreamliner“.

A400M

You will also find all you need to know about A400M in Wikipedia. And over the last few years, bad and very negative news about this project have reached us. The worst accident was probably the crash of an A400M with the production number MSN023 during its first test flight in Spain on May, 9th, 2015. To the outsider, the project A300m looks totally “out of time und budget“. It seems to be a true “big project catastrophe”, and getting worse.

Here is the question:

How is it possible that, in the same enterprise, an airplane has been so successfully developed? And at the same time, the development of another is such an extreme failure?

I assume that the development of the two planes were two different projects with different humans working on said projects. Consequently, the answer is quite simple:

It is because of the humans working in the projects.

Here are potential reasons:

  • The A380 was a civil project and was
  • communicated as a positive vision and a huge challenge for Airbus.
  • It represented innovation and a revolution in the flying industry and became
  • the metaphor for the future of Airbus.
  • The A400M was a military plane and
  • at least the outsiders perceived it as “just another military aircraft“.
  • Which certainly was true for the short-sighted view based on conservative technology.

And now here is my question:

Which project would you have volunteered for?

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
For more articles of my entrepreneurial diary, click here: Drehscheibe!

P.S.1
I took the picture from Wikipedia. Created by Hilbertz with imaging software in April 2014, published under CC BY-SA3.0.

Hans Bonfigt
Monday December 28th, 2015

(Deutsch) Ganz agil vorbei am Ziel

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

craftsmanshipIn 2013,we at InterFace AG had a beautiful “Technological IF Forum”. It was about “Software Craftsmanship”. We had great guests and competent speakers. The discussions were about questions such as: So how do you become a champion? How to get the necessary experience? How can you get motivated towards perfection? How to best achieve optimality and quality in a team?

One comment in this workshop, in particular, remains unforgotten: at the time, Bernhard Findeiss related (perhaps he also meant it a little provocatively) that a good “craftsman” who wants to become a real champion in his field will have to invest up to 20 hours  for his continuing education. And that usually this will not be possible during working hours. Instead, a significant part of your leisure time will have to be sacrificed for it.

Initially, I was surprised to hear the number. I had to think of how many people strictly divide their time between leisure and work. And I remembered quite a few discussions I had with my colleagues. For instance about how much of the time you spend on your continuing education program can be considered official work time. Consequently, I did a lot of thinking on the topic during the last two years. On the one hand, you certainly need twenty hours each week for practicing and learning if you strive towards championship.

I totally agree. On the other hand, you still need plenty of time in order to work towards success. And then, you also want enough time for your family and private affairs. And I think it can be done. Many of my friends – experts, managers and entrepreneurs, both male and female – live and love their jobs. They are true “champions” and basically spend all their time tackling topics they consider important. And still they are good spouses and mothers/fathers.

I am now a “retiree”. And still, I learn and practice twenty hours each week. Except, I doubt if I am a champion. But I will continue practicing …

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
For video recordings of the IF Forum, click here: Craftsmanship.

P.S.1
For all articles of my entrepreneurial diary, click here: Drehscheibe!

Roland Dürre
Tuesday February 3rd, 2015

agile.ruhr Camp 2015

A short time ago, I had a telephone conversation with Dominik Rose. He told me that now the agile.ruhr Camp 2015 he organizes along with Berthold Barth is no longer far away. In less than three weeks, it will actually be upon us!

“Agile” is something I rather like. After all, it is my conviction that you should always approach everything “ALO”. ALO being short for agile, lean and open.

agile-camp-ruhr-595x114

Consequently, I am glad to hear that the organizational team of agile.ruhr Camp for the first time invites people to an “Anti-Conference” for agile procedures in the vicinity of projects and software development this year. On February, 21st and 22nd, the barcamp Unperfekthaus will take place in Essen.

Of course, I find it particularly satisfying that the InterFace AG is part of the event and supports the organizational team as an official sponsor.

The agile.ruhr Camp is for change and convictions. It aims at providing a modern platform for persons, organizations and enterprises where they can exchange experience and knowledge. Because knowledge is the only raw material that increases as you share it.

