Search Results: "neumann"

31 December 2020

Russ Allbery: Review: Billion Dollar Loser

Review: Billion Dollar Loser, by Reeves Wiedeman
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Copyright: October 2020
ISBN: 0-316-46134-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 315
WeWork was founded in 2010 by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey as a successor company to their similar 2008 GreenDesk business. (Adam's wife Rebekah is now presented as a co-founder. This seems dubious in Wiedeman's account, although Rebekah's role in the company is murky, ever-changing, and hard to pin down.) Its business model in reality was to provide turn-key, pre-furnished and stocked co-working and small office space to individuals and businesses on flexible, short-term leases. Its business model in Neumann's speeches and dreams, and represented by the later renaming of the company to the We Corporation, was nothing less than to transform the way people worked, learned, and lived. Through aggressive, money-losing expansion, WeWork grew rapidly to over 500 locations in 29 countries and became the largest office tenant in New York City. Based primarily on massive financial support from Masayoshi Son, CEO of Japanese holding company SoftBank, WeWork's private valuation rose to $47 billion. In 2019, the company attempted to go public, but its IPO collapsed, in part due to deeper analysis of the company's books. Neumann was forced out of the company (with an individual payout valued at $1.7 billion), the IPO was withdrawn, SoftBank wrote down 90% of their investment in the company and took control of it, and WeWork laid off more than 20% of its workforce. This book is a detailed history of WeWork's rise and fall, joining a genre that includes The Smartest Guys in the Room (Enron), Bad Blood (Theranos), and Super Pumped (Uber). I believe it's the first full book on WeWork, although it was preceded by several long-form stories, including "The I In We" by Wiedeman for New York magazine. As the first history, it's a somewhat incomplete cut: litigation between Neumann and WeWork is still pending, WeWork staggered into 2020 and a world-wide pandemic that made cramped open-plan offices an epidemiological disaster, and there will doubtless be new revelations yet to come. The discovery process of lawsuits tends to be good for journalists. But despite being the first out of the gate, Billion Dollar Loser reaches a satisfying conclusion with the ouster of Neumann, who had defined WeWork both internally and externally. I'm fascinated by stories of failed venture capital start-ups in general, but the specific question about WeWork that interested me, and to which Wiedeman provides a partial answer, is why so many people gave Neumann money in the first place. Explaining that question requires a digression into why I thought WeWork's valuation was absurd. The basic problem WeWork had when justifying its sky-high valuation is competition. WeWork didn't own real estate; it rented properties from landlords with long-term leases and then re-rented them with short-term leases. If its business was so successful, why wouldn't the landlords cut out the middle man, do what WeWork was doing directly, and pocket all the profit? Or why wouldn't some other company simply copy WeWork and drive the profit margins down? Normally with startups the answer revolves around something proprietary: an app, a server technology, patents, a secret manufacturing technique, etc. But nothing WeWork was doing was different from what innumerable tech companies and partner landlords had been doing with their office space for a decade, and none of it was secret. There are two decent answers to that question. One is simple outsourcing: landlords like being passive rent collectors, so an opportunity to pay someone else to do the market research on office layouts, arrange all the remodeling, adapt to changing desires for how office space should be equipped and stocked, advertise for short-term tenants, and deal with the tenant churn is attractive. The landlord can sit back and pocket the stable long-term rent. The second answer is related: WeWork is essentially doing rental arbitrage between long-term and short-term rents and thus is taking on most of the risk of a commercial real estate downturn. If no one is renting office space, WeWork is still on the hook for the long-term rent. The landlord is outsourcing risk, at least unless WeWork goes bankrupt. (One infuriating tidbit from this book is that Neumann's explicit and often-stated goal was to make WeWork so large that its bankruptcy would be sufficiently devastating to the real estate industry that it would get a bailout.) There's a legitimate business here. But that business looks like a quietly profitable real estate company that builds very efficient systems for managing short-term leases, remodeling buildings, and