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I've gotten suggestions to upgrade the memory and disk storage, and how to fine-tune the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Others suggested replacing the OS with Linux, and to use the Cloud to avoid some of the storage space limitations.
But first, I have to mention the latest in our series of "Enterprise Systems" videos. The first was being [Data Ready]. The second was being [Security Ready]. The now the third in the series: the 3-minute
[Cloud Ready] video.
So I decided to try different Cloud-oriented Operating Systems, to see if any would be a good fit. Here is what I found:
(FTC Disclosure: I work for IBM and own IBM stock. This blog post is not meant to endorse one OS over another. I have financial interests in, and/or have friends and family who work at some of the various companies mentioned in this post. Some of these companies also have business relationships with IBM.)
Jolicloud and Joli OS 1.2
I gave this OS a try. This is based on Linux, but with an interesting approach. First, you have to be on-line all the time, and this OS is designed for 15-25 year-olds who are on social media websites like Facebook. By having a Jolicloud account, you can access this from any browser on any system, or run the Joli OS operating system, or buy the already pre-installed Jolibook netbook computer.
The Joli OS 1.2 LiveCD ran fine on my T410 with 4GB or RAM, giving me a chance to check it out, but sadly did not run on grandma's Thinkpad R31 with 384MB of RAM. According to the [Jolicloud specifications], Joli OS should run in as little as 384MB of RAM and 2GB of disk storage space, but it didn't for me.
Google Chrome and Chromium OS Vanilla
Like the Jolibook, Google has come out with a $249 Chromebook laptop that runs their "Chrome OS". This is only available via OEM install on desginated hardware, but the open source version is available called Chromium OS. These are also based on Linux.
Rather than compiling from source, Hexxeh has made nightly builds available. You can download [Chromium OS Vanilla] zip file, unzip the image file, and copy it to a 4GB USB memory stick. The compressed image is about 300MB, but uncompressed about 2.5GB, so too big to fit on a CD. The image on the USB stick is actually two partitions, and cannot be run from DVD either.
If you don't have a 4GB USB stick handy, and want to see what all the fuss is about, just install the Google Chrome browser on your Windows or Linux system, and then maximize the browser window. That's it. That is basically what Chromium OS is all about.
Files can be stored locally, or out on your Google Drive. Documents can be edited using "Google Docs" in the Cloud. You can run in "off-line" mode, for example, read your Gmail notes when not connected to the Internet. Music and video files can be played using the "Files" app.
If you really need to get out of the browser, you can hit the right combination of keys to get to the "crosh" command line shell.
Like Joli OS, I was able to run this from my Thinkpad T410 with 4GB of RAM, but not on grandma's Thinkpad R31. It appears that Chromium requires at least 1GB of RAM to run properly.
Android for x86
While researching the Chromium OS, I found that there is an open source community porting [Android to the x86] platform. Android is based on Linux, and would allow your laptop or netbook to run very much like a smartphone or tablet. Most of the apps available to Android should work here as well.
Unfortunately, the project has focused only on selected hardware:
ASUS Eee PCs/Laptops
Viewsonic Viewpad 10
Dell Inspiron Mini Duo
Lenovo ThinkPad x61 Tablet
I tried running the Thinkpad x61 version on both my Thinkpad T410 and grandma's Thinkpad R31, but with no success.
Peppermint OS Three
Next up was Peppermint OS, which claims to be a blend of Linux Mint, Lubuntu, and Xfce, but with a "twist" of aspiring to be a Cloud-oriented OS.
Rather than traditional apps to write documents or maintain a calendar, this OS offers a "Single-Site Browser" (SSB) experience, where you can configure "apps" by pointing to their respective URL. For documents, launch GWoffice, the client for Google Docs. For calendar, launch Google Calendar.
Most Linux distros have both a number and a project name associated with them. For example, Ubuntu 10.04 LTS is known as "Lucid Lynx". The Peppermint OS team avoided this by just calling their latest version "Three" which serves as both its number and its name.
The browser is Chromium, similar to Google Chrome OS above, and uses the "DuckDuckGo" search engine. This is how the Peppermint OS folks make their money to defray the costs of this effort.
