Monday, November 27, 2017

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Watson on Jeopardy!: The end of the Microsoft/Intel computer era

On this day five years ago, IBM's Watson competed against Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings on the game show Jeopardy!, winning the competition. (The actual competition happened January 14, 2011 with the first broadcast of the two episodes on February 14 and 15, 2011.)

To me, this event marked the end of the Microsoft/Intel computer era that we have been living in for so long and the start of the Watson era, which continues today. To my knowledge, Watson's software and hardware does not contain much, if any, Microsoft code or Intel processors.

The Microsoft/Intel computer era was an age where cheap software running on cheap hardware was king. It was an era where Version 1.0 was garbage and everyone waited until at least Version 1.1 came out. It was an era where Intel microprocessors would take arbitrary text and execute it as a program (allowing over 30 million viruses and other malware to date).

Sadly, other companies fell into this trap of bad software with bad security. Adobe Systems is a leading example of this. In the Watson era, Adobe's Flash is near the end of its life.

I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Computer Science (College of Engineering) in 1976. Some of the best practices of that time were simply ignored by Microsoft and Intel and have only been rediscovered in this decade, some 40 years later. What if the cars of today were designed and built with the technology of the 1970s? Air bags and antilock brakes would not be included. People would be furious! But many business people didn't want to pay for good-quality hardware and software over the last 40 years, so they bought technology that was poorly designed even for the 1970s.

What is different about the Watson era of computing? IBM's Power Systems servers, like the ones running Watson, running the IBM i Operating System have multiple parity bits (including error-correcting memory) and other checks to prevent memory errors and even adder errors from corrupting the operating system, user programs or data. These processors and operating system require that programs be compiled by a compiler and will not run arbitrary text as a program. I know of no viruses or worms that run on IBM Power Systems (with the caveat that there may be malware that affects the two other operating systems that run on IBM Power, AIX and Linux). Ironically, many of IBM Power Systems do run antivirus software, but not as much for themselves: They do it to detect viruses affecting Microsoft/Intel systems which have been uploaded into their file systems by infected computers (how ironic)!

The IBM i Operating System, including its predecessors going back to 1979 (longer than any Windows Server has existed), have always more robust than Windows Server. Today they can manage multiple workloads in multiple virtual machines without conflict or crashing and dependable resource allocation. It's not unusual to have a 10-year-old Power Systems server that has never crashed. There have been cases where one IBM Power Systems server has replaced over 100 Windows and Linux servers. There are companies that have 15,000 active users working on one Power Systems server with sub-second response time.

What did the end of the Microsoft/Intel computer era and the start of the Watson era five years ago mean for the typical computer person? For many, nothing. Companies will still buy cheap: They can buy Windows 2012 R2 running on a server with an Intel processor for less than $1,000. They will still pay lots of money to load this system up with antivirus software, which is unlikely to block zero-day vulnerabilities, and pay technicians to keep this system running and to restart it when it crashes. They will continue taking the server down to install monthly patches from Microsoft. If they need another function, they will buy another server, and another, and another... I know a company that buys a skid of servers with Intel processors (at least 20 servers) whenever they have a planned power outage to replace the servers that will not boot up when the power comes back.

But there's another group of companies out there which understand the false economy of the Microsoft/Intel world. These companies will spend the money for better servers and operating systems, without the need for antivirus software for their operating system, and end up with better results with a lower cost of ownership. And many good computer people will work for these companies, because they don't want to deal with things keeping them from writing dependable programs which can run 24/7 without having to deal with crashes and glitches.

Notes: I have donated $10 in both 2015 and 2014 to Wikipedia for its operations. Have you donated?
This is cross-posted on my personal blog, The World According to Bruce

Updated February 11, 2016.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Happy Holidays from Netburg Services!

Happy Diwali,

Happy Thanksgiving,

Happy Hanukkah,

Merry Christmas,

Happy Kwanzaa and

Happy New Year!

(I'd include Ramadan but it was in June and July this year.)

Norwood (Ohio) Christmas Town went well this year. Netburg Services sponsored the horse-drawn trolley shown here which was an addition to the four horse-drawn carriages featured last year. Rides were free.

Also, the Norwood Police Department had a Shop With a Cop event recently. Funding was provided by the Greater Cincinnati Police Association. Netburg provides partial funding to this program through the Greater Cincinnati Police Association. I don't feel comfortable including a picture, but here is a link to pictures provided by the Norwood Police Department.

It's been a hectic year at Netburg and it isn't over yet. We're hoping your year went well and that 2016 will be better.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Bait and switch" with Staples coupons

Look at this coupon for "20% off ink" from Staples (UPC code omitted):

Now read what it says: "Excludes all toner, Epson® ink and toner, HP ink and toner..." What the heck, Staples? The last printer I bought from you was an HP printer and now you going to require that I pay full price for ink for it? When HP will sell it to me for a discount? Why do I even do business with you when you do a "bait and switch" on me like this and waste my time?

