Monthly Archives: April, 2006

Planes, trains and automobiles

Some interestings stats and other thoughts from Martin Geddes.

Here comes the sun…

Springtime light may lift the spirits, but in Rattenberg, residents have a long memory for shadows. From late fall to midwinter, this tiny Austrian town, famous for its glassblowing, gets no sun at all. And it has been that way for centuries…

But it may be about to change, according to this Scientific American article.

Virtualisation continued

Just to prove it works, here’s a screenshot of Ubuntu running in a VM window on my Intel Mac:

Parallels Workstation

This is using Parallels Workstation, which is still definitely beta, but shows lots of promise. I hope they make their money quickly, though, because it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple included this functionality in the next release of their OS.

There are a benefits of this over BootCamp besides not having to reboot. One is that the disk image is just a file, and you can clone it and move it around – so you can run your virtual machine from an external hard drive, for example. Also, it can be substantially smaller – you have to set aside 10G or so for BootCamp, while my 4GB ‘disk’ for the virtual Ubuntu installation is actually less than 3GB on the disk – presumably because the disk isn’t full and it does clever things with compressing sparse images.

I did a slightly more interesting experiment with this, too – see the Ndiyo blog for more info.


This is going to be the hot topic of 2006. Virtualisation (he writes, doggedly employing a British spelling which won’t do him any good on Google) is a technology that creates a complete ‘virtual’ computer as an application on your existing computer. Within that virtual machine you can run a complete operating system and applications, which may or may not be the same as the one you’re running on the machine itself.

It’s been around for a very long time, but things are moving very fast at present. VMware, the leaders in this space, have started making more and more of their (excellent) products freely available. Microsoft’s Virtual Server is also now free. Much of this is probably driven by the high regard in which Xen is held, an Open Source virtualisation technology created by a research group at the Cambridge University Computer Lab (a group I used to be part of, a very long time ago…)

There’s no shortage of rumours that Apple are also getting into this space – in fact, I think it may have been a key part of the move to Intel processors. And hot on the heels of the various announcements about official and unofficial ways to dual-boot Macs into Windows comes the announcement of Parallels Workstation, a Mac virtual machine product that lets you do the same without rebooting…

I’ll have to try this, partly because I think it would just be too wacky to run Wordperfect 5.1 for DOS on my Mac… I’m actually more interested in running virtual Ubuntu Linux machines than I am Windows ones, having just been around the world carrying two laptops so I had a Linux box on which to demo Ndiyo systems.

Boot Camp

Wow! This is really interesting! Especially since I’ve just got a new Intel-based MacBook.

My trouble is that I don’t have enough disk space even for everything I want on Mac OS, let alone for another OS as well. It’s the single biggest problem with having a laptop, I find…

New Ndiyo blog

I’ve started a new blog for more informal news about what’s going on at Ndiyo.

Please take a look at it and subscribe to the RSS feed if you’d like to keep in touch!

Status-Q will, of course, continue as normal…

Buzzword Bingo

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading Evelyn Waugh, Robert Scoble, John Buchan and Ian McEwan – quite a combination. My poor friend Robert Feakes, on the other hand, has been reading Information Age.

He sent me this example from the March issue in an email entitled ‘Absolute bloody gibberish’:

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) has become a key strategy for today’s CIO, as all industry watchers proclaim the benefits of turning legacy systems and middleware into agile applications, closely aligned to end-to-end business processes.

It is on the back of the burgeoning interest in SOA that application server maker BEA Systems has sought to strengthen its hand through the acquisition of US-based business process management company, Fuego.

Fuego, is a comprehensive, advanced software platform for business process management (BPM) and one of the last stand-alone players in the market for co-ordinating webservices with processes. “As in the case of its previous acquisition of Plumtree software, BEA is buying a leading vendor in its class”, says Janelle Hill, vice president, Gartner research.

Robert’s comment:

This is the sort of nonsense I have to deal with in the IT ‘industry’. Lazy, ill-written, meaningless buzzwords aplenty adding-up to nothing (what is a ‘comprehensive, advanced software platform’?), cause and effect reversed and not really adding to the sum of knowledge. I find myself getting more and more annoyed by writing like this, particularly in IT publications, they smack of press releases and, again, plain laziness.

Hear, hear.

Yet Another Way Paul Allen Isn’t Like You or Me

Robert Cringely on Paul Allen. It’s easy for people to find fault with some of Allen’s escapades, but this article raised him somewhat in my estimation.

Customer Disservice


I’m generally quite a satisfied customer of my broadband service provider, NTL, not because they have gone out of the way to provide good service or anything, but because the service they do provide generally just works. I really do get 10Mb/s download speeds and there is very little downtime – partly a result, I think, of my getting a cable modem shortly before most of the UK signed up for ADSL in an area where there’s not too much cable TV consumption – the system probably isn’t too heavily loaded. They don’t interfere with my traffic too much, either.

The latest envelope to come through my door from them, however, is a bit annoying. In cheery terms it tells you about the new phone numbers for Customer Service and for Broadband technical support. In smaller text at the bottom it mentions that these are premium rate numbers. Not hugely expensive ones, I’ll admit, but the only thing that has made the current customer service bearable has been the fact that it was a toll-free number, so you could just put the speakerphone on and do other things for 15 minutes while they told you they were “experiencing an unusually high volume of calls at present” – it’s always unusual.

Now, I’m sorry, NTL, but when I’m paying you a few hundred pounds a year already, I don’t expect to be billed for the privilege of sitting in a queue trying to tell you when your service isn’t working. This is probably a misguided attempt to be able to quote better customer support statistics to senior management, but it isn’t the way to win friends and influence people.

When will businesses learn that having a queue of any size is an indication of inefficiency in your system? That it’s perhaps the most simple way to annoy your customers? That they are actively thinking bad things about you while looking at your logo or listening to messages about your other exciting services?

This is something the airlines in particular need to understand. It’s not acceptable to require your customers to turn up three hours ahead of their flight on the pretext of security, simply so that they can stand in a queue for the first hour. You need to employ more staff, or you need to make arrangements with the other airlines that you’ll check in each other’s customers. Trust me, it’ll pay you back! Next time you’re in an airport, imagine how customers would flock to the first company that advertised itself as the No-Queueing Airline…

Interesting facts about domain names

A nice article about the problems of finding domain names by Dennis Forbes.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for the link.

A gallon of gas or a gallon of petrol?

I was listening to the radio a few days ago and heard an American complaining that, for all the advances in technology, the cars coming out of the factories still do 28 miles per gallon and that doesn’t seem to be changing very fast. The British presenter pointed out, with an air of smug superiority, that this was an American problem and that cars over here do 40 mpg.

Now, it is true that European cars are smaller and generally more economical than the substantial beasts that come out of Detroit, but the difference isn’t as great as you might think from a quick glance at the numbers, for a simple reason: US gallons are smaller than British gallons. It’s surprising how many people don’t know this. Both gallons have eight pints, but a US pint is 16 fl.oz and a British one is 20 fl.oz (for some strange reason, probably to do with beer consumption). A UK gallon is therefore 25% bigger.

So, my fellow countrymen, when you read a US-based web page advertising a car that does 40mpg, remember that yours will have to do noticeably more than 50mpg before you are entitled to feel smug!

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser