No Prior Art: A Dedication

Symour R. Cray
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Featured Image from http://www.cray.com/company/history/seymour-cray


Over a year ago, I decided to start blogging about anything and everything related to my career, computers, science, and so forth. I truly had no idea with how best to describe these pages I would arbitrarily type out into “one word”.

At the time I was heavily involved with XenServer, which is still a passion of mine, but even that wasn’t a singular subject.

I wanted to explain my mindset, my exposure to art, music, literature, computers, and so many fields I had the privilege growing up to dabble in. So, I thought about Seymour Cray: my personal computer idol who is synonymous with Super Computing, but always seemed to me as a man of a diverse background who used those experiences to achieve many things.

“No Prior Art: A Dedication” was originally written as a draft on 31-JUL-2015. Its intention was to, well, be some sort of point for you – the reader – to learn a bit about my computing hero as well as offering a means to tie in personal experiences related to the computer industry. I suppose it was a complex idea as I am nothing like Seymour Cray, but the likes of Titans such as him have paved the way for us involved in the widening spectrum called “computing”.

I didn’t finish the draft for lack of time and fear it would be overlooked, but without Seymour Cray, well, I can say my father, brother, and myself wouldn’t be here. No, instead we would be probably be broke comedians pan-handling for our next meal.

So, over a year later I present this entry with a title dedicated to one of the many patents Cray held as, in reading the verbiage, the patent stated “No Prior Art”. I found that text to be quite apropos to enforce who Seymour Cray was, is, and left us. Indeed, no prior art nor subsequent art, for sure.


So I have a blog…

I have broken my own promise and the proof is right here. A blog. About blogging. About technology. About technology that begat technology and so forth.

I made such a promise during my on-and-off college days as I was kicked out of class as a “blog” was discussed as being a “technology”. I mean that literally: Blog = Technology. With years of experience as a musician, artist, writer, and life-long computer geek, I stared in awe at the classroom that soaked this up. There was no judgement of the students on my part as the took copious notes, but I was shocked after three-quarters of the class passed by and there was no mention to the actual technology that allowed for mouth pieces to talk about their political leanings on-line.

When I asked how we could learn this as truth without the underlying technology required to facilitate “a blog” (a web server, CGI components, databases, code, etc), a mild argument broke out as I found such concepts were “outside the course’s scope”. Being asked to leave for the day on my insistence that a blog was not a technology, but a made up word to describe an amalgamation of literal technology, I gladly left with a grand sense of accomplishment. I was correct, though I didn’t want to be, but the professor knew it and four of my colleagues would later call me for all of us to have a weekend session of actually exploring what a blog was, what would be required to setup one, and so forth.

I was no superhero. I am not a superhero. I am someone who believes in being taught a subject, but also that which allowed for such work to exist: credit to the shoulders of giants we stand upon.

This is what the purpose of my blog is, albeit it has a lean towards open source XenServer and virtualization, but I hope this translates to my readers. My desire is that what I content I can find to write helps others, promotes discussions, and not just necessarily “things” specific to virtualization, etc. After all, when I am long gone, maybe I can leave some indexed content in a futuristic world. That may sound morbid, but married to a genius wife and having two exceptionally intelligent kids, it is the least I owe them during this lifetime I have been given.


Looking up to Cray…

Real heroes and legends didn’t need a blog (nor would they need a blog). Their life’s work is known or unknown, but never-the-less permeates throughout the fabric of our planet.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Sir Isaac Newton. Salvador Dali. John Oppenheimer. Houdini. Jonas Salk. Albert Einstein. Jane Goodall.

A list of names such as these and their contributions can seem to go on forever as I look around my library. That’s the problem. I shouldn’t be looking at these individuals as a list-style compilation. Really, to imply such individuals listed above, their contemporaries, and so many more are an just an infinite who walked among us is to make the no more than mere mortals.

