Archive for May, 2005

Headbanging on Turkish Airlines

30/05/2005

I love having all my songs on my iPod. From time to time I rediscover an album I’d bought a while ago and possibly didn’t like first time around. On random second or third playing it turns out to be just right for the occasion.
Last week, whilst sitting on a plane to Istanbul, I rediscovered Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ and ‘Bark at the Moon’. I’m not a metalhead at all, or at least thought I wasn’t, but what a couple of classics! I found myself headbanging my way over the Bosphorous.
Look at these dreadful lyrics from Bark at the Moon. Pure genius –
They cursed and buried him
Along with shame
And thought his timeless soul had gone
In empty burning hell–unholy one
But now he’s returned to prove them wrong (oh no)
Howling in shadows
Living in a lunar spell
He finds his heaven
Spewing from the mouth of hell
‘Over the Mountain’ also has a couple of great lines –
Over and under in between the ups and downs
My mind’s carpet magic ride goes round and round.
Over the mountain kissing silver inlaid clouds
Watching my body disappear into the crowd.
Don’t need no astrology it’s inside of you and me
You don’t need a ticket to fly with me – I’m free.
This is truly atrocious poetry, but the whole package comes together to make a couple of great albums. I’d love to see him live, but I doubt they’ll be letting Ozzy into Dubai. He might bite the head off a camel.

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Three quick book reviews

29/05/2005

One of the advantages of travelling a lot is that you do get to read some good books, often in one sitting. Reading a whole book in one go can be something most people don’t usually get around to doing – book are usually crawled through in 15 minute stretches before bed.
On this last trip I ploughed through three titles, White Gold, The White Room and A Short History of Islam.
White Gold is superb. It tells the story of Thomas Pellow, a young Cornish boy kidnapped by Arab pirates in the 1700s, who ended up working directly for the despotic sultan Ismail Moulay, the cruel, depraved, probably insane ruler of Morocco at the time. Pellow managed to return to England eventually after 23 years of captivity, having undergone all sorts of trials and survived, apparently miraculously. The author, Giles Milton, bases his story on Pellow’s own account, weaving in the background as appropriate, referring to other historical sources and generally painting a very vivid picture of the period. Highly recommended.
The White Room is dismal. Billed as a James Ellroy for Britain’s North, Waites’ book reads more like a morbid sixth former’s effort at creative writing, expanded into a dull book, populated by cardboard characters acting out their lives in post-war Newcastle in a frankly unbelievable fashion. Writing. In. Short. Sentences. Does. Not. A. James. Ellroy. Make.
The White Room is one to avoid.
A Short History of Islam is superb. Having lived in the Middle East for nearly three years, this isn’t the first book I’ve read on Islam and the region, but it is definitely the most accessible. Quite fascinating stuff, written in a very easy style. Now that I’ve read it, I could really do with a ‘short history of Christianity’, written in a similar style.

Good game to play while travelling? Recommendations needed!

29/05/2005

I need a good computer game to play when I’m travelling.
In the evenings, when I’ve read my book and done all the work I can, the only alternative is to go watch atrocious Euro Pap TV or sit in the bar and eat crisps. I need a game to play that’s entertaining and keeps me out of mischief.
I used to love playing StarCraft years ago, but gave up as I ended up going to bed at 4am thinking of my next strategy. Perhaps I should resurrect the game, providing it runs on XP?
I like StarCraft type strategy games and am useless at puzzle type games. I have a Toshiba S1 with 512MB and a decent mobile 3D graphics card, so what do people recommend?

‘You need housetraining!’

29/05/2005

This is what my wife told me when I arrived back from my last trip. I’d been away from Sunday and arrived back at around 1.30 on the following Saturday morning.
After a few days in a hotel room having people clear up after me I apparently revert back to bachelor state and intensive efforts are required to retrain me. Here’s a list of the awful things I do when back home.

  • Wear shoes in the bathroom
  • Make the bed all wrong
  • Leave washing up lying around
  • Drop chocolate crumbs on the floor
  • Leave empty water bottles by the bed
  • Leave my case packed, stuffed in a corner of the bedroom for far too long
  • Generally behave in an incompetent male fashion

What disgraceful behavour.

