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Tony Pearson is a Master Inventor and Senior IT Specialist for the IBM System Storage product line at the
IBM Executive Briefing Center in Tucson Arizona, and featured contributor
to IBM's developerWorks. In 2011, Tony celebrated his 25th year anniversary with IBM Storage on the same day as the IBM's Centennial. He is
author of the Inside System Storage series of books. This blog is for the open exchange of ideas relating to storage and storage networking hardware, software and services. You can also follow him on Twitter @az990tony.
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Jon Toigo has a funny cartoon on his post, [As I Listen to EMC Brag on “New” Functionality…]. Basically, it pokes fun that many of us bloggers argue which vendor was first to introduce some technology or another. We all do this, myself included.
Recently, Claus Mikkelsen's, currently with HDS, [brought up accurately some past history from the 1990s], which is before many storage bloggers hired on with their current employers. Claus and I worked together for IBM back then, so I recognized many of the events he mentions that I can't talk about either. In many cases, IBM or HDS delivered new features before EMC.
I've been reading with some amusement as fellow blogger Barry Burke asked Claus a series of questions about Hitachi's latest High Availability Manager (HAM) feature. Claus was too busy with his "day job" and chose to shut Barry down. Sadly, HDS set themselves up for ridicule this round, first by over-hyping a function before its announcement, and then announcing a feature that IBM and EMC have offered for a while. The problem and confusion for many is that each vendor uses different terminology. Hitachi's HAM is similar to IBM's HyperSwap and EMC's AutoSwap. The implementations are different, of course, which is often why vendors are often asked to compare and contrast one implementation to another.
In his latest response,[how to mind the future of a mission-critical world], Barry reports that several HDS bloggers now censor his comments.That's too bad. I don't censor comments, within reason, including Barry's inane questions about IBM's products, and am glad that he does not censor my inane questions to him about EMC products in return. The entire blogosphere benefits from these exchanges, even if they are a bit heated sometimes.
We all have day jobs, and often are just too busy, or too lazy, to read dozens or hundreds of pages of materials, if we can even find them in the first place. Not everyone has the luxury of a "competitive marketing" team to help do the research for you, so if we can get an accurate answer or clarification about a product that is generally available directly from a vendor's subject matter expert, I am all for that.
As I mentioned in my post [Moving Over to MyDeveloperWorks], those of us bloggers on IBM's DeveloperWorks are moving over to a new system called "MyDeveloperWorks" which has a host of new features.
Fortunately for me, I missed the note to volunteer to be one of the first bloggers on the block to volunteer to move over. I was traveling and decided not to deal with it until I got back.However, fellow IBM Master Inventor, Barry Whyte, was not so lucky. It is safe to say he was stupid enough to volunteer, and is probably regretting the decision every day since. In case you lost his RSS feed, or can't find him anymore on Google or whatever search engine, here is his[new blog].
As for my blog, I have asked to postpone the move until all the problems that Barry has encountered are resolved. That might be a awhile, but if you lose access to mine sometime in the near future, hopefully at least you have been warned as to what might have happened.
Continuing this week's theme of doing important things without leaving town, I present our results foran exciting project I started earlier this year.
For seven weeks, my coworker Mark Haye and I voluntarily led a class of students here in Tucson, Arizona in an after-school pilot project to teach the ["C" programming language] using [LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT robots]. The ten students, boys and girls ages 9 to 14 years old, were already part of the FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology] program, and participated in FIRST Lego League[FLL] robot competitions.Since the students were already familiar building robots, and programming them with a simple graphical system of connecting blocks that perform actions. However, to compete in the next level of robot competitions, FIRST Tech Challenge [FTC],we need to leave this simple graphical programming behind, and upgrade to more precise "C" programming.
Mark is a software engineer for IBM Tivoli Storage Manager and has participated in FLL competitions over the past nine years. This week, he celebrates his 25th anniversary at IBM, and I celebrate my 23rd. The teacher, Ms. Ackerman, and the students referred to us as "Coach Mark" and "Coach Tony".
This was the first time I had worked with LEGO NXT robots. For those not familiar with these robots, you can purchase a kit at your localtoy store. In addition to regular LEGO bricks, beams, and plates, there are motors, wheels, and sensors. A programmable NXT brick has three outputs (marked A,B, and C) to control three motors, and four inputs (marked 1,2,3,4) to receive values from sensors. Programs are written and compiled on laptops and then downloaded to the NXT programmable brick through an USB cable, or wirelessly via Bluetooth.
