Monthly Archives: April 2007

200th DNA exoneration tomorrow

200th DNA exoneration tomorrow.

Today’s Chicago Tribune has a remarkable article about the exoneration of Jerry Miller. Miller, an Army veteran who’d never been convicted of a crime, was identified in a police line-up by two eye-witnesses, and ended up serving 25 years in prison before being cleared by DNA collected at the scene of the crime. The Innocence Project was instrumental in his exoneration, which will be the 200th exoneration in the United States as a result of DNA evidence. (More about The Innocence Project here; here’s their blog.)

A couple of facts stood out for me after reading the Trib article:

  • In cases overturned by DNA evidence, 75% of the convictions were a result of faulty eye-witness testimony. You can read more about mistaken identification here.
  • Even more incredibly, confessions are also to blame in mistaken convictions. In more than one out of four wrongful convictions, the suspect actually confessed to the crime – even though DNA evidence later demonstrated that they did not commit the crime in question. (More about false confessions here.)

Fewer than half of the states in the United States have compensation provisions to compensate prisoners who have been wrongfully imprisoned as a result of a mistaken conviction. Think about that for a minute: in 29 states in the U.S., you can be convicted of a crime you didn’t commit, sent to prison, later found innocent and released. Without so much as an apology. In the case of Jerry Hill, the man who served 25 years for a crime he did not commit, he’s eligible for a total of $35,000.   [tins ::: Rick Klau's weblog]

The Essence of Duct Tape Marketing

The Essence of Duct Tape Marketing.

Duct tape (the tape) is simple, effective, and affordable—it’s not always the prettiest solution, but it does always work. The central theme of Duct Tape Marketing: The World's Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide by John Jantsch is that effective small business marketing is a system—not an event—composed of simple, effective, and affordable techniques.

When you combine that with the cult-like
obsession many people have for all things duct tape
you also get a pretty good example of how something simple like the right name can do a great deal for a company, product, service, or book. I asked John to distill his marketing ideas to a top-ten list, and here is what he provided:

  1. Narrow the market focus. Create a picture of the ideal client: what they look like, how they think, what they value, and where you can find them. Start saying no to non-ideal clients.

  2. Differentiate. Strip everything you know about your product or service down to the simplest core idea. Make sure that the core idea allows you stand out.

  3. Think about strategy first. Take everything you’ve done in steps one and two and create a strategy to own a word or two in the mind of your ideal client and prospect.

  4. Create information that educates. You are in the information business, so think of your marketing materials, web sites, white papers, marketing kits as information products, not “sales” propoganda.

  5. Package the experience. Put visual elements around every aspect of the marketing strategy that you adopt. Use design to evoke the appropriate emotional response from your ideal prospect.

  6. Generate leads from many points. People learn in different ways. Your lead generation efforts must allow your prospects to experience your firm from many different angles and views.

  7. Nurture leads along the logical buying path. There’s a natural way for your prospects to come to the conclusion that you have what they need. Build the lead conversion system for before, during, and after the sale.

  8. Measure everything that matters. Certain things always matter. The secret sauce is in finding and measuring the intangibles – those things down on the shop floor that eventually add up to profit.

  9. Automate for leverage. Embrace the Internet or else. Create access, stimulate community, capture innovation, and build knowledge to automate the basic delivery elements of your information business.

  10. Commit. Resist the temptation of the marketing idea of the week. Create daily, weekly, monthly, and annual marketing calendars, make marketing your new habit, and find the money to stick with the plan.

[How to Change the World]

Scaling to multiple databases with Rails

Scaling to multiple databases with Rails.

Remember that point about Rails lacking an easy-to-use way of dealing with multiple read/write databases? Strike that. Nic Williams has released Magic Multi-Connections. It makes it dead easy to use a cluster of databases to scale read and write speeds higher than a single connection would ever allow.

That in itself is wonderful. Williams let code be his reply to the discussion of Twitter's woes on scaling the database. I would of course rather have seen this work come out of Twitter, but I'm happy that they got a free offering handed to them regardless. They didn't even have to pass step 1 in Brian McCallister's road map for getting stuff fixed in open source. And the turn-around time was within the same day of this whole thing blowing up.

Now how could this be. How could Nic fix such an apparent “critical flaw”, as others have billed the lack of this facility in Rails, in such a short time? Simple, he did it in less than 75 lines of Ruby as a plugin for Rails. Less than 75 lines.