Peppermint OS claims to run in systems as little as 192MB or RAM, and only 4GB of disk space. The LiveCD ran well on both my Thinkpad T410, as well as grandma's Thinkpad R31. More importantly, when I installed on the hard drive, it ran well.
The music app "Guayadeque" that came pre-installed was awful. It couldn't play MP3 music out-of-the-box. I had to install the Codec plugins from various "ubuntu-restricted-extras" libraries. I also installed the music app "Rhythmbox", and that worked great. Time from power-on to first-note was less than 2 minutes! However, the problems with the Guayadeque gave me the impression this OS might not be ready for primetime.
I contacted grandma to ask if she has Wi-Fi in her home, and sure enough, she doesn't. Her PC upstairs is direct attached to the cable modem. So, while the Cloud suggestion was worthy of investigation, I will continue to pursue other options that do not require being connected. I certainly do not want to spend any time and effort getting Wi-Fi installed there.
This week, I am in beautiful Sao Paulo, Brazil, teaching Top Gun class to IBM Business Partners and sales reps. Traditionally, we have "Tape Thursday" where we focus on our tape systems, from tape drives, to physical and virtual tape libraries. IBM is the number #1 tape vendor, and has been for the past eight years.
(The alliteration doesn't translate well here in Brazil. The Portuguese word for tape is "fita", and Thursday here is "quinta-feira", but "fita-quinta-feira" just doesn't have the same ring to it.)
In the class, we discussed how to handle common misperceptions and myths about tape. Here are a few examples:
Myth 1: Tape processing is manually intensive
In my July 2007 blog post [Times a Million], I coined the phrase "Laptop Mentality" to describe the problem most people have dealing with data center decisions. Many folks extend linearly their experiences using their PCs, workstations or laptops to apply to the data center, unable to comprehend large numbers or solutions that take advantage of the economies of scale.
For many, the only experience dealing with tape was manual. In the 1980s, we made "mix tapes" on little cassettes, and in the 1990s we recorded our favorite television shows on VHS tapes in the VCR. Today, we have playlists on flash or disk-based music players, and record TV shows on disk-based video recorders like Tivo. The conclusion is that tapes are manual, and disk are not.
Manual processing of tapes ended in 1987, with the introduction of a silo-like tape library from StorageTek. IBM quickly responded with its own IBM 3495 Tape Library Data Server in 1992. Today, clients have many tape automation choices, from the smallest IBM TS2900 Tape Autoloader that has one drive and nine cartridges, all the way to the largest IBM TS3500 multiple-library shuttle complex that can hold exabytes of data. These tape automation systems eliminate most of the manual handling of cartridges in day-to-day operations.
Myth 2: Tape media is less reliable than disk media
For any storage media to be unreliable is to return the wrong information that is different than what was originally stored. There are only two ways for this to happen: if you write a "zero" but read back a "one", or write a "one" and read a "zero". This is called a bit error. Every storage media has a "bit error rate" that is the average likelihood for some large amount of data written.
According to the latest [LTO Bit Error rates, 2012 March], today's tape expects only 1 bit error per 10E17 bits written (about 100 Petabytes). This is 10 times more reliable than Enterprise SAS disk (1 bit per 10E16), and 100 times more reliable than Enterprise-class SATA disk (1 bit per 10E15).
Tape is the media used in "black boxes" for airplanes. When an airplane crashes, the black box is retrieved and used to investigate the causes of the crash. In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off. The tapes in the black box sat on the ocean floor for six weeks before being recovered. Amazingly, IBM was able to successfully restore [90 percent of the block data, and 100 percent of voice data].
Analysts are quite upset when they are quoted out of context, but in this case, Gartner never said anything closely similar to this. Nor did the other analysts that Curtis investigated for similar claims. What Garnter did say was that disk provides an attractive alternative storage media for backup which can increase the performance of the recovery process.
Back in the 1990s, Savur Rao and I developed a patent to help backup DB2 for z/OS by using the FlashCopy feature of IBM's high-end disk system. The software method to coordinate the FlashCopy snapshots with the database application and maintain multiple versions was implemented in the DFSMShsm component of DFSMS. A few years later, this was part of a set of patents IBM cross-licensed to Microsoft for them to implement a similar software for Windows called Data Protection Manager (DPM). IBM has since introduced its own version for distributed systems called IBM Tivoli FlashCopy Manager that runs not just on Windows, but also AIX, Linux, HP-UX and Solaris operating systems.