I unsubscribed to further emails from Staples. I sent a message to my Staples representative and it bounced with this notice: "Your message couldn't be delivered to the recipient because you don't have permission to send to it." (sic)

The next time I need office supplies, I'll check around and try to find someone with everyday low prices, not a company that keeps sending coupons that don't apply to me anyway.

Update June 29, 2016: "Your message couldn't be delivered to the recipient because you don't have permission to send to it." is a Microsoft Outlook euphemism for "The recipient is no longer with the company."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Technical computer professionals: Never a shortage, always low pay

Ever since I graduated from college in 1976, I have heard about a shortage of computer professionals. There is no shortage today, and there never has been. I can't tell you how many computer professionals whom I know who have left the field due to either a lack of work or low pay.

Today, the Cincinnati Business Courier is running a survey on this. If you want to take the survey, here is the link:

Here are my answers. The answer to Question 2 is "Networking, primarily using LinkedIn. Duh!"

I do have a relationship with Cincinnati State but it's inactive at the moment.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A thank you from the Norwood (Ohio) Fireworks Committee

The Norwood (Ohio) Fireworks Committee sent out this image to thank the sponsors this year. If you and your family were able to attend, we hope you had a great time. See you next year!

Here are the events and programs we currently sponsor:
Norwood Hometown Fireworks — Gold Sponsor
Norwood Christmas Town — Horse-Drawn Trolley Ride Sponsor
Greater Cincinnati Police Athletic Association — We sponsor "Shop with a Police Officer," food baskets, sports sponsorships and other activities.

Updated November 28, 2015 to update Norwood Christmas Town sponsorship.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

American Express: Why I'm stopping my new business card today

In May, a representative of American Express cold called me about a new Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card for my business. I have an American Express business card already which is also my Costco membership card. But Costco is going to end that card in March 2016. I thought a new American Express card for my business would be good to smooth the transition.

When you sign up for a new business card, they can set you up with a bonus program. When I talked to Frederick (not his real name) on July 8, his offer was 25,000 Membership Rewards® Points if I charged $5,000 to the card in three months (91 days). However, my wife had received an offer in the mail from American Express for the same card that offered 50,000 Membership Rewards Points for $5,000 in three months. Of course, I preferred that offer. However, Frederick's supervisor, Jonathan (again, not his real name), was going to make me a great deal: 75,000 Membership Rewards Points if I charged $10,000 in four months (122 days). What's there not to like?

Only one thing: $5,000 in charges in three months is something I can do; $10,000 in four months is unattainable to my business and me. So Jonathan, in his "generosity," set me up to fail and the bottom line is that I will have zero Membership Rewards Points in four months.

Frederick wasn't authorized to change the offer and Jonathan hasn't gotten it done, even though it's been almost a month. Calling American Express customer support was no help; the first call couldn't fix it but gave me a number for New Accounts. I called New Accounts twice. The first time, they said that they had no record of a new card for me. The second time, they said that they were a fraud department and that I had the wrong number. I asked them to give me the correct number for New Accounts and that number couldn't help either (although the representative nicely explained the terms of the bonus program).

Note that, after you get your new card and you set up your account on their web site, there is no mention of the bonus program. You can't see what program you're in or how many charges you've accumulated towards the goal. The only way to get that information is to call them.

Normally I wouldn't post this (it's my word against theirs) except that American Express has recorded every phone call I made to them. They can go back and verify that, yes, Frederick said that Jonathan would reset the offer.

I'm putting this down as bait-and-switch: They dangled one offer in front of me, switched it to a "better" offer that is unattainable then refused to switch it back.

As of today, I am stopping using my new American Express card and will cancel it after I pay the next monthly statement. Stay tuned, because I just may get a call from someone at American Express about this; I will update this post if Amex fixes this situation.

Update August 23: I have just paid the bill for the second month of charges. I feel like I'm dealing with a company stuck in the 1980s. I signed up for 3X points for gasoline charges but there is no indication that they are going to pay me the 3X. Each month, I accrue Membership Rewards Points for charges but they are not actually added to my account until the end of the next billing period. They say that I have to pay the bill to get my points, but the computer doesn't give me the points even after they've posted my payment. It's not until the next statement that I get my points and then the 3X for gasoline are not there.

This has just been a bad experience all around. I wanted to short their stock when it jumped to $81.34 per share on August 11 but I didn't get it done. It's now down 5.3% and going down further, I expect.

Update June 29, 2016: Yesterday, I canceled the account. I will forfeit just over 4,000 bonus points. If the bait-and-switch hadn't happened, I would have had about 60,000 bonus points. (I could have used the points I had but I waited too long.)

Update November 11, 2016: When I canceled the account the representative told me I could contribute the 4,000 bonus points to a charity from a list. He said to watch for two email messages. The messages never arrived. It was a fitting end to a relationship with a sleazy company stuck in the '80s. Today, the stock is down 14% from August 11, 2015 but it has been lower.