handling the supply chain of stocking an office. That looks nothing like WeWork's business, has nothing to do with transforming the world of work, and certainly doesn't warrant sky-high valuations. WeWork didn't build an efficient anything. It relied on weekend labor from underpaid employees and an IT person who was still in high school. And WeWork actively resisted being called a real estate company and claimed it was a tech company or a lifestyle company on the basis of essentially nothing. Wiedeman seems almost as baffled by this as I am, but it's clear from the history he tells that part of the funding answer is the Ponzi scheme of start-up investing. People gave Neumann money because other people had previously given Neumann money, and the earlier investors cashed out at the expense of the later ones. Like any Ponzi scheme, it looks like a great investment until it doesn't, and then the last sucker is left holding the bag. That sucker was Masayoshi Son, who in Wiedeman's telling is an astonishingly casual and undisciplined investor who trusted knee-jerk personal reactions to founders over business model analysis and historically (mostly) got away with it by getting extremely lucky. (I now want to read one of these books about SoftBank, since both this book and Super Pumped make it look like a company that makes numerous wild gambles for the flimsiest of reasons, pushes for completely unsustainable growth, and relies on the sheer volume of investments catching some lucky jackpots and cashing out in IPOs. Unfortunately, the only book currently available seems to be a fawning hagiography of Son.) On one hand, the IPO process worked properly this time. The sheer madness of WeWork's valuation scared off enough institutional investors that it collapsed. On the other hand, it's startling how close it came to success. If WeWork had kept the Ponzi scheme going a bit longer, the last sucker could have been the general investing public. Another interesting question that Billion Dollar Loser answers is how Neumann got enough money to start his rapid growth strategy. The answer appears to be the oldest and most obvious explanation: He made friends with rich people. The initial connections appear to have been through his sister, Adi Neumann, who is a model and hosted parties in her New York apartment (and also started dating a Rothschild heir). Adam met his wealthy wife Rebekah, cousin to actress and "wellness" scam marketer Gwyneth Paltrow, via a connection at a party. He built social connections with other parts of the New York real estate scene and tapped them for investment money. The strong impression one gets from the book is that all of these people have way more money than sense and we should raise their taxes. It won't come as a surprise that Adam and Rebekah Neumann are good friends of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Those are the questions I was the most curious about, but there's much more here. Wiedeman's style is nearly straight chronological reporting with little analysis, but the story is so wild and absurd that it doesn't need much embellishment. Neumann is obviously a megalomaniac whose delusions of grandeur got worse and worse as WeWork was apparently succeeding. Rebekah Neumann is if anything even less in touch with reality than he is, although in her case that appears to stem from having so much money that reality is an inconvenient speed bump. Miguel McKelvey, Neumann's co-founder, is an odd and interesting side note to the story; he appears to have balanced Adam out a bit in the early going but then wisely started to cash out and pocket his winnings while letting Adam dominate the stage. There are some places where I don't think Wiedeman pushed hard enough, and which cut against the view of Neumann as a true believer in his impossible growth vision. Neumann took several investment opportunities to cash out large amounts of his stock even while WeWork employees were being underpaid and told their stock options would make up for it. He clearly used WeWork as a personal piggy bank on multiple occasions. And Wiedeman documents but doesn't, at least in my opinion, make nearly enough of Neumann's self-dealing: buying real estate that WeWork then rented as a tenant, or paying himself for a license for the name We Holdings (although there at least he later returned the money). I think a good argument could be made that Neumann was embezzling from WeWork, at least morally if not legally, and I wish Wiedeman would have pressed harder on that point. But that aside, this is a great first history of the company, told in a clean, readable, and engaging style, and with a lot more detail here than I've touched on (such as Rebekah Neumann's WeGrow school). It's not as good as Bad Blood (what is), but it's a respectable entry in the corporate collapse genre. If you like this sort of thing, recommended. Rating: 7 out of 10