Curtis suspects the "71 percent" citation may have been propogated by an ambitious product manager of Microsoft's Data Protection Manager, back in 2006, perhaps to help drive up business to their new disk-based backup product. Certainly, Microsoft was not the only vendor to disparage tape in this manner.
A few years ago, an [EMC failure brought down the State of Virginia] due to not just a component failure it its production disk system, but then made it worse by failing to recover from the disk-based remote mirror copy. Fortunately, the data was able to be restored from tape over the next four days. If you wonder why nobody at EMC says "Tape is Dead" anymore, perhaps it is because tape saved their butts that week.
(FTC Disclosure: I work for IBM and this post can be considered a paid, celebrity endorsement for all of the IBM tape and software products mentioned on this post. I own shares of stock in both IBM and Google, and use Google's Gmail for my personal email, as well as many other Google services. While IBM, Google and Microsoft can be considered competitors to each other in some areas, IBM has working relationships with both companies on various projects. References in this post to other companies like EMC are merely to provide illustrative examples only, based on publicly available information. IBM is part of the Linear Tape Open (LTO) consortium.)
Myth 4: Vendors and Manufacturers are no longer investing in tape technology
IBM and others are still investing Research and Development (R&D) dollars to improve tape technology. What people don't realize is that much of the R&D spent on magnetic media can be applied across both disk and tape, such as IBM's development of the Giant Magnetoresistance read/write head, or [GMR] for short.
Most recently, IBM made another major advancement with tape with the introduction of the Linear Tape File Systems (LTFS). This allows greater portability to share data between users, and between companies, but treating tape cartridges much like USB memory sticks or pen drives. You can read more in my post [IBM and Fox win an Emmy for LTFS technology]!
Next month, IBM celebrates the 60th anniversary for tape. It is good to see that tape continues to be a vibrant part of the IT industry, and to IBM's storage business!
Continuing my coverage of the 30th annual [Data Center Conference]. here is a recap of Wednesday morning sessions.
A Data Center Perspective on MegaVendors
The morning started with a keynote session. The analyst felt that the eight most strategic or disruptive companies in the past few decades were: IBM, HP, Cisco, SAP, Oracle, Apple and Google. Of these, he focused on the first three, which he termed the "Megavendors", presented in alphabetical order.
Cisco enjoys high-margins and a loyal customer base with Ethernet switch gear. Their new strategy to sell UP and ACROSS the stack moves them into lower-margin business like servers. Their strong agenda with NetApp is not in sync with their partnership with EMC. They recently had senior management turn-over.
HP enjoys a large customer base and is recognized for good design and manufacturing capabilities. Their challenges are mostly organizational, distracted by changes at the top and an untested and ever-changing vision, shifting gears and messages too often. Concerns over the Itanium have not helped them lately.
IBM defies simple description. One can easily recognize Cisco as an "Ethernet Switch" company, HP as a "Printer Company", Oracle as a "Database Company', but you can't say that IBM is an "XYZ" company, as it has re-invented itself successfully over its past 100 years, with a strong focus on client relationships. IBM enjoys high margins, sustainable cost structure, huge resources, a proficient sales team, and is recognized for its innovation with a strong IBM Research division. Their "Smarter Planet" vision has been effective in supporting their individual brands and unlock new opportuties. IBM's focus on growth markets takes advantage of their global reach.
His final advice was to look for "good enough" solutions that are "built for change" rather than "built to last".
Chris works in the Data Center Management and Optimization Services team. IBM owns and/or manages over 425 data centers, representing over 8 million square feet of floorspace. This includes managing 13 million desktops, and 325,000 x86 and UNIX server images, and 1,235 mainframes. IBM is able to pool resources and segment the complexity for flexible resource balancing.
Chris gave an example of a company that selected a Cloud Compute service provided on the East coast a Cloud Storage provider on the West coast, both for offering low rates, but was disappointed in the latency between the two.