Windows Terminals – one customer’s trials

28/05/2005

Partners or customers who have no practical experience of Windows Terminals but who are familiar with their technical details often find it hard to understand the merits of the Sun Ray approach. This can be frustrating – IT people sense that PCs are not always the right choice for their customers or users and are familiar with the thin client concept, but when they look at the initial capital cost of a Sun Ray solution compared to a WinTerm solution they often claim the slightly higher outlay for the Sun Ray solution isn’t worth it.
We have plenty of financial data and practical examples of why Sun Ray is absolutely worth it, but repeating this mantra day after day to people who only understand the PC model and have never had any practical experience of the alternatives can get to be very frustrating. Last week, however, my spirits recieved a real boost when I got to talk to a customer who’s worked with Windows Terminals for 5 years and was able to explain first hand to me the problems they had faced, vindicating Sun’s business and technical message entirely. I know all the arguments against WinTerms and have successfully persuaded customers in the past, but it was great to hear these facts first hand, direct from the horse’s mouth!
A thin client solution for Windows meets one very clear business need: delivering Windows applications to users as securely and cost-effectively as possible. There are two components we have to address to meet this business need fully:

  • Centralisation of Windows applications onto central servers
  • Deployment of a desktop device which allows users to interact with those centrally hosted applications

The first point is addressed with software from the likes of Citrix, Tarantella, Windows Terminal Services, etc, etc. The merits of these applications are outside of the scope of this discussion.
Most customers or partners I talk to are faced with two choices when it comes to the second point – offer your customers a Sun Ray solution or a WinTerm solution. I regularly find myself talking to partners who often already sell WinTerms, or customers who are using PCs and are considering the alternatives.
Let’s assume a customer has chosen how they are going to address the first point. They’ve done the necessary work, it’s gone well, Windows apps are centralised, tested and working. The next stage is to look at what device to stick on their users’ desktops to access those centralised apps.
The WinTerm argument is a seductive one. Take away everything unnecessary out of a PC and provide some software to administer large numbers of devices in a simple way. Run an embedded OS on the ‘cut down PC’. The embedded OS runs the client I need to connect to my Windows app servers and display the apps on a user’s screen. The result is a device that is apparently very ‘cheap’ to buy. It has none of the flexibility of a PC, but it is simple.
The Sun Ray approach takes a different view:
Any OS present on the desktop device costs money to manage, upgrade and administer, so we don’t have one. The Sun Ray device on the desk is like a telephone. Sure, it can do multimedia, and drive monitors with high resolutions, but it’s pretty dumb. Unlike an X-Terminal or WinTerm, there’s no OS that needs to be managed. Firmware is minute and never needs an admin to waste time with patches, device driver issues, manual deploymebt or debugging. We have some other cool stuff, such as smartcards. Once a user has inserted a smartcard and started a session on the Sun Ray controller managing the network of Sun Ray devices, he or she can move to any other Sun Ray, insert the card and have the session appear on whichever device is now being used.
The devices are managed by a server or ‘Sun Ray controller’ that acts much like a PBX, controlling devices on the users’ desktop, running the client app that deals with connecting to Citrix or Teriminal Services and making sure the results are directed to the screen of the user running those apps. Once it’s installed it sits there reliably, doing its job, like any decent Solaris or Linux box would do. We don’t have to spend time and money looking after it. The Sun Ray controllers are low cost Sparc or Opteron boxes, immune to Windows security issues. It’s boring, but they just work.
The main advantages of this approach are that I never have to administer the devices on my desktop any more. I’ve got the full colour screen, mouse and other nice things the PC era ushered in, but I have the management costs of a dumb terminal talking to a mainframe.
So what’s the problem then? Partners usually see one device for the WinTerm solution and see a Sun Ray and a Sun Ray controller for the other. They conclude that the tiny extra cost is not worth it and decide to recommend WinTerms to their customers. Our arguments are that you need to manage a WinTerm, you have hardware to upgrade, units are regularly end-of-lifed, management software is required and so on. We explain how the first year of a Sun Ray deployment costs much the same as a WinTerm, but whilst Sun Ray TCO drops significantly in the second year, WinTerm costs remain high.
In short, we say that a WinTerm doesn’t meet the second requirement that is needed to meet the business need fully.
But are these arguments valid? Let’s look at the experience of the customer I met with last week. Whilst you read this, remember the customer’s motivation for choosing thin clients in the first place – the reason for buying WinTerms was for users to have a low cost device that cost little to manage…
Customer A put a call centre in place about 5 years ago. Judging correctly that a thin client model offered better Total Cost of Ownership than a PC network, they centralised their client apps onto a Windows Terminal Services farm and chose WinTerms from Vendor W for the desktop. They had issues with these devices not performing as well as possible – the cpu, memory and video requirements were not up to the job. They replaced these units with units from Vendor X. Vendor X was then bought by Vendor Y, who discontinued support for the units Customer A had. Customer A needed to expand the number of users which meant they had to buy different units from their new vendor, along with a different set of management software to manage them. They continued to use the old units with their old third party management tool.
At this stage we’re a short time into the 5 year period we are describing and the ‘simple to manage’ WinTerm solution has now gone through three types of hardware. Tne first lot has been ditched, two versions remain on users’ desks, requiring two different sets of tools to manage them. And manage them they have to. As the call centre grows new units are deployed – they need patching and local configuration before they are up and running.
Now they are hit with another issue. As the call centre grows, or units have internal failures of fan, cpu, etc, they need to be replaced. This is not possible, however! Vendor Y has end-of-lifed previous models, so only the latest models can be bought. These are different in terms of configuration requirements and device driver management. What we now have is multiple models from two vendors requiring multiple different tasks to deploy and manage them and multiple different warranties and support contracts to manage. If all the apps are centralised and the devices are not meant to perform anything more than simply running a Terminal Services client why do new models even need to be released to the market?
Security and patching the embedded Windows CE OS is not difficult and happens once or twice every two years, but it still needs to be done. If a device fails, it takes ‘an engineer’ to go to the desk and replace it, schedule an OS upgrade, add new memory if required, along with other tasks. Whilst these tasks are not complicated to carry out, they take up admins’ time.
A row of desks in the call centre has touch screens put in. They now need to manage a different set of device drivers for each desktop device, due to the mix of devices they have. Another row wants a certain device added, but those units don’t support the drivers for those devices, so new units have to be bought.
Midway through this period, the graphics performance of earlier units is deemed not be to be good enough any more, so those units are replaced after three years, mirroring the three year hardware upgrade path many customers go through with PCs – additional costs in terms of HW purchasing, new licences for the management software, etc, etc. The same issues that are affecting a PC network are now affecting the thin client network, but with the extra cost of the centralised app servers and none of the flexibility of a standard PC.
Now comes the final issue. For various valid reasons, the customer decides to move from using Windows Terminal Services to using Citrix on their application servers.
The version of the Citrix client they need is only supported on embedded Windows XP. Their thin clients run Windows CE. Their thin clients, many of which are under three years old, cannot have their OS upgraded and even if they could, the hardware spec they have isn’t enough to run embedded XP.
The functionality they require from Citrix is key to meeting a certain business requirement, so they either have to ditch several hundred ‘low cost’ thin clients and start the entire cycle again, or stick with what they have, watching as support for their software and hardware slowly ceases.
So much for a ‘low cost’ device.
Let’s compare this to what they would have experienced had they deployed a Sun Ray based desktop infrastructure.

  • Same people that deploy the furniture can plugin the Sun Rays, no local work required.
  • No patching, device driver or any other maintenance required on desktop devices.
  • Controllers run reliably.
  • New versions of Terminal Services client are easily and instantly deployed to controllers.
  • Firmware upgrades, if required at all, are transparently deployed to desktop devices, with no need for sys admins’ involvement.
  • 5 years in, the only difference to the desktop units ordered for new employees is better resolution. No fussing with end-of-lifed units, managing multiple sets of desktop devices, warranties and so on.
  • Customer decides to use Citrix – desktop devices remain the same, Citrix client deployed on controllers, users use Citrix.

I think this real customer story explains well why WinTerms are a definitely not the ‘cheap and easy solution’ they first appear to be. We’ll be conducting a desktop evaluation for them to see if Sun Ray fits their needs. I think it will, very cost-effectively.