26 December 2020

Russ Allbery: Review: The Biggest Bluff

Review: The Biggest Bluff, by Maria Konnikova
Publisher: Penguin Press
Copyright: 2020
ISBN: 0-525-52263-8
Format: Kindle
Pages: 335
After a particularly unlucky year for her family, Maria Konnikova was reading about the balance between luck and control in life and discovered, to her surprise, that John von Neumann, one of the foundational thinkers of computer science, was fascinated by poker. He found most card games boring because they relied on luck. Poker, however, he thought was the perfect balance between luck and skill: enough skill to make its effect undeniable, but enough luck that one could not control the game fully regardless of skill. Konnikova decided on a research project: spend one year learning No Limit Texas Hold'em from one of the best poker players in the world, with a goal of competing in the World Series of Poker. She had studied the description-experience gap during her doctoral research in psychology and wanted to see if the experience of randomness in poker would teach her something the description of the randomness of life could not. Before starting this project, she didn't know the basic rules and had never watched a game. Erik Seidel agreed to mentor her, and The Biggest Bluff is her account of that experience. This book is simultaneously frustrating and fascinating in ways that I don't think can be untangled without making it a far different book. Fitting, I suppose, for a book about how our brains entangle luck and skill. First, if you're looking for a book about poker play, this is not one. Konnikova rarely talks about specific hands or tournaments in more detail than her overall trajectory. That was a disappointment. In the few places she does describe some of her betting decisions, analysis of the other players, and tournament strategy, her accounts are engrossing and suspenseful. I would have happily read a book chronicling her poker tournaments and the decisions she made, but this is not that book. What The Biggest Bluff is instead is a psychological and philosophical examination of the process of learning poker. Konnikova uses her experiences as launching points into philosophical digressions. Even the lessons that have limited surface utility outside of poker, such as learning to suppress body language to avoid giving away information, turn into digressions about interpersonal dynamics and personality types. There are interesting tidbits here, but I've read a lot of popular psychology and was more interested in the poker. My frequent reading experience was impatiently waiting for Konnikova to finish lecturing and get back to her narrative. What Konnikova does do though, at a level that I haven't seen before before in a book of this type, is be brutally honest about her mistakes and her learning process. And I do mean brutally: The book opens with her throwing up in a casino bathroom. (This is not a fun book to read if you don't like reading about stress reactions and medical problems. There aren't many of them, but they're... memorable.) Konnikova knows and can explain the psychological state she's trying to reach, but still finds it hard to do in the moment. Correctly reacting to probabilities, cutting losses, and neither being too over-confident or too scared is very hard. Most books of this type elide over the repeated failures in a sort of training montage, which makes the process look easier than it feels. Konnikova tries to realistically show the setbacks and failures, and I think succeeds. That relentless introspection and critical honesty is the best part of this book, but I think it's also behind the stream of consciousness digressions about psychology and philosophy. It's a true portrayal of how Konnikova makes sense of the world. A more polished and streamlined book about the poker would have been more dramatically engrossing, but it might have lost the deep examination of how she combines poker with her knowledge of psychology to change her thinking. The one place where I think that self-reflection may fall a bit short, which I want to mention because I thought it was a missed opportunity, is around knowledge of hand probabilities. Konnikova makes a point, early in the book, of not approaching poker through the memorization and mathematics route and instead trying to find a play style that focuses on analyzing the other players and controlling her own emotions. This is a good hook, but by the end of the book it's not entirely true. The point that I think she was trying to make is that her edge against other poker players at her same level comes more from psychology than from calculation of precise odds in rare situations. This is true. But by the time she reaches high levels of play, she is using statistical simulators, practice tools, and intensive study just like any professional poker player. There is a minimum level of pure knowledge and memorization required that cannot be avoided. It's clear from the few things she says about this that those tools became more interesting to her as she became better at poker, and I wish she would have dug more into why and how that happened. How much of her newfound ability to make decisions and stick to a plan comes from emotional changes, and how much from that background store of confident knowledge? Or maybe those are different ways of looking at the same change? I did appreciate Konnikova's explicit acknowledgment at the end of the book that poker did not, in the end, provide some deep insight into the balance of luck and skill in real life. Learning poker instead gave Konnikova more personal ability to make a plan for the things that she can control and let go of the things she can't. I'm glad that worked for her, but since reading this book I have noticed former poker players who think life is more knowable than it is. Poker combines random chance with psychological play against other people, but it does so in a way and to an extent that is quantifiable. You can make the correct play and still lose a hand, but you can also know when this has happened. When you're used to analyzing the world through that frame and real life fails to provide that certainty, it's tempting to impose it anyway and insist your simplified models are more accurate because they're more comprehensible. But poker is a game, not a model; being more predictable and more constrained than real life is part of what makes it fun. The skill that Konnikova learned from it has a potential downside that she doesn't talk about. I'm not sure how to sum up this book. Konnikova's internal analysis and honesty is truly admirable and illuminating, but it left me wanting to read a different book that was more focused on poker narration. I know there are lots of those books out there, but I doubt they would be written with Konnikova's self-awareness and lack of ego. However, they would probably also lack the moments that made me cringe or that were deeply uncomfortable to read. My feelings are mixed. But if you want popular psychology wrapped around a deeply honest account of the process of learning poker, I suspect this book is one of a kind. Rating: 7 out of 10