In the picture shown, an image of the Mars planetary surface is divided into a grid with thick black lines.A light sensor between the front two wheels of the robot is over the black line.
We used the [RobotC programming firmware] and integrated development environment (IDE) from [Carnegie Mellon University].The idea of this pilot was to see how well the students could learn "C". With only a few hours after class on each Wednesday, could we teach young students "C" programming in just seven weeks?
My contribution? I have taught both high school and college classes, and spent over 15 years programming for IBM, so Mark asked me to help.We started with a basic lesson plan:
A brief history of the "C" language
Understanding statements and syntax
Setting motor speed and direction
Compiling and downloading your first program
Understanding the "while" loop
Retrieving input sensor values
Understanding the "if-then-else" statement
Defining variables with different data types
Manipulating string variables
Writing a program for the robot to track along a black line on a white background.
Understanding local versus global scope variables
Writing a program for a robot to count black lines as it crosses them.
Perform left turns, right turns, and to cross a specific number of lines on a grid pattern to move the robot to a specific location.
Weeks 6 and 7
Mission Impossible: come up with a challenge to make the robot do something that would be difficult to accomplish using the previous NXT visual programming language.
At the completion of these seven weeks, I sat down to interview "Coach Mark"on his thoughts on this pilot project.
This is a practical programming skill. The "C" language is used throughout the world to program everything from embedded systems to operating systems, and even storage software. This would allow the robots to handle more precise movements, more accurate turns, and more complicated missions.
Can kids learn "C" in only seven weeks?
Part of the pilot project was to see how well the students could understand the material. They were already familiar with building the robots, and understood the basics of programming sensors and motors, so we were hoping this was a good foundation to work from. Some kids managed very well, others struggled.
Did everything go according to plan?
The first two weeks went well, turning on motors and having robots move forward and backward were easy enough. We seemed to lose a few students on week 3, and things got worse from there. However, several of the students truly surprised us and managed to implement very complicated missions. We were quite pleased with the results.
What kind of problems did the kids encounter?
Touch sensor required loops waiting for pressing. Motors did not necessarily turn as expected until more advanced methods were used. Making 90 degree left and right turns accurately was more difficult than expected.
Any funny surprises?
Yes, we had a Challenge Map representing the Mars planetary surface from a previous FLL competition that was dark red and divided into squares with thick black lines. An active light sensor returns a value of "0" (complete darkness) to "100" (bright white).However, the Mars surface had craters that were dark enough to be misinterpreted as a black line causing some unusual results. This required some enhanced programming techniques to resolve.
Did robots help or hurt the teaching process?
I think they helped. Rather than writing programs that just display "Hello World!" on a computer screen, the students can actually see robots move, and either do what they expect, or not!
And when the robots didn't do what they were expected to?
The students got into "debug" mode. They were already used to doing this from previous FLL competitions, but with RobotC, you can leave the USB cable connected (or use wireless Bluetooth) and actually gather debugging information while the robot is running, to see the value of sensors and other variables and help determine why things are not working properly.
Any applicability to the real world of storage?
We have robots in the IBM System Storage TS3500 tape library. These robots scan bar code labels, pull tapes out of shelves and mount them into drives.The programming skills are the same needed for storage software, suchas IBM Tivoli Storage Manager or IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center.
The world is becoming smarter, instrumented with sensors, interconnected over a common network, and intelligent enough to react and respond correctly. The lessons of reading sensor values and moving motors can be considered the first step in solutions that help to make a smarter planet.
Spend twenty hours a week running a project for a non-profit.
Teach yourself Java, HTML, Flash, PHP and SQL. Not a little, but mastery. [Clarification: I know you can't become a master programmer of all these in a year. I used the word mastery to distinguish it from 'familiarity' which is what you get from one of those Dummies type books. I would hope you could write code that solves problems, works and is reasonably clear, not that you can program well enough to work for Joel Spolsky. Sorry if I ruffled feathers.]
Volunteer to coach or assistant coach a kids sports team.
Start, run and grow an online community.
Give a speech a week to local organizations.
Write a regular newsletter or blog about an industry you care about.
Learn a foreign language fluently.
Write three detailed business plans for projects in the industry you care about.
Self-publish a book.
Run a marathon.