How to successfully make use of agile methods and tools? What is the potential of agile concepts and behaviour? How can we manage the necessary changes? And not only with software development!

And, of course, the classic pattern for a free anti-conference on agility is the “barcamp”, where, as opposed to a classic conference, you do without a restricting agenda and instead generate above average knowledge gain through honest discourse and open dialogue.

The agenda are decided upon by the attendants. Everyone thee-s and thou-s everyone else, you meet at eye-level and listening is more important than talking. This is the only way how participants can offer “their” sessions (on a topic of their choice) and thus become true participants.

Unfortunately, I cannot attend on February 13th and 14th. I want to visit a totally different “anti-conference” where I have been a regular guest for several years at the same time: the “Biike” in Westerland on Sylt. The “Biike” is just a tradition. Good friends use the time for their anti-conference.

Well, life is a chain of missed opportunities, isn’t it?

But perhaps one of my IF Blog readers can attend the unique agile.ruhr Camp. And then report on his own blog or on twitter?

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
As soon as I know the hashtag of agile.ruhr Camp 2015, I will give it to you her.
I propose: #AgileRuhrCmp

P.S.1
In this context, you can read something worth reading (Lesenswertes) about InterFace AG.

Sorry, this entry is only available in German.

Roland Dürre
Sunday January 26th, 2014

Interview for the DOAG

„What We Are Looking at is An Evolutionary Process Which is Hard to Predict …”

Progress in information technology is faster than ever. Dr. Dietmar Neugebauer, Managing Director of DOAG, and Wolfgang Taschner, Chief Editor of DOAG News, talked about it with Roland M. Dürre, Managing Director of Interface AG, – well, that is me truly.

You founded Interface AG. What is the business model?
We started in 1984 as a product enterprise and – through our professional text processing software HIT/CLOU – became the European Market Leader on UNIX systems for all manufacturers within a few years. Around the turn of the millennium, we changed to become an IT based, sector-neutral service and counselling enterprise. HIT was the UNIX text system, CLOU was the corresponding 4GL machine for text generation. Even the first CLOU versions offered the option to embed SQL scripts, which meant that the text machine could do a qualified reading of the assigned database and, where necessary, also write it. In many instances, this was the Oracle database.

Besides the Interface AG, there are other enterprises under the IF group roof. What do they do?
Our subsidiaries specialize on services around special manufacturer’s technologies, such as Mircosoft, or IT technologies in general, such as virtualization. One enterprise is an exception: the IF Localization. It organizes translations into all languages and realizes adaptions.

To what extend do you use Oracle products for your customers?
Almost all our customers use the Oracle databases for business critical processes. These databases are the basis for all kinds of IT applications.

Where do you see the strengths of the Oracle products, what are its weaknesses?

In my perception, the oracle products usually do quite well if compared with their competition. As I see it, it is regrettable that, especially in middleware, there is no overview showing the entire variety of products. This is where Oracle has plenty of potential for improvement.

What do you think about the product strategy of Oracle in general?
It is certainly not my place to judge the Oracle product strategy. Especially since I am not even qualified to totally even have an understanding of the diversity. Perhaps a product map might make sense – where you get a description of all the products and their possible use.

Would you recommend to your customers that they use a complete system from hardware through to applications from a single manufacturer, such as Oracle?
Why not? After all, I have always been in favour of SUN systems. But seriously: an integrated and synchronized architecture has many advantages – which probably also pay off. After all, you will always be dependent on the manufacturer, no matter if we are talking Microsoft, IBM, SAP or Oracle or whoever.

What was it that impressed you about SUN at the time?
Well, we were a UNIX firm at the time and I was (wrongly) rather sure that Windows was never going to have a chance for professional use. It turns out that I was rather wrong. At the time, Sun was fairly new and modern – I saw a great future for the graphic interface of the Sun workstations. Besides, I found the then Sun employees very nice when I met them at their events.

What came to mind when Oracle swallowed Sun?
On the one hand, I was horrified, on the other hand, I hoped that this acquisition might be a great chance. The great performance of the Oracle Engineered Systems are a good example.