In my mind, that's the crux of the story. That extending Rails to do what you want is often much simpler than you think. That you can't compare extending a high-level framework written in a language like Ruby to, say, patching Apache or MySQL. The barriers of entry are simply not in the same sport.

So let's use this occasion to celebrate the wonders of open source (“some times you can just ask and you will receive”), but at the same time keep the effort involved in this example as a guidance for the future (“maybe next time, I could just have a look at how hard it would be to fix myself”). And of course, a big thanks to Nic Williams to making a big fuss a non-issue.  [Loud Thinking]

The yaTimer – a very handy utility

The yaTimer – a very handy utility. If you are a freelance consultant, writer, or designer, this versatile software timer may be what you have been looking for. It makes keeping track of multitasking activities almost painless. I have been searching for a better way to keep track of how much time I spend on various client projects and in a recent article, I included a list of the must-have features I was looking for … [Making Ripples: post-corporate adventures]

Primal Issues

Primal Issues.

What few in the media (but a great many down on the street) are
saying about the Virginia Tech massacre is that law enforcement botched
the whole thing. Between the time Ho began firing in the dorm and when
he started exterminating people in Norris Hall was a gap of two hours,
during which time very little was done. The criticism is not exactly
fair, but that doesn't matter—it's the perception that the public is
taking away from the incident: The police are unable to protect me. This is a political issue with some interesting wrinkles.

hoped-for momentum toward additional restrictions on firearms will be
more than balanced by the crawling fear that self-protection is the
only viable option if the police can't be trusted. (Chicago's recent
scandal of a police officer videotaped beating a female bartender
toppled the city's police chief and—again, unfairly—cemented the
conviction in many people's minds that the Chicago police are thugs.)
This is worsened by the fact that the victims were college
students—people's children, albeit legally adult children—whose parents
had entrusted them to the university and, by implication, to the local
police. People are notoriously irrational when it comes to the safety
of their children.

Gun control is one of a class of political issues I call primal,
because the passion they evoke in many people is older than and runs
deeper than reason. It's about fear, specifically fear of death, which
is about as primal a fear as they come. Primal issues easily become
political “third rails” that politicians fear to deal with, because
primal interest long outlives casual interest. (CNN has an interesting short article
on this topic.) The nation as a whole is already losing interest in the
Virginia Tech massacre, but gun rights advocates are taking notes on
who's saying what in the political realm, and those notes will be
organized, retained, and remembered next fall, and for years and years
after that. Bill Clinton himself admitted that Democratic anti-gun
activism cost the party control of Congress for twelve years. Even
Obama touches that rail at his peril.

another primal third rail out there: abortion. Abortion rights
advocates are just as primal in their support of abortion rights as gun
advocates are in support of gun ownership rights. Abortion advocacy
isn't based on anything as simple as fear, but on the complex
strategies for human sexual reproduction that evolution has handed us.
I could never figure out why abortion was so primal an issue until I
read The Red Queen
by Matt Ridley. That's worth an entry or three all by itself, but if
you're interested, do read the book. The point I want to make in this
entry is simply that if you want to understand politics, you must
understand the primal nature of certain issues, including gun control,
abortion, and Social Security, which is another third rail based on the
primal fear (sometimes even the rational fear) of being put out on the
street and starving to death.

The tribalism that
infects our whole political process is energized by primal fears, most
specifically the confoundingly deep fear that if the other tribe gets
control, they will destroy my tribe and all that my tribe
stands for. Pressure groups use such primal fears to make people cough
up money and get them to vote for their tribe. Saving democracy in this
country is mostly the process of identifying our primal fears and
defusing them before they make us slaves of one tribe or another, both
of which exist solely to make the world safer for their leaders and
largest donors.

Primal emotions (fear, anger,
jealousy, and all the others) trump reason, and can be easily
manipulated to bring us into bondage. Basically, every night before you
go to bed, look in the mirror and ask, “Who owns me?”

Answering that question honestly is the most important single thing that you will ever do.  [Jeff Duntemann's ContraPositive Diary]

Cluster-like Non-Clusters

Cluster-like Non-Clusters for SMB Messaging

Regardless of size, no business can afford to be without e-mail access
these days. Combine that with the more and more services we pile on
these mail servers and you’ve got the making of a perfect SMB disaster.
Mail servers are far more than just “mail”, they drive groupware
functionality, faxing services, calendaring, mobile device security as
well as remote document and file access. We have consolidated and built
a civilization on top of a single box yet haven’t raised our budgets
and expectations to drive what used to be spread over multiple servers,
workstations and was the sole job of a few part time employees. The
following article helps you take a look at your small business
infrastructure and realize the potential in new cluster-like features
in Microsoft Exchange 2007. . . .

