Archive for Linux

My Retirement Message to All of You

Tom Petrocelli

Well, best to rip off the band-aid.

I’m retiring at the end of the year. That’s right, on January 1, 2021 I will be officially and joyfully retired from the IT industry. No more conferences, papers, designs, or coding unless I want to. Truth be told, I’m still pretty young to retire. Some blame has to be laid at the feet of the pandemic. Being in the “trend” industry also sometimes makes you aware of negatives changes coming up. The pandemic is driving some of those including tighter budgets. This will just make everything harder.  Many aspects of my job that I like, especially going to tech conferences, will be gone for a while or maybe forever.

I can’t blame it all on the pandemic though. Some of it is just demographics. Ours is a youthful industry with a median age of roughly mid to early 40’s. To be honest, I’m getting tired of being the oldest, or one of the oldest people in the room. It’s not as if I’m personally treated as an old person. In fact, I’m mostly treated as younger than I am which means a certain comfort making “old man” jokes around me. No one thinks that I will take offense at the ageism, I suppose. It’s not really “offense” as much as it’s irritation.

There will be a good number of things I will miss. I really love technology and love being among people who love it as much as I do. What I will miss the most is the people I’ve come to know throughout the years. It’s a bit sad that I can’t say goodbye in  person to most of them. I will especially miss the team here at Amalgam Insights. Working with Hyoun, Lisa, and everyone else has been a joy. Thanks for that you all.

My career has spanned a bit over 36 years (which may surprise some of you… I hope) and changes rarely experienced in any industry. When I started fresh from college in 1984, personal computers were new, and the majority of computing was still on the mainframes my Dad operated. No one could even imagine walking around with orders of magnitude more computing power in our pockets. So much has changed.

If you will indulge me, I would like to present a little parting analysis. Here is “What has changed during my career”.

  1. When I started mainframes were still the dominant form of computing. Now they are the dinosaur form of computing. Devices of all kinds wander the IT landscape, but personal computers and servers still dominate the business world. How long before we realize that cyberpunk goal of computers embedded in our heads? Sooner than I would like.
  2. At the beginning of my career, the most common way to access a remote computer was a 300 baud modem. Serial lines that terminals deployed to speak to the mainframes and minicomputers of the times were also that speed. The bandwidth of those devices was roughly 0.03 Mbps. Now, a home connection to an ISP is 20 – 50 Mps or more and a corporate desktop can expect 1 Gbs connections. That’s more than 33 times what was common in the 80s.
  3. Data storage has gotten incredibly cheap compared to the 1980s. The first 10M hard drive I purchased for a $5000 PC cost almost US$ 1000.00 in 1985 dollars. For 1/10 of that price I can now order a 4T HD (and have it delivered the next day.) Adjusted for inflation that $1000 HD cost ~$2500 in 2020 dollars. That’s 25 times what the modern 4T drive costs.
  4. Along with mainframes, monolithic software has disappeared from the back end. Instead, client-server computing has given way to n-Tier as the main software platform. Not for long though. Distributed computing is in the process of taking off. It’s funny. At the beginning of my career I wrote code for distributed systems, which was an oddity back then. Now, after more than 30 years it’s becoming the norm. Kind of like AI.
  5. Speaking of AI, artificial intelligence was little more than science fiction. Even impressive AI was more about functions like handwriting recognition, which was created at my alma mater, the University at Buffalo, for the post office. Nothing like we see today. We are still, thankfully, decades or maybe centuries from real machine cognition. I’ll probably be dead before we mere humans need to bow to our robot overlords.
  6. When I began my career, it was very male and white. My first manager was a woman and we had two other women software engineers in our group. This was as weird as a pink polka dotted rhinoceros walking through the break room. Now, the IT industry is… still very male and white. There are more women, people with disabilities, and people of color than there was then but not quite the progress I had hoped for.
  7. IBM was, at that time, the dominant player in the computer industry. Companies such as Oracle and Cisco were just getting started, Microsoft was still basically a garage operation, and Intel was mostly making calculator chips. Now, IBM struggles to stay alive, Cisco, Oracle, Intel, and Microsoft are the established players in the industry and Amazon, an online store, is at the top of the most important trend in computing in the last 20 years, cloud computing. So many companies have come and gone, I don’t even bother to keep track.
  8. In the 1980s, the computer industry was almost entirely American, with a few European and Japanese companies in the market. Now, it’s still mostly American but for the first time since the dawn of the computer age, there is a serious contender: China. I don’t think they will dominate the industry the way the US has, but they will be a clear and powerful number two in the years to come. The EU is also showing many signs of innovation in the software industry.
  9. At the start of my career, you still needed paper encyclopedias. Within 10 years, you could get vast amounts of knowledge on CD’s. Today, all the world’s data is available at our fingertips. I doubt young people today can even imagine what it was like before the Internet gave us access to vast amounts of data in an instant. To them, it would be like living in a world where state of the art data storage is a clay tablet with cuneiform writing on it.
  10. What we wore to work has changed dramatically. When I started my career, we were expected to wear business dress. That was a jacket and tie with dress slacks for men, and a dress or power suit for women. In the 90s that shifted to business casual. Polo shirts and khakis filled up our closets. Before the pandemic, casual became proper office attire with t-shirts and jeans acceptable. At the start of my career, dressing like that at work could get you fired. Post pandemic, pajamas and sweatpants seem to be the new norm, unless you are on a Zoom call. Even so, pants are becoming optional.
  11. Office communications has also changed dramatically. For eons the way to communicated to co-workers was “the memo.” You wrote a note in long hand on paper and handed it to a secretary who typed it up. If there was more than one person, the secretary would duplicate it with a Xerox machine and place it in everyone’s mailboxes. You had to check your mailbox everyday to make sure that you didn’t have any memos. It was slow and the secretaries knew everyone’s business. We still have vestiges of this old system in our email systems. CC stands for carbon copy which was a way of duplicating a memo. In some companies, everyone on the “To:” list received a fresh typed copy while the CC list received a copy that used carbon paper and a duplicating machine. As much as you all might hate email, it is so much better (and faster) than the old ways of communicating.
  12. When I started my first job, I became the second member of my immediate family that was in the IT industry. My Dad was an operations manager in IBM shops. Today, there are still two members of our immediate family that are computer geeks. My son is also a software developer. He will have to carry the torch for the Petrocelli computer clan. No pressure though…
  13. Remote work? Ha! Yeah no. Not until the 90s and even then, it was supplementary to my go to the office job. I did work out of my house during one of my start ups but I was only 10 minutes from my partner. My first truly remote job was in 2000 and it was very hard to do. This was before residential broadband and smartphones. Now, it’s so easy to do with lots of bandwidth to my house, cheap networking, Slack, and cloud services to make it easy to stay connected. Unfortunately, not everyone has this infrastructure nor the technical knowhow to deal with network issues. We’ve come a long way but not far enough as many of you have recently discovered.

So, goodbye my audience, my coworkers, and especially my friends. Hopefully, the universe will conspire to have us meet again. In the meantime, it’s time for me to devote more time to charity, ministry, and just plain fun. What can I say? It’s been an amazing ride. See ya!

Linux Comes Through Once Again

From a hobby to a computer geek favorite to a major operating system, the trajectory of Linux has been nothing short of amazing. Major companies, especially Red Hat, Canonical, and SUSE, exist because of Linux. The ecosystem that grew up around Linux eclipses all other software.

There are a number of reasons why Linux has become such a force in IT but the one that really stands out for me today is it’s building block design that creates incredible flexibility. There is a Linux for every purpose, every taste, and all types of hardware. One of the best things about Linux flexibility is that it allows us DIY types the ability to repurpose old, perhaps ancient, hardware. Here’s an example.

I have a 14 year old PC that has, for years, been attached to my stereo so that I play digital music from a real amp. My relative new desktop PC has decent sound, owing to a good pair of speakers plus a sub-woofer. Even so, compared to the sound of my 25+ year old stereo system, it sounds terrible. Nothing beats a real amplifier with speakers that have their own woofer and tweeter combos for sound. Even when the source of that sound is a 14 year old sound chip in a laptop, the sound is so much better. In addition, my desktop computer sits in my office, not my living room where I have (or had, pre-pandemic) parties and like to hang out.

The weak link has not been the stereo, it’s been the PC. It ran Windows Vista, which hasn’t had a release since 2008 and went end of life in 2012. Even worse, modern software including the Spotify application and Firefox browser, no longer could be updated on it and ran poorly. In a nutshell, the PC OS was pulling down the whole system.

I could have substituted another PC that I don’t really use any more, one somewhat newer, but I had a feeling that this old workhorse still had some usefulness. So, I decode to update the operating system. I thought that finding a recent 32-bit OS was going to be a chore but not at all because – Linux!

I settled on Lubuntu 18.04 LTS, a Ubuntu distribution for low resource PCs. I knew that the Spotify Snap App for Ubuntu wouldn’t run on it (there was no 32-bit version) but Firefox ran like a dream. I was able to use the Spotify Web Player in Full Screen mode, presenting the appearance of a Spotify kiosk. The sound is great, and network connective works like a charm, so no drop outs. The system run perfectly. I could have run Plex as well, if I wanted a more thorough digital media experience.

Any other OS would have no option for a modern experience with such old hardware. Instead of heading to a landfill, this old PC has new life and can continue until hardware failure over takes it. I’m betting it can last until the 20 year mark. All thanks to Linux. Linux to the rescue of my sound system and the environment.