In 2007, 51 percent of graduating college students could find jobs in their field, and this year it has dropped to only 20 percent. If you find yourself with some time on your hands, either recently graduated or recently unemployed, consider volunteerism.Last year, I chose to donate my time and money to an innovative project called "One Laptop per Child" [OLPC]. It was one of my [New Years Resolutions] for 2008. I was actually "recruited" by folks from the OLPC after they read my [series of blog posts] on things that can be done with their now famous green-and-white XO laptop.
The first half of the year, I spent helping "Open Learning Exchange Nepal" [OLE Nepal], a non-government organization (NGO) to help education in that country. XO laptops were provided to second and sixth graders at several schools, and my assignment was to help with the school "XS" server. This would be the server that all the laptops connect to. My blog posts on this included:
Rather than [Move to Nepal], I was able to help by building an identical XS server in Tucson, and provide support remotely. This included getting the "Mesh Antennas"to be properly recognized, having an internet filter using [DansGuardian] software, and working out backup procedures.
For the second half of the year, I was asked to mentor a college student inHyderabad, India as part of the ["Google Summer of Code"] to develop an[Educational Blogger System]on the XS server. We called it "EduBlog" and based it on the popular [Moodle] educational software platform.This was going to be tested with kids from Uruguay, but sending a serverdown to this country proved politically-challenging, so instead, I [builta server and shipped it] to a co-location facility in Pennsylvania that agreed to donate the cost and expenses needed to run the server there with full internet connection. I acted as "system admin" for the box, was able to connect remotely via SSH, while Tarun, the college student I was mentoring, developed the EduBlog software. Twice the system washacked, but I was able to restore the system remotely thanks to a multi-boot configuration that allowedme to reboot to a read-only operating system image and restore the operating system and data.
The students and teachers in Uruguay were helped locally by [Proyecto Ceibal]. We were able to translate the system into Spanish, and the project was a big success, enough to convince local government to provideXO laptops to their students to further the benefits.
This week, I have been presenting how to do important things without travel. Of course, there are times where you need some boots on the ground, while your support team remains remote.
Last month, fellow co-worker Liz Goodman reached out to me. She was part of a ten-person team that went to Tanzania as part of IBM's[Corporate Service Corps]. Other teams went to Brazil, China, Ghana, Romania, South Africa, The Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam.(I've been to half these other countries, but the closest I have ever been toTanzania was a safari I took in Kenya that included the Masai Mara national park which runsalong the border with Tanzania's Serengheti national park).
Liz was one of the lucky[200 candidates chosen among over 5000 applications] IBM reviews each year for this program. IBM does business in over170 countries, so learning to work in or with emerging growth markets requires a bit of "cultural intelligence".Liz and three others worked with the University of Dudoma [UDOM] to lead some students in adopting a [Moodle] infrastructure based on Linux, Apache, PHP and MySQL [LAMP] platform. She noticed that I had experience with both Moodle and LAMP from [my work with OLPC], and reached out to me for help.I was able to provide some insight, things to watch out for, and how to tackle not just the technical challenges, but a few that many don't consider:
Educational content. Digitizing materials already available in hardcopy, or obtaining digital rights to existing content.
Business Process. Getting the teachers and students to adopt new process and procedures enabled by these new capabilities.
Project Management. Fortunately, Liz is already [PMP-certified], and knows well the importance of managing even a small 4-person, 4-week project like this.
How well did her team do? Liz blogged before, during and after her trip. Read all about iton her blog [Liz Goes To Tanzania]!
Jim Stallings, IBM General Manager for Global Markets, will explain why a smarter planet needs a dynamicinfrastructure. I used to work for Jim, when he was in charge of the IBM Linux initiative and I was on the Linux forS/390 mainframe team.
Erich Clementi, IBM Vice President, Strategy & General Manager Enterprise Initiatives, will explain how to best leverage opportunities with cloud computing.
Steve Forbes, Chairman and CEO of Forbes Inc. and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Magazine, will presentGlobal Outlooks and the Challenge of Change.
Rich Lechner, IBM Vice President, Energy & Environment, will explain the importance of Building an Energy-Efficient Dynamic Infrastructure. I also worked for Rich, back when he was the VP of Marketing for IBM System Storage, and Iwas back then the "Technical Evangelist". See my post [The Art of Evangelism] to better understand why I don't carry that title anymore.