Clusters are Expensive!

Yes they are. Clusters generally require very expensive shared
storage devices, storage controllers to manage either SCSI or Fiber
storage arrays, high end systems, etc. However, LCR and CCR do not
require any of this high end gear. You can use the low cost Dell
PowerEdge servers (currently Dell has a PowerEdge 440 Dual Core Intel
2.8, 2GB DDR, 160GB SATA2 on sale for $580)

To give you an example, last night I built two baseline test servers
to test LCR and CCR features of Exchange 2007. Total with shipping came
to under $900 (about $400 for each system). What’s in it?

AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800 Windsor 2.0 GHz AM2 Dual Core Processor ($91)

ECS Socket AM2 Radeon Xpress 1100 MicroATX AMD Motherboard ($58)

Wintec AMPX (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Memory ($130)

Western Digital Caviar SE WD1600 JS 160 GB SATA 2 Drive ($53)

IN WIN Black Steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 240W ($50)

At the first glance this system looks very basic. Let’s look at some
of the objections. First of all – no redundant storage. Easy, not
needed. The nodes replicate data back and forth, so there is no need
for a high end storage investment. If you wanted to spend extra $53 per
node you could buy an additional hard drive and create a mirror. The
motherboard supports it. Second, only 2GB of RAM? Yes, thats the
recommended amount of RAM for the mailbox role according to Microsoft.
Not the minimum, recommended. If thats not enough, the motherboard does
support up to 16GB. You can overload the primary box with 4GB for
example and keep the failover node with far less RAM because it would
only be accessed when there is a failure. Third, motherboard and case.
This is hard to overcome so let me explain my choices. I invested in a
fairly high end processor for this setup and selected a cheaper case
becasue as a test system this will sit on my workbench. The 240W power
supply and low-footprint desktop system case will make this a cool,
quiet and small setup that I can use to get things going. For roughly
$80 more per node you can also buy a 1U Racmount case from SuperMicro that would meet your data center racking needs.

Either way, even if you bumped up the RAM, mirrored the hard drives,
bought a racked case it would cost just over $1,000 total for both
systems shipped. That is far less than what most small businesses are
investing in their primary server – why? Because we’ve been trained to
buy the most expensive solution the money can buy and budget can fit.
We’ll grow into it, right? Well, no.. no.. wrong. You see, we’ve pushed
the limits of processing very far. You get far more memory and
processing power for the buck but you still have that same lingering
issue of the single point of failure. And you’re likely spending more
for that single point of failure than you would for a redundant

The point of this article is to shift your thinking. We have the
technology. We have the resources. We can make the disaster recovery a
lot more predictable and seamless for our clients if we’re willing to
review these new techologies, implement them and get away from “more is
better” to “more independant systems are better”. If you have a small
business you have to let go of the big-iron enterprise view of having
high end monster systems to a more distributed, more replicable smaller
systems. It will cost you less and let you sleep better at night. Hey,
take one node home with you 🙂 [Vlad Mazek – Vladville Blog]

Required Reading: Microsoft Security Explained

Required Reading: Microsoft Security Explained.

This is not a joke, not a Geek Squad employee recording their customers in the shower, not a deathbed confession of who killed JFK. This is real. This is the most eloquently put illustration of Microsofts incompetence / ignorance. I wish I could write like this but unfortunately I’m the one paying for it so my points tend to become far more fiery.

Print that page, forward it to your staff, forward it to your clients and forward it to your IT peers. This blog post picks apart Microsoft’s lack of commitment to releasing solid patches and I think you’ll all agree that we have put up with enough stuff this century, to the point that most of us have labs, overhead/overtime, infrastructure/WSUS and additional software… all to do the job that Microsoft should have done prior to their releases.

We either make light of this all and demand change or we shut off our patching and let the servers fall where they may. 
[Vlad Mazek – Vladville Blog]

CentOS 5 is Out!

CentOS 5 is Out!.

Congratulations to the CentOS team. They released CentOS 5.0 today, which is the free version of the Enterprise Linux OS. Basically they take the source for Redhat Enterprise Linux 5.0 and recompile and rebuild a solution so you can install and run it.. Free vs. $3K, easy choice if you know your way around the OS.

CentOS 4.x has been a rock solid solution for us at OWN and it runs pretty much everything from ExchangeDefender, to web, mail, dns and more servers. If you need a reliable solution this is the one you go with, not to mention 5 years of support. What do I mean by reliable?