The Interface AG puts great stock in social media. What is your experience with them?
Personally, I find them truly great. However it is not always easy to persuade persons and also central departments to join. Strangely, I mostly find out through Facebook, Google+ or Twitter what our employees do, even professionally.

What advantages do you see in using social media in an enterprise?
In my opinion, it is an absolute MUST today. Over the years, the understanding of management has changed: now, instead of a hierarchical system, we have a network structure. Consequently, bigger groups that co-operate now need modern tools in order to, for instance, avoid countless meetings. It is, however, essential to convince all the team members that social media have their advantages.

What is the direction IT will take in the coming years?
🙂 If I knew that, I would not be sitting here, would I? Instead, I would be sitting on a beautiful yacht in the Caribbean with a glass of champagne in my hand. But honestly: I assume that IT will find its way and quickly, too. What we see is an evolutionary process which is hard to predict, let alone define. However, I assume that the massive impulses will no longer originate in Europe and not as much as we are used to in the USA either, but in Asia. In the Unix pioneer days, the disadvantage of German companies was that the German market was so much smaller than the English-speaking market. Today, China, and more and more also India, tell you where we the music plays.

What do you expect of an IT enterprise such as Oracle during this process?

It would be a true achievement to find the right mixture and/or balance between “open” and “proprietary”. The IT market changes quickly and can no longer be controlled by a single enterprise. Consequently, technological openness and strategic transparency are to be desired, as well as certainly useful in the long run for IT enterprises.

How do you see the position of a user group such as the DOAG?
Well, I have Siemens experience, both as employee and supplier. At Siemens, we had the Siemens User Association. It always made a huge impression on me how this was formative for very constructive relationships, especially with big customers and suppliers and how beneficial it was for both parties concerned.

What experience from your long professional life can you hand on to other entrepreneurs?
The most important is perhaps: always come up with your own judgement. And remain agile and avoid dogmatic decisions and behaviour on all accounts. Other than that, I try to live up to the rules for modern management as set by Hans Ulrich, the founder of the St. Gallen Management Model. They are: accept the unpredictability of the future as a normal state of affairs, extend the borders of your thinking, be more driven by “as well as” than “either-or”, think multi-dimensionally, understand self-organisation and self-control as a formative model, consider managing a meaningful and meaning-transporting function, focus on what is important and make use of group dynamics. Isn’t it remarkable that these rules have been first written down in the 1980ies?
By now, the interview has been published by the DOAG – so here is my post of same.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

This week, the time has again come: on September, 19th, 2913, at 18:00 hours, there will be another interesting IF Forum as part of our IF Academy. You can hear an exciting presentation about:

Mailserver & Mail-Client (Careful E-MAIL!)

“History, Spam&Virusses” or “concepts for the secure and reliable operation of a mail server”

(Hans Bonfigt / Marc Haber – redoxSystems)

And here is the good news:

HaberMarcII200911-Heidelfoto-A-orig-IMG_4678plus_v2Marc Haber will also come.

By now, we can verify that, besides Hans Bonfigt, Marc Haber will also be there. The two of them are experts when it comes to the technology and the depths of our so often-used medium email. In fact, with these two persons we have a couple of “supremely knowledgeable” guests who are both extremely competent and radically critical, since they are “chips of the old block”. Both of them have the special talent of coming up with simple explanations even when the topic is complex. I know them both personally and they will give very interesting reports as co-speakers.

For instance, they will deduce logically that an enterprise basically cannot avoid having its own mail server. They will also show how easy it is to install said mail server and how cheaply it works if you use free software.

Simultaneously, they will give a quasi “first-hand account” about the rather “common” concept of “SINA-Boxes” potentially abusing your civil rights on a daily basis without your having even the slightest chance of so much as noticing it.

Since currently this topic is rather much-discussed, we promoted the IF Academy presentation to become a “special IF Forum”.

Consequently, this coming Thursday evening is another very good opportunity to introduce InterFace AG to our friends, partners, customers and all interested persons, as well as to new colleagues.

So here I am asking you all to support the IF Forum and make it a lively event. I will also be very happy to welcome participants who failed to register on time or decide to visit spontaneously.

For details and registration, click here: LINK !

I look forward to welcoming many visitors!

RMD
(Translated by EG)