In addition to these presentations, you will be able to "walk" around to different booths and have on-line chats with subject matter experts and download resources. Don't worry, this is not based on [Second Life], but rather using "On24" much simpler visual interface.Of course, you can follow on [Twitter] or join the fan club at[Facebook].
This is a worldwide event, with translated resource materials and on-line subject matter experts in six different languages (English, French, Italian, German, Mandarin and Japanese). Those in North, Central and South Americas can participate June 23, and those in Europe, Asia and the rest of the world on June 24. [Register Today] and mark your calendars!
Ideally, every airline would use the most experienced seasoned professional airline pilots money could buy, but some airlines, in an effort to compete on ticket price, may elect instead to have less experienced pilots.Here's a great excerpt:
Airline history lesson 101: It used to be, up until the mid 1980’s, that a young pilot would be hired on at a major carrier, become a flight engineer (FE), and then spend a few years managing the systems of the older-generation airplanes. But he or she was learning all the while. These new “pilots” sat in the FE seat and did their job, all the while observing the “pilots” doing the flying, day in and day out.
The FE’s learned from the seasoned pilots about the real world of flying into the Chicago O’Hares and New York LaGuardias. They learned decision making, delegation, and the reality of “captain’s final authority” as confirmed in the law. When they got the chance to upgrade, they became a copilot. The copilot’s duty was to assist the captain in flying; but even during their time as the new copilot, they had the luxury of the FE looking over their shoulders — i.e., more learning. This three-man-crew concept, now a fond memory in the domestic markets but used predominately in international flying, was considered one more layer of protection. But it’s gone.
To become the public speaker I am today, IBM put me through a variety of speaking classes. I taught high school and college classes to practice in front of groups. But most importantly, I traveled with seasoned colleagues and watched them in action from the front row.I learned how to handle tough questions, how to react to hecklers causing trouble, and how to deal with the unexpected before, during and after each presentation. In addition to speaking skills, I ended up having to learn travel skills, foreign language skills, and a variety of cultural social skills. All part of the job in my line of work.
Likewise, being a storage administrator is an important job, and for some data centers, not something to give lightly to a fresh college graduate. Unless they have had format IT Infrastructure Library [ITIL] certification coursework, I doubt they would understand the processes and disciplines demanded by the typical data center. I have been to accounts where new hires are not allowed to touch production systems for the first two years. Instead they watch the seasoned professionals do their jobs, and are given only access to "sand box" systems that are used for application testing or Quality Assurance (QA). Sadly, I have also been to other accounts where people with no storage experience whatsoever were tossed into the admin pool and let loose with superuser passwords, all in an effort to save money during times of exponential data growth rates, only to pay the price later with outages or lost data.
The parallels between the airline industry and the IT industry are eerie.
I get a lot of suggestions for what to put on my blog.I realize that tweets are limited to 140 characters, so pointing to a video URL without muchexplanation or warning can be dangerous. An email can at least add appropriate warnings,such NSFW (Not Safe For Work) or "sorry if this offends you". The only warning I got fora video posted to YouTube by "StorageNetworkDud" was this short email:
"Sorry about the language they have used in some translations, but not sure who put this. It was on twitter."
Fortunately, I have my browser set up not to automatically play YouTube videos. The titlehelped warn me of the content, which turned out to be a [fan-subbed] scene from a World War II movie with brown-shirted tyrannical leader of an evil empire talking to his top generals. He dismisses all but threewith "Hollis, Burke, and Twomey stay in here" followed by a lengthy recap of EMC's recent troublesin the marketplace. At least in the video, the fuhrer correctly follows Tim Sander's advice:"if you have to tell someone bad news, say it in person."
While I understand that many people don't like EMC, the #3 storagevendor in the world, this type of "geek humor" hits a new low. The video was posted over amonth ago, but in light of the recent [shooting in Washington DC], I felt it was just notappropriate to post it here.
Readers, I appreciate all the suggestions, but give me some better warning next time!
This week I am in Minneapolis, MN, so was hoping that the complicated process of moving this blog over to "MyDeveloperWorks" would happen while I was gone, but alas, that does not appear to be the case.
Meanwhile, my partner in crime, Barry Whyte, has moved his blog [Storage Virtualization]successfully over to the new server.
Perhaps next week. If all goes well, the URL links should redirect correctly, but those of you out there using feed readers might require you to re-subscribe to get the right RSS feeds.