Chris asked "How did 5 percent utilization on x86 servers ever become acceptable?" When IBM is brought in to manage a data center, it takes a "No Server Left Behind" approach to reduce risk and allow for a strong focus on end-user transition. Each server is evaluated for its current utilization:
Amazingly, many servers are unused. These are recycled properly.
1 to 19 percent
Workload is virtualized and moved to a new server.
20 to 39 percent
Use IBM's Active Energy Manager to monitor the server.
40 to 59 percent
Add more VMs to this virtualized server.
over 60 percent
Manage the workload balance on this server.
This approach allows IBM to achieve a 60 to 70 percent utilization average on x86 machines, with an ROI payback period of 6 to 18 months, and 2x-3x increase of servers-managed-per-FTE.
Storage is classified using Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) best practices, using automation with pre-defined data placement and movement policies. This allows only 5 percent of data to be on Tier-1, 15 percent on Tier-2, 15 percent on Tier-3, and 65 percent on Tier-4 storage.
Chris recommends adopting IT Service Management, and to shift away from one-off builds, stand-alone apps, and siloed cost management structures, and over to standardization and shared resources.
You may have heard of "Follow-the-sun" but have you heard of "Follow-the-moon"? Global companies often establish "follow-the-sun" for customer service, re-directing phone calls to be handled by people in countries during their respective daytime hours. In the same manner, server and storage virtualization allows workloads to be moved to data centers during night-time hours, following the moon, to take advantage of "free cooling" using outside air instead of computer room air conditioning (CRAC).
Since 2007, IBM has been able to double computer processing capability without increasing energy consumption or carbon gas emissions.
It's Wednesday, Day 3, and I can tell already that the attendees are suffering from "information overload'.
Last week, fellow IBMer Ron Riffe started his three-part series on the Storage Hypervisor. I discussed Part I already in my previous post [Storage Hypervisor Integration with VMware]. We wrapped up the week with a Live Chat with over 30 IT managers, industry analysts, independent bloggers, and IBM storage experts.
"The idea of shopping from a catalog isn’t new and the cost efficiency it offers to the supplier isn’t new either. Public storage cloud service providers seized on the catalog idea quickly as both a means of providing a clear description of available services to their clients, and of controlling costs. Here’s the idea… I can go to a public cloud storage provider like Amazon S3, Nirvanix, Google Storage for Developers, or any of a host of other providers, give them my credit card, and get some storage capacity. Now, the “kind” of storage capacity I get depends on the service level I choose from their catalog.
Most of today’s private IT environments represent the complete other end of the pendulum swing – total customization. Every application owner, every business unit, every department wants to have complete flexibility to customize their storage services in any way they want. This expectation is one of the reasons so many private IT environments have such a heavy mix of tier-1 storage. Since there is no structure around the kind of requests that are coming in, the only way to be prepared is to have a disk array that could service anything that shows up. Not very efficient… There has to be a middle ground.
Private storage clouds are a little different. Administrators we talk to aren’t generally ready to let all their application owners and departments have the freedom to provision new storage on their own without any control. In most cases, new capacity requests still need to stop off at the IT administration group. But once the request gets there, life for the IT administrator is sweet!
Here comes the request from an application owner for 500GB of new “Database” capacity (one of the options available in the storage service catalog) to be attached to some server. After appropriate approvals, the administrator can simply enter the three important pieces of information (type of storage = “Database”, quantity = 500GB, name of the system authorized to access the storage) and click the “Go” button (in TPC SE it’s actually a “Run now” button) to automatically provision and attach the storage. No more complicated checklists or time consuming manual procedures.
A storage hypervisor increases the utilization of storage resources, and optimizes what is most scarce in your environment. For Linux, UNIX and Windows servers, you typically see utilization rates of 20 to 35 percent, and this can be raised to 55 to 80 percent with a storage hypervisor. But what is most scarce in your environment? Time! In a competitive world, it is not big animals eating smaller ones as much as fast ones eating the slow.
Want faster time-to-market? A storage hypervisor can help reduce the time it takes to provision storage, from weeks down to minutes. If your business needs to react quickly to changes in the marketplace, you certainly don't want your IT infrastructure to slow you down like a boat anchor.
