Stunning to see the developments in Tunisia. I’ve visited Tunis many times, working with the local Sun partner and various customers.

You could never directly discuss the political situation. Occasionally a colleague would say something while we were in the car together that would suggest frustration with the way things were. I may be completely wrong, but I felt that negative comments made tended to be directed at the fact that the president’s family were buying up or being handed government assets that were being privatised. Yes, it’s a dictatorship, but the economy’s ok and life’s all right, but all this handing out stuff to your family is a step too far.

Portaits of Ben Ali are/were everywhere. The photos of his images being ripped down send a powerful message. Here is one from AP.

Tunisia Riots

Maybe I am naive, but I was shocked to read about the looting and general criminality that has been occurring. I hope that my friends and colleagues there are safe and well and that they will be able to get back to work and carry on earning a living soon.

One story from my time there…

In IT we talk a lot about ‘downtime’ – the idea is that you ‘architect’ a computer solution in such a way that if a machine, disk or other component breaks, the service the computers are running can keep going. Another component can handle things on its own, another device takes up the work being done, that sort of thing.

Typically systems running big databases are ‘clustered’. Two servers, so that if one breaks, the other one can handle the work that is being done.

When selling our clusters, we would talk about ‘99.999% uptime’. These figures would represent the average time that a solution from us would be unavailable in a typical timeframe.

At one customer meeting in 2003, I was talking about ‘la haute disponibilite de cinque neufs’. That’s ‘five nines uptime’ in my probably incorrect French. The senior guy from the customer’s IT team we were meeting with smiled and said something along the lines of those figures sounding like the results of Tunisia’s presidential elections.

There was nervous laughter around the table at this potentially critical political comment. It was clearly meant to be mocking the results and making the point that the elections were anything but free and fair. The IT manager diffused the situation wonderfully by smiling and pointing to the official portrait of Ben Ali hanging on the wall and adding that the figures we were talking about certainly did match those seen in presidential election results, as those results clearly reflected the will of the Tunisian people and their love for the wise leadership of their president. This seemed to satisfy everyone, regardless of which side of the fence they sat on. We moved back to discussing clustered databases.

I hope Ben Ali enjoys living in Jeddah(!) and that Tunisians get the government they deserve. It’s a great place, in my experience, with friendly, well-educated people, a growing economy and a wonderful holiday destination – everything is in its favour.

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