4 October 2011

Emanuele Rocca: Gospel according to Tux

Some years ago I came across a really peculiar newsgroup post. It was not about technicalities of any sort. It was about history. A beautifully written history of computers. From the Turing machine to the Free Software world, the original author managed to capture all the important events of the computer revolution with a great deal of humor. Re-posting it here, it is just brilliant. The Gospel of Tux (v1.0) In the beginning Turing created the Machine. And the Machine was crufty and bodacious, existing in theory only. And von Neumann looked upon the Machine, and saw that it was crufty. He divided the Machine into two Abstractions, the Data and the Code, and yet the two were one Architecture. This is a great Mystery, and the beginning of wisdom. And von Neumann spoke unto the Architecture, and blessed it, saying, Go forth and replicate, freely exchanging data and code, and bring forth all manner of devices unto the earth. And it was so, and it was cool. The Architecture prospered and was implemented in hardware and software. And it brought forth many Systems unto the earth. The first Systems were mighty giants; many great works of renown did they accomplish. Among them were Colossus, the codebreaker; ENIAC, the targeter; EDSAC and MULTIVAC and all manner of froody creatures ending in AC, the experimenters; and SAGE, the defender of the sky and father of all networks. These were the mighty giants of old, the first children of Turing, and their works are written in the Books of the Ancients. This was the First Age, the age of Lore. Now the sons of Marketing looked upon the children of Turing, and saw that they were swift of mind and terse of name and had many great and baleful attributes. And they said unto themselves, Let us go now and make us Corporations, to bind the Systems to our own use that they may bring us great fortune. With sweet words did they lure their customers, and with many chains did they bind the Systems, to fashion them after their own image. And the sons of Marketing fashioned themselves Suits to wear, the better to lure their customers, and wrote grave and perilous Licenses, the better to bind the Systems. And the sons of Marketing thus became known as Suits, despising and being despised by the true Engineers, the children of von Neumann. And the Systems and their Corporations replicated and grew numerous upon the earth. In those days there were IBM and Digital, Burroughs and Honeywell, Unisys and Rand, and many others. And they each kept to their own System, hardware and software, and did not interchange, for their Licences forbade it. This was the Second Age, the age of Mainframes. Now it came to pass that the spirits of Turing and von Neumann looked upon the earth and were displeased. The Systems and their Corporations had grown large and bulky, and Suits ruled over true Engineers. And the Customers groaned and cried loudly unto heaven, saying, Oh that there would be created a System mighty in power, yet small in size, able to reach into the very home! And the Engineers groaned and cried likewise, saying, Oh, that a deliverer would arise to grant us freedom from these oppressing Suits and their grave and perilous Licences, and send us a System of our own, that we may hack therein! And the spirits of Turing and von Neumann heard the cries and were moved, and said unto each other, Let us go down and fabricate a Breakthrough, that these cries may be stilled. And that day the spirits of Turing and von Neumann spake unto Moore of Intel, granting him insight and wisdom to understand the future. And Moore was with chip, and he brought forth the chip and named it 4004. And Moore did bless the Chip, saying, Thou art a Breakthrough; with my own Corporation have I fabricated thee. Thou thou art yet as small as a dust mote, yet shall thou grow and replicate unto the size of a mountain, and conquer all before thee. This blessing I give unto thee: every eighteen months shall thou double in capacity, until the end of the age. This is Moore s Law, which endures unto this day. And the birth of 4004 was the beginning of the Third Age, the age of Microchips. And as the Mainframes and their Systems and Corporations had flourished, so did the Microchips and their Systems and Corporations. And their lineage was on this wise: Moore begat Intel. Intel begat Mostech, Zilog and Atari. Mostech begat 6502, and Zilog begat Z80. Intel also begat 8800, who begat Altair; and 8086, mother of all PCs. 6502 begat Commodore, who begat PET and 64; and Apple, who begat 2. (Apple is the great Mystery, the Fruit that was devoured, yet bloomed again.) Atari begat 800 and 1200, masters of the game, who were destroyed by Sega and Nintendo. Xerox begat PARC. Commodore and PARC begat Amiga, creator of fine arts; Apple and PARC begat Lisa, who begat Macintosh, who begat iMac. Atari and PARC begat ST, the music maker, who died and was no more. Z80 begat Sinclair the dwarf, TRS-80 and CP/M, who begat many machines, but soon passed from this world. Altair, Apple and Commodore together begat Microsoft, the Great Darkness which is called Abomination, Destroyer of the Earth, the Gates of Hell. Now it came to pass in the Age of Microchips that IBM, the greatest of the Mainframe Corporations, looked upon the young Microchip Systems and was greatly vexed. And in their vexation and wrath they smote the earth and created the IBM PC. The PC was without sound and colour, crufty and bodacious in great measure, and its likeness was a tramp, yet the Customers were greatly moved and did purchase the PC in great numbers. And IBM sought about for an Operating System Provider, for in their haste they had not created one, nor had they forged a suitably grave and perilous License, saying, First we will build the market, then we will create a new System, one in our own image, and bound by our Licence. But they reasoned thus out of pride and not wisdom, not forseeing the