Speed limits being changed in the UAE

22/05/2005

I was disappointed to read in the paper this morning that the road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi will have its speed limit raised from 120Kmh (70mph) to 160 (100mph).
Apparently this is in response to people complaining that the numerous radars currently placed on that stretch of road are annoying and that since the road is so new and wide, a faster speed limit is a good idea.
I think this is a shame. Currently the Emirates is looking to improve its road safety and the reason the radars are on the road is to stop people speeding, as speeding is proven to be the lead cause of accidents in the UAE, as reported in the local news. The recent news on campaigns to improve traffic safety is very welcome and I think this speed limit change will be counter-productive.
The road may well be modern and wide, but having regularly experienced how dangerous it is having people speed down it, raising the speed limit will surely just cause more deaths.
Many people in the UAE have large, powerful cars that can easily do 220KMh or over. To illustrate this, on Friday I counted two new Bentley Coupes, 25 Range Rovers, 7 Hummers and numerous Porsches – and we only drove to a restaurant for lunch and then to a cinema after. There are also numerous cars that pootle along at 100. My favourite is the grandly named ‘Nissan Cedric’. One of the worst problems on this particular road is speeding drivers whose vision is blocked by a small stretch of road that’s higher than the stretch in front. Coming over a small rise, they find themselves suddently encountering someone doing the speed limit who was previously out of view and is probably sitting in the wrong lane, or overtaking someone who is driving in the wrong lane. I’ve been in the latter situation a couple of times and it’s scary.
Increasing the limit will also lead to more vehicles driving at vastly different speeds, which will also make things worse. My Wrangler’s about as aerodynamic as a brick, so 140KMh is the maximum speed it’s comfortable to drive at when on my way to Abu Dhabi. Having Land Cruisers and Patrols appearing out of nowhere, flashing their lights at me whilst doing over 160 is not a nice experience and I can see it starting to happen more often.
I do sympathise with people who want to go fast down this road. It’s straight, wide and new, with little scenery. Letting rip in your new Ferrari, Porsche or Lambo must be a real pleasure. That said, I sincerely hope the trial period mentioned, along with an apparent review by a Swedish road safety body, end with the limit returning to 120Kmh.

Speed limits being changed in the UAE

22/05/2005

I was disappointed to read in the paper this morning that the road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi will have its speed limit raised from 120Kmh (70mph) to 160 (100mph).
Apparently this is in response to people complaining that the numerous radars currently placed on that stretch of road are annoying and that since the road is so new and wide, a faster speed limit is a good idea.
I think this is a shame. Currently the Emirates is looking to improve its road safety and the reason the radars are on the road is to stop people speeding, as speeding is proven to be the lead cause of accidents in the UAE, as reported in the local news. The recent news on campaigns to improve traffic safety is very welcome and I think this speed limit change will be counter-productive.
The road may well be modern and wide, but having regularly experienced how dangerous it is having people speed down it, raising the speed limit will surely just cause more deaths.
Many people in the UAE have large, powerful cars that can easily do 220KMh or over. To illustrate this, on Friday I counted two new Bentley Coupes, 25 Range Rovers, 7 Hummers and numerous Porsches – and we only drove to a restaurant for lunch and then to a cinema after. There are also numerous cars that pootle along at 100. My favourite is the grandly named ‘Nissan Cedric’. One of the worst problems on this particular road is speeding drivers whose vision is blocked by a small stretch of road that’s higher than the stretch in front. Coming over a small rise, they find themselves suddently encountering someone doing the speed limit who was previously out of view and is probably sitting in the wrong lane, or overtaking someone who is driving in the wrong lane. I’ve been in the latter situation a couple of times and it’s scary.
Increasing the limit will also lead to more vehicles driving at vastly different speeds, which will also make things worse. My Wrangler’s about as aerodynamic as a brick, so 140KMh is the maximum speed it’s comfortable to drive at when on my way to Abu Dhabi. Having Land Cruisers and Patrols appearing out of nowhere, flashing their lights at me whilst doing over 160 is not a nice experience and I can see it starting to happen more often.
I do sympathise with people who want to go fast down this road. It’s straight, wide and new, with little scenery. Letting rip in your new Ferrari, Porsche or Lambo must be a real pleasure. That said, I sincerely hope the trial period mentioned, along with an apparent review by a Swedish road safety body, end with the limit returning to 120Kmh.