That is the opposite of my intentions here, for surely the scrolls of history should have a specific compendium for these individuals for us to always think back on and pay homage to. Their very existence before, during, or after our lives defined history and their spirit? They are still alive and live on as Immortals, such as one of my heroes who’s intelligent face is sprawled across the top of this article: Seymour Cray.


Man, Myth, and Legends…

If the name sounds familiar, let’s see if I can’t jog memories with some actual Seymour Cray references. Some are well known, some are not, and some may still be myth for all I know!

  • The Cray Computer
  • He and Douglas Englebart (spelling) helped to design the first “desktop” computer (1975’s Altair)
  • His super computers held speed records over larger companies, such as IBM
  • “NASA has all the Cray’s,” or at least all us kids thought so. NASA did utilize Cray machines: check out the NASA STI Program video here
  • Tom Watson (IBM) was out engineered by a team of 30 (thus we have to reference The Mythical Man-Month)

I could carry on as even being a small kid with a father who entered electronics pre-desktop, pro-mainframe, and so forth, rumors of the Cray Super Computer were the stuff of legends to us! I even had a classmate in third grade who claimed his dad had a Cray Computer to which other kids said “No Way! NASA has them all!” to which made me want to finish my homework early, work on my mostly-soldered Apple ][+ and change the world.

After all, it has been reported than when Seymour Cray was told Steve Jobs purchased a Cray computer to design the Apple, he replied:

“Funny. I am using the Apple to simulate a Cray-3.” -Seymour Cray, Source Unknown

I love his sense of humor as it is one that has been lost as invention led to industry and industry led to harsh competition, closed knowledge loops, and a pay-to-play mentality.

Surprisingly, I’ve never read a biography on Seymour Cray. The primary reason for this is that, well, thanks to my father, his friends, and others with much more time in the computer industry, I’ve been told so much about Seymour Cray that I don’t feel the need to over analyze him. That seems to be something that, outside of engineering, Seymour Cray himself wouldn’t do.

The second reason is that which is myth, such as the famous definition of what the acronym in RISC processing really means:

Really Invented by Seymour Cray

Of course RISC means Reduced Instruction Set, but we are talking about a man who would build the Super Computer, deliver it, and even build or customize the the hardware/OS per user needs. Imagine that. Seriously, it is a divine picture of a man who could really build something so massive and wield it like he was a god.

Beyond work with processing, semi-conductors, and large compute systems, it seems Seymour Cray had a humility about him and was always full of great quotes that to this day, I’ve heard so many project managers use without attribution to Seymour Cray. Having an electrical engineering degree, two masters degrees in mathematics: he was made to be in the right place at the right time in the annals of history.

He wasn’t a fan of symmetrical processing as I understood it. The quotes passed on to me were “why go symmetrical without high serial speeds” and that “parity is for farmers” — these made me laugh, but made complete sense. Sure, we have symmetrical processing, but during the early days – from my own experience – he was right. Dirty copper, faulty designs, and details such as distance causing inconsistent performance.

There is little footage of such an influence over our industry, but thanks to Computer History, I have found two wonderful videos that offer us a view into Seymour Cray, who he was, and how it must have been wonderful to work for him.

“What’s All This About Gallium Arsenide?” – A lecture by Seymour Cray

Cray-1 Supercomputer: 30th Anniversary


A story closer to me…

Finally, as an IBMer, I heard the stories that never changed and can be backed up by many of Cray’s clever quotes and by proxy, the book I previously mentioned (albeit published in 1975 and related to the IBM/360) entitled “The Mythical Man-Month” by Frederick P. Brooks. Copies of that book were almost mandatory reading as one adopted to the IBM culture as the famous I recall goes something like this:

Thomas Watson, the then-CEO of IBM, was completely flabbergasted how Seymour Cray and Control Data Corporation (click here for a bit more on CDC) were ableto out engineer and produce 6600, the World’s fastest computer (by FAR) during the 1960s. According to Seymour Cray, CDC had a project group of 30 (including the janitor, per Cray) and in sharing letters, etc, it was determined IBM had allocated 10 times the man power CDC did and they still failed to achieve their goals.