[10:57 – 0.90] [root ns1] ~]$ uptime
10:57:41 up 161 days, 2:53, 3 users, load average: 1.63, 1.00, 0.92

(that’s 161 days of uptime, fully patched and up-to-date system that hasn’t needed a reboot in 6 months. And it ran happily ever after. Sounds like a fairly tale, doesn’t it?) 
[Vlad Mazek – Vladville Blog]

The General-Purpose Storage Revolution

The General-Purpose Storage Revolution.

It happened so slowly, most people didn't notice until it was over.

I'm speaking, of course, of the rise of general-purpose computing during the 1990s. It was not so long ago that you could choose from a truly bewildering variety of machines. Symbolics, for example, made hardware specifically designed to run Lisp programs. We debated SIMD vs. MIMD, dataflow vs. control flow, VLIW, and so on. Meanwhile, those boring little PCs just kept getting faster. And more capable. And cheaper. By the end of the decade, even the largest supercomputers were just clusters of PCs. A simple, general-purpose computing device crushed all manner of clever, sophisticated, highly specialized systems.

And the thing is, it had nothing to do with technology. It was all about volume economics. It was inevitable.

With that in mind, I bring news that is very good for you, very good for Sun, and not so good for our competitors: the same thing that happened to compute in the 1990s is happening to storage, right now. Now, as then, the fundamental driver is volume economics, and we see it playing out at all levels of the stack: the hardware, the operating system, and the interconnect.

First, custom RAID hardware can't keep up with general-purpose CPUs. A single Opteron core can XOR data at about 6 GB/sec. There's just no reason to dedicate special silicon to this anymore. It's expensive, it wastes power, and it was always a compromise: array-based RAID can't provide the same end-to-end data integrity that host-based RAID can. No matter how good the array is, a flaky cable or FC port can still flip bits in transit. A host-based RAID solution like RAID-Z in ZFS can both detect and correct silent data corruption, no matter where it arises.

Second, custom kernels can't keep up with volume operating systems. I try to avoid naming specific competitors in this blog — it seems tacky — but think about what's inside your favorite storage box. Is it open source? Does it have an open developer community? Does it scale? Can the vendor make it scale? Do they even get a vote?

The latter question is becoming much more important due to trends in CPU design. The clock rate party of the 1990s, during which we went from 20MHz to 2GHz — a factor of 100 — is over. Seven years into the new decade we're not even 2x faster in clock rate, and there's no sign of that changing soon. What we are getting, however, is more transistors. We're using them to put multiple cores on each chip and multiple threads on each core (so the chip can do something useful during load stalls) — and this trend will only accelerate.

Which brings us back to the operating system inside your storage device. Does it have any prayer of making good use of a 16-core, 64-thread CPU?

Third, custom interconnects can't keep up with Ethernet. In the time that Fibre Channel went from 1Gb to 4Gb — a factor of 4 — Ethernet went from 10Mb to 10Gb — a factor of 1000. That SAN is just slowing you down.

Today's world of array products running custom firmware on custom RAID controllers on a Fibre Channel SAN is in for massive disruption. It will be replaced by intelligent storage servers, built from commodity hardware, running an open operating system, speaking over the real network.

You've already seen the first instance of this: Thumper (the x4500) is a 4-CPU, 48-disk storage system with no hardware RAID controller. The storage is all managed by ZFS on Solaris, and exported directly to your real network over standard protocols like NFS and iSCSI.

And if you think Thumper was disruptive, well… stay tuned.  [Jeff Bonwick's Weblog]



Easter Sunday. The ancient affirmation “The Lord is risen indeed!” (given in response to the primary Resurrection declaration, “The Lord is risen!”) used to puzzle me a little, but in looking back, I suspect that I was just thinking too small. Anyone who has ever looked at the center of our galaxy through even a junkbox telescope knows that God does nothing by halves. To me, “indeed” here means to me that God's redemptive mission is complete, absolute, and unconditional: If Jesus didn't save everybody He saved nobody. We live in an extravagant universe, which to me at least points to an extravagant God, who settles for nothing other than the restoration of all things to Himself, what we call apokatastasis.

Many fans of Hell argue tortuous circles around the embarrassing Bible statement that Jesus descended into Hell to preach to those imprisoned there, but I take it at face value, and I suspect that what Jesus told them started out something like this: “Guys, listen up: There's a way out of here. Take notes.”  [Jeff Duntemann's ContraPositive Diary]