Visiting a country ‘at war’

22/05/2005

Whilst sitting in Istanbul’s main airport waiting for my connection to Tel Aviv (a five hour layover) I started thinking about the headline in the Gulf News this morning. It was about such and such a group firing mortars at Israel.
It’s a strange feeling to be on my way to a country that I don’t think is even recognised by the country I live in (the UAE) and which experiences all kinds of military activity on a daily basis. I’m not going anywhere that’s likely to be attacked by mortars, but the threat of terrorism is probably higher there than anywhere else I’ve visited.
Growing up in London during the 80s, there were constant threats of terrorism from the IRA. You got used to it and it was never more than a nuisance for me personally, thank goodness. To a certain degree you get a bit blase about it. Things are different in this region though. The IRA had no intention of killing themselves, which made their operations harder and therefore less frequent. When your attackers are actually quite happy to die and see it as an honourable thing to do, that changes things.

Skiing in the desert?

21/05/2005

Dubai is one big construction site at the moment. Here are a few pics to show some of the crazy stuff that’s going on.
First off, do you fancy going skiing? Bearing in mind that in the summer it can hit 50C and 100% humidity, pulling on your saloupettes and moon boots might make a welcome change.
The Mall of the Emirates will allow you to indulge in some on-piste action. The ski slope’s just been raised and is rapidly taking shape. You can see it at the top left of this photo.

We took these pics whilst driving to have afternoon tea at the Ritz, as one does. This next one was taken just before the Sun office, which is a little further on the right. The bridge we are driving under will take cars to the first Palm Island that’s being built. We must have seen over 100 large building being built during our twenty minute drive.
When you look at this photo, bear in mind that when I first came to Dubai in July 2002, of all the skyscrapers in this stunning skyline, only two were under construction and they had only reached 12 floors. They are now part of a massive development which includes a large marina.

Just before we arrived at the Ritz we saw the site of the world’s first underwater hotel, which will allegedly have its own missile defence system. How reassuring.

Line after line of skycrapers are being built right up to the beach front, which is lined by 5 star hotels. This is the line closest to the beach, with buildings standing about three deep.

Compare the view from the entrance to the Ritz in October of 2004 with May 2005. The top picture is from last year, the bottom one was taken yesterday:



And finally, here’s Tabu enjoying an English tradition amidst 5 Star luxury in the middle of what 50 years ago was a small fishing settlement on the edge of the desert.


Star Wars

21/05/2005

We went to see Star Wars last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.
That said, when I walked out of the cinema I realised that I hadn’t actually got a clue what had actually happened. Amidst all the explosions, visual effects and Ewan MacGregor’s impersonation of a talking Oak tree, the plot had somehow got lost. Who were they fighting again? Why was Palpatine apparently fighting his own forces? Why don’t the Jedi just use a gun every now and then? Obe Wan saw how handy they can be when he dispatched General Grievous. Surely a little one tucked into a sock would be a practical compromise?
This was probably my fault – I should have swatted up on the plot before going, but still, a little more clarity would have been helpful.
What I do feel let all the last three films down was the lack of a ‘real’ character along the lines of a Han Solo. In the original three he brings a feel of reality to things. Amongst all the Force mumbo jumbo and intergalactic politics he’s just a guy trying to make a living, however honestly or dishonestly, which is refreshing.
On the theme of ‘real’ in Star Wars, I love the way the kit that’s used looks, well, ‘used’. Things are dirty and dented and resemble working machines rather than the pristine equipment that you see in Star Trek and other similar films and serials. How come everything from Naboo is so stylish? The people of Naboo certainly have an eye for the stylish. Their ships look like beautiful TVRs and Rolls Royces surrounded by ten year old Toyotas.
A great cinema experience. I remember coming out of Richmond Odeon with my dad after watching Return of the Jedi when it came out and running down the 65 bus stop pretending to be an X Wing. I was tempted to do something similar as we came out of City Centre shopping mall in Dubai, but my wife would probably have disowned me.