That always fascinated me. He wasn’t just a technical genius, but a planning genius. I did look into this when I was younger and as I recall (when asked about how many people were involved on the CDC’s 6600 project), Cray replied:

“I think thirty. Including the janitor.” -Seymour Cray, Source Unknown

The following picture is a dual installation of the CDC 6600 supercomputer:

cdc6600


In summary…

I chose the title “No Prior Art” from one of Seymour Cray’s many patents, specifically on Parallel Magnetic Circuitry. In reading the patent, there was a declaration specifying “No Prior Art”, which is so perfect to describe Seymour Cray. He is more than just a super computer guy: he helped shape an industry, changed the way computing via circuit could be tackled, and broke barriers.

Indeed, Seymour Cray. There was no prior art and there hasn’t been any since as you, sir, are a true original.

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

Bad Words: “Windows Registry”

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Featured Image from http://www.nikalsystems.co.uk/cleaning-up-and-optimising-a-microsoft-windows-xp-computer/


UPDATE: 20-JAN-2017

While composing a rough draft of thoughts, it appears I accidentally published this to the web.  I know, I know.  “I’ve lost the element of surprise.  I was careless.  The Earth did not end” – and so forth.  I suppose now all there is to do is state my case about the Windows Registry in this manner:

ben-stein-530x298

Sorry, Ben.  It just seems fitting.


“Thems fightin’ words…”

Even among diehard Windows fans, it is amazing to hear an entire office become an arid, dry, soundless wasteland as soon as someone mentions a anything related to “Windows Registry”.

No joke there.

In fact, just listen in the next time someone drops those two words out loud.  Sit back and watch everyone put their coffee down, disconnect from clients, and slowly turn towards the source of such profanity.  It is just a tension builder due to its intended purposes, misuse, and refusal to shrink that drives admins crazy.


What happened?

For myself, this is the single question that keeps my angst alive.  I tried to run a line count – per root node using reg – but I got tired of waiting.  Between  %USERPROFILE%\NTUSER.DAT and %windir%\System32\config, it “claims” the registry hives are only using 15 megabytes of space.  I am certain between portions in-memory and what is being used by programs that have free access to the registry, it is much larger.

Think back to Windows 3.11 -a mere graphical MS-DOS application in reality – as this is when the Windows Registry was introduced to us.  I can understand why with the addition of user accounts to the shell, but it was good enough in my own opinion.

registrationeditor_2

Don’t just take my word for it – check out the following MSDN blog regarding the registry as we barely were aware of it underneath the Windows 3.11’s box of boxes:

https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/oldnewthing/20120521-00/?p=7573

Now today: oh, it is just another form of temp space for lazy programs; a graveyard of bytes even after programs have been uninstalled.  It is even referred to as a database – which is sort of not fine, but okay – however, if it gets corrupted, you are up the creek.


In Summary…

The Windows Registry as we know it today – along with the page file – quite simply kill performance on both virtual and physical hardware.  The longer a system is used, the larger the registry becomes.  And, per the article from MSDN above, anyone can see it has evolved into a beast within itself.

Do you back it up?  How often?  How can we prune it safely?  Etc, etc.

It is as if it was designed so just so an industry of “malware laden” products could be downloaded for ad-revenue under the guise that “it will clean up your registry and defrag it!”

Wow.  Tell that to autoexec.bat and config.sys.

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

 

Computer Museum Project: 2

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Featured Image from http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/blog/a-gallery-of-vintage-blank-audio-cassette-tapes


Score! (It’s the little things)…

If you recognize the image above – thanks to a great website, grayflannelsuit.net – and you also were one of the readers (besides me) regarding “Ditching Optical Media” and my… blogumentary (I just made that up) regarding work towards my Computer Museum, well boy oh boy: I am quite the happy chappy.

Atlanta traffic was what it usually was as I left the office yesterday.  A big sea of metal infested concrete with nowhere to run.  I thought about it and just headed to my parents house.  I mean, in all seriousness, by the time I made it home I would need to be in full Thundercat Pajamas and ready for bed.  Optional Robotech Pajamas, but last night was definitely a Thundercat night.

I have (well, my Dad and I have) a ZX Spectrum I bought him with a 16K memory extension for his birthday.  Reported seller on some famous auction site reported it to be in working condition.  Yeah, to quote my dad “3/7th of the keys worked and the RF out needs to be fixed”… lovely.  I’m not paying to ship it: I am going to revive it!

And why?  Well, first of all…. it looks like this (along with its accessories being in near mint condition):

zx81

However, not to be second as it is far more important to this story as a friend of my father’s dropped off some high-end audio gear.  Among the lot were some PC speakers he wanted me to have and in my curiosity I pulled out something I had been tracking at modern retail stores, but for near $40.00.  I didn’t realize the implications of what I hath discovered, but my dad sure did.  The expression on his face was absolutely heart warming.  “OH!  AH-HA!  THE ZX!”  And he wasn’t just right about the ZX now having storage, for voila!

gmcassetteokayer

Oh, yes indeed!  Exactly what we need for using tapes off older computers, but also to make digital backups.  Data storage, data preservation, and cassette-driven audio bliss.  It was a moment of angelic harmonies as while it may not be the original Tandy cassette player (see below) — it will most certainly do the job with it’s 6 AA batteries (or 6V DC power requirements):

tandytapedeck


Go ahead and laugh…

Not only am I one free component closer to my glorious museum, I can also use it when I want to (literally) spin my cassettes.  Yeah, cassettes.  USB thumb drives don’t spin and I certainly can’t play my “passed on” tapes from the likes of…

These guys

queentape

… or this guy …

davidbowie


In Conclusion?

Never jump to those.  But seriously, yeah – yuck it up or applaud the preservation as while I condone the abuse of any animal, my dad’s “OH!  AH-HA!” moment (along with a passing of the cassette player to me)… well, I’ve done this:

two-birds-one-stone

“I think you’d better hang on to yourself.” -David Bowie

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

Computer Museum Project: 1

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Featured Image from http://lifevesting.com/blog/2015/02/02/unoccupied/comment-page-1/


Or as my wife and I call it…

The Third Reclamation.  The cover photo for this article is not my home office – unfortunately – as it isn’t posh nor oddly flash, as in those home makeover television shows.  I can say that the picture is in stark contrast to the state of my office, which looks more like my boys had all their mates over and threw a wicked local area network (LAN) party fueled by the finest of American Sodas: Monster Energy Drinks.  And yes, that last bit was sarcasm (sans the mess).

Before taking on new roles and responsibilities away from Citrix, my personal office slowly evolved into a horrendous mess.  I stacked racks with my own equipment, ran all sorts of packet slapping hardware across the room, and even had to fit an air conditioning unit as to not sweat data out of my machines, artwork, and things “open source XenServer”.

It truly was a masterpiece for it not only represented sheer chaos, but it also illuminated that no matter what, all things “digital” is my primary hobby.  I will have to shuffle around for a bit to find photos of it, but it was just above college dorm status and right below the apocalyptic level.

“What does this have to do with this museum you speak of,” I can hear you asking.


I Know My Place…

Well, over the years I had built up a collection of modern hardware.  Everything from audio/visual projects to spare cases I would use to stand up my own network area storage (NAS).  The problem was that out of all my electronics, many machines, consoles, and so forth made it to the trash or recycling bins.  My young boys and wife took priority and I had no time to address the state of each system, so instead of storing them, out they went.  More on that later as eBay has only enraged me over the last two years in reclaiming older systems.

Fast forward to 2015 and I found a mint condition Apple ][gs.  Bought it for literally nothing as in a form of irony, the seller needed to get rid of his own computers to make space for a home expansion project.  My wife was all to kind to remind me that my order of operations in setting up my living, breathing, yes you can touch it, check out this code I wrote in 1992-esque museum was all wrong.