Want more time with your friends and family? A storage hypervisor can migrate the data non-disruptively, during the week, during the day, during normal operating hours, instead of scheduling down-time on an evenings and weekends. As companies adopt a 24-by-7 approach to operations, there are fewer and fewer opportunities in the year for scheduled outages. Some companies get stuck paying maintenance after their warranty expires, because they were not able to move the data off in time.
Want to take advantage of the new Solid-State Drives? Most admins don't have time to figure out what applications, workloads or indexes would best benefit from this new technology? Let your storage hypervisor automated tiering do this for you! In fact, a storage hypervisor can gather enough performance and usage statistics to determine the characteristics of your workload in advance, so that you can predict whether solid-state drives are right for you, and how much benefit you would get from them.
Want more time spent on strategic projects? A storage hypervisor allows any server to connect to any storage. This eliminates the time wasted to determine when and how, and let's you focus on the what and why of your more strategic transformational projects.
If this sounds all too familiar, it is similar to the benefits that one gets from a server hypervisor -- better utilization of CPU resources, optimizing the management and administration time, with the agility and flexibility to deploy new technologies in and decommission older ones out.
"Server virtualization is a fairly easy concept to understand: Add a layer of software that allows processing capability to work across multiple operating environments. It drives both efficiency and performance because it puts to good use resources that would otherwise sit idle.
Storage virtualization is a different animal. It doesn't free up capacity that you didn't know you had. Rather, it allows existing storage resources to be combined and reconfigured to more closely match shifting data requirements. It's a subtle distinction, but one that makes a lot of difference between what many enterprises expect to gain from the technology and what it actually delivers."
Jon Toigo on his DrunkenData blog brings back the sanity with his post [Once More Into the Fray]. Here is an excerpt:
"What enables me to turn off certain value-add functionality is that it is smarter and more efficient to do these functions at a storage hypervisor layer, where services can be deployed and made available to all disk, not to just one stand bearing a vendor’s three letter acronym on its bezel. Doesn’t that make sense?
I think of an abstraction layer. We abstract away software components from commodity hardware components so that we can be more flexible in the delivery of services provided by software rather than isolating their functionality on specific hardware boxes. The latter creates islands of functionality, increasing the number of widgets that must be managed and requiring the constant inflation of the labor force required to manage an ever expanding kit. This is true for servers, for networks and for storage.
Can we please get past the BS discussion of what qualifies as a hypervisor in some guy’s opinion and instead focus on how we are going to deal with the reality of cutting budgets by 20% while increasing service levels by 10%. That, my friends, is the real challenge of our times."
Did you miss out on last Friday's Live Chat? We are doing it again this Friday, covering parts I and II of Ron's posts, so please join the conversation! The virtual dialogue on this topic will continue in another [Live Chat] on September 30, 2011 from 12 noon to 1pm Eastern Time.
With all the excitement of the [IBM Challenge], where the [IBM Watson computer] will compete against humans on [Jeopardy!], I thought it would be good to provide the following homework exercise to help you appreciate how challenging the game is and the strategies required.
Overview of the game of Jeopardy!
If you are familiar with the show, you can safely skip this section.
Known as "America's Favorite Quiz Show", the Jeopardy pits three contestants against each other. The board is divided into six columns and five rows of answers. Each column indicates the category for that column of answers. The rows are ranked from easiest to most difficult, with more difficult answers being worth more money to wager.
The contestants take turns. The returning champion gets to select a spot on the board, by indicating the category (column) and wager (row), such as "I will take Animals for 800 dollars!" Contestants must then press a button to "buzz in", be recognized by the host, and respond correctly. If the contestant responds incorrectly, the other two contestants have the opportunity to respond. The contestant with the correct response gets to chose the next answer.
For each turn, the host, Alex Trebek, shows the answer on the board, and spends three seconds reading it aloud to give everyone a chance to come up with a corresponding question. This is perhaps what Jeopardy is most famous for. In a traditional "Quiz Show", the host asks questions, and the contestants answer that question. On Jeopardy, however, the host poses "answers", and the contestants provide their response in the form of a "questions" that best fit the category and answer clues. For example, if the categories were "Large Corporations" and the answer was "Sam Palmisano", the contestant would answer "Who is the CEO of IBM Corporation?" Both the categories, and the answers are filled with puns, slang and humor to make it more challenging. Often, the answer itself is not sufficient clue, you have to factor in the category as well to have a complete set of information.