I had been taking donations in without the unused, modern machines going out.  She was quite right and as of late, has even been helping me re-design my office as so I can – through purchase or donation – circle the room with a TRS-80, Mac LCIII, Kaypro, Amstrad (imported or otherwise!), and so on.

While I am happy to say that I am down to two computers for virtualization, I am fighting the hardest bit all of us face: sorting the bits I need to keep as spares as well as finding the actual machines I had recycled over a decade ago.  Try and find the small form factor DEC Alpha online.  Yeah, it isn’t cheap.  Try and talk to someone with a “mint condition ZX Spectrum, but um – I can’t test it” — that’s where I am at now.


So for now…

It may not be a Jay Leno garage, but I’m about 30% close to repainting the walls of the office, properly installing wrap-around desks, but more importantly: book shelves.  Despite being an O’Reilly author along with a good friend, Tim Mackey, I own the first copy of “The Whole Internet: User’s Guide and Catalog” by Ed Krol among many other gems I still find to this day.  Many I have owned in the past and many are unique: capturing a few years of the hottest technology and how to become the master of such wizardry.

I’ll keep updates on my progress and sure, if you have an old system that you want to get rid of…. let me know!  It will be well taken care of and can stare at their great grandfathers: my 1957 and 1945 Remington Rand typewriters I refurbished.

 

–JK Benedict | @xenfomation

Ditching Optical Media

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Featured Image from http://www.rosannadavisonnutrition.com/feeling-bloated-after-christmas/


Thinking Back…

For the last three years I have wanted to start a slogan-based campaign to rival the likes of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”!  It is a simple slogan, but one that did rise out of annoyance and necessity.  So, without a proper logo, I ask you close your eyes and imagine saying:

“Don’t burn it, flash it!”

no-cd

Well?  Yup, I know.  The slogan needs some work.

Still, every machine I’ve built over the last four or five years, I’ve pretty much left out the optical drives.  From XenServer to rebuilding home machines for friends: it is just more practical to buy slot covers than to invest in an optical reader/burner when every laptop or desktop seems to have 10,000 USB ports.

Yet, there are plenty of reasons where a DVD or CD-ROM drive are completely relevant.  I know in my family, us computer geeks keep copies of Norton Ghost on bootable CD-ROM media (and floppy), burn copies of Live CD antivirus for testing, or to make copies of family movies we transferred to DVD before streaming media became all the rave.

The nostalgic, grumpy, “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” side of me has to fall silent as I look at a spare CD-ROM drive from an old Sun Workstation, Gateway PC, or generic machine from “the old school”…

“Go put it in recycling.  You have 10 spares for your older compute systems.”

usbdrives


Modern and Logical

You can make a USB thumb drive bootable from an ISO or disk image, so what is the need for dual-layer DVDs or CD-ROMs, etc?  You can use USB to store your archive of literal crap you will never need.  You can even use a USB hub to connect other USB hubs together: hording “data” while listening to your DRM protected Big Data MP3s off of another USB device…

wowusb

The ironic thing is that a USB bootable thumb drive can help you lock down a system so it never has to use USB again: after setting up an infrastructure I want no one to mess with (even if it dies).  Boot off of the USB drive, install what you need, reboot and remove said USB drive, go back into BIOS, lock down the BIOS to prevent non-hard disk boot, remove the drives or at least the power to USB and optical devices, and so on.

Sure, maybe someone could use a floppy to boot from, but that seems to be not only a foreign concept to many, but it also means your modern system has to have a floppy drive… or you have to have a USB-based floppy drive, but with USB ports physically and BIOS disabled… yeah, nothing is booting off of an external source.

oldfloppy


Thoughts Distant to USB and Optical Media

All of the USB stuff is groovy and if you know me personally, I have at least six or seven thumb drives on me along with a multi-terabyte USB drive.  I have enough data to setup real environments, install my favorite games, hold backups of important data, or tote my music around.  While I can’t use a sharpie to label the small things, I can just unplug one thumb drive for another until I find what I am looking for.

Adding up all of what I seemed to have bragged about (regarding USB storage), I failed to mention I only switched to it due to the massive size of every stinking download I seem to come across.  Games?  I get it.  Operating Systems.  You get on my nerves.

I have to ask (rhetorically to you, but in seriousness to Linux/Win/Alt OS distribution producers):

Why so much space consumption?  Why are all installers so bloated?  Why?  Why?  Why?

It seems as if processors and RAM are pretty much irrelevant because of all of that data (and yes, even empty spaces for data) that has to be handled.  It makes me wonder if processors and RAM are really faster or if developers have to cram so much crap into installers, dependencies, and so forth that… SURE!  Let’s use a 4.99GB install image?!?!

Come on!?  Do you expect home users to install fibre channel cards with toss links to a dedicated storage controller (optional head unit on payment of your first born child)?  That is the stuff of business and it does really bother me at the sheer size of bytes software uses.

But, in the end, I’m not the lead producing these projects, but please Microsoft, Linux-distros, and the like: don’t give us an awesome tech preview and then expect us to be happy about a 12,123,543 GB download.  I don’t have the redundant, raid-level USB drives to store it!

 

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation

My Wife is THE BEST!

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Featured Image from http://www.rflan.org


I had plans, but…

I come home Friday night to hang out with the family.  Sip a beer or two, have some dinner, and bust out a family night of board games, card games, etc, etc, etc.  The week was busy and with soccer (proper football) tryouts coming up this week, my boys were planning on taking it easy and they opted to relax in front of our collection of consoles.

Hey – they both brought home perfect scores, so I’m not going to kick them outside.

Then, I log in to see what Heroes of the Storm – an online, free to play MOBA – had unlocked EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER this weekend for anyone to play.  The game is awesome, but like endless reams of bad reality shows, it isn’t played to boost your brain cells.  It is meant to seriously work as a team, be as fast as possible, level up, and move on.

What is really fun is that the game – which will have endless characters – all are from the Blizzard Universe of games.  Starcraft, Diablo, etc.  The first player I unlocked within Heroes of the Storm was that of the (now infamous, yet younger generation forgotten) Kerrigan: the alien that graced the original StarCraft expansion pack.

kerrigan2


So, my wife sees my excitement…

And she told me to grind out the game all weekend.  Beat the system.  Have fun.  Besides, I’m in competition with my brother, so while I had planned to catch up on topics that seemed to be relevant for this blog…

Instead, I sip a pint to you, wink, and say: my word, I feel my age after binge gaming, but it is satisfying.  My wife and I don’t keep tabs, trust me, but for as much as I have been glued to gaming, she managed to get her own form of rest-n-relaxation this weekend, too!

 

–JK Benedict | @xenfomation

 

Consider Your Goals…

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Featured Image from https://homeschoolcoupe.blogspot.com/2015_10_01_archive.html


I am breaking a rule: blogging while at work, but my oh my, I have to share this!

However, take a minute to think about your own personal goals in life.  Know that the featured image, while pretty, is not as gorgeous as what I was pointed to.  Realize that until success looks, feels, and drives like this… you always need to work on your goals!

Now, go here: https://homeschoolcoupe.blogspot.com/


If you thought you had achieved your goals, it is now time to sit down hit the drawing board (again).

Don’t worry, I’m in the same position, though being a gear head I can only seem to afford all things compute: books, punch cards, computers people toss because “it doesn’t match the decor”, etc.

This project is a labor of love and I know what  I will be reading tonight!  An epic adventure of family fun, engineering, salvage and resurrection of the ’65 racing spirit!  This is one of my favorite coupe body styles, and I am quite proud to say I know those who took this from beat to sweeeeeet!

I have to say, due to the glory, is the following entry: https://homeschoolcoupe.blogspot.com/2015_10_01_archive.html

After reading the above blog, you can check out a bit more drab details regarding the Factory Five Type 65 here.

Well done, HomeSchoolCoupe – WELL DONE!

— JK Benedict | @xenfomation