The game is played in three rounds:
In the first round, there are six categories, and the rows are worth $200, $400, $600, $800 and $1000 dollars. If you respond correctly on all five answers in a category column, you would win $3000. If you respond to all thirty answers correctly, you would earn $18,000.
In the second round, there are six different categories, and the rows are worth twice as much.
The final round has a single category and a single question. Each player can decide to wager up to the full amount of their score in this game. This wager is done after they see the category, but before they see the answer.
After the host finishes reading the answer aloud, the buzzers are lighted so that the contestants can buzz in. If a contestant gets the question correctly, he earns the corresponding money for the row it was in. If the contestant guesses incorrectly, the money is subtracted from his score. If the first contestant fails, the buzzers are re-lit so the other two contestants can then buzz in with their answers, learning from previous failed attempts.
To provide added challenge, some of the answers are surprise "Daily Double". Instead of the dollar amount for the row, the contestant can wager any amount, up to their total score they have won so far in that game, or the largest dollar amount for that round, whichever is higher, based on his confidence in that category. There is one "Daily Double" surprise in the first round, and two in the second round.
In the final round, each contestant wagers an amount up to their total score, based on their confidence on the final category. A common strategy for the leading contestant with the highest score is to wager a low amount, so that if he fails to guess the response correctly, he will still have a large dollar amount. For example, if the leader has $2000 and the second place is $900, the leader can wager only $100 dollars, and the second place might wager his full $900. If the leader loses the round, he still has $1900, beating the second place regardless of how well he does.
Whomever has the most money at the end of all three rounds wins that amount of cash, and gets to return to the show for another game the next day to continue his winning streak. The other two contestants are given consolation prizes and a nominal appearance fee for being on the show, and are never seen from again.
The show is only 30 minutes long, so the folks at Sony Pictures who produce the show can film a full weeks' worth of television shows in just two days of real-life, Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing the host Alex Trebek and his "Clue Crew" time to research new categories and answers.
So, here is your homework assignment. Record a full episode of Jeopardy on your VCR or Digital Video Recorder (DVR) and have your thumb ready to press the pause button. For each round, listen to each category, pause, and try to guess what all the answers in that column will have in common. For each category, write down a statement like "All the responses in this category are ...".
The answers could be people, places or things. Suppose the category "Chicks Dig Me". In English, "chicks" can be slang for women, or refer to young chickens. The term "dig" can be slang for admires or adores, so this could be "Male Celebrities" that women find attractive, it could be objects of desire that women fancy (diamonds, puppies, etc.), or it could be places that women like to go to. As it turns out, the "dig" referred to archaeology, and the responses were all famous female archaeologists.
Once you have those all your statements written down, press play button again.
Next, as each answer is shown, you have three seconds to hit the pause again, so that you have the question on the screen, but before any contestants have responded. Go on your favorite search engine like Google or Bing and try to determine the correct response based on the category and answer. Consider these [tips for being an Internet Search ninja]. Once you think you have figured out your response, write it down, and the dollar amount you wager, or decide you will not respond for that answer, if you are not sure about your findings.
Even if you think you already know the correct response, you may decide to gain more confidence of your response by finding confirming or supporting evidence on the Internet.
Press play. Either one of the contestants will get it right, or the host will provide the question that was expected as the correct response.
How well did you do? Were you able to find on the the correct response online, or at least confirm that what you knew was correct. If you got it correct, add in your dollar amount to your score. If you got it wrong, subtract the amount.
At the end of each round, look back at your statements for each category. Did you guess correctly the common theme for each category column of answers? Did you misinterpret the slang, pun or humor intended?
At the end of the game, you might have done better than the contestant that won the game. However, check how much added time you took to do those Internet searches. The average winner only questions half of the answers and only gets 80 percent of them correctly.
If you are really brave, take the [Jeopardy Online Test]. If you do this homework assignment, feel free to post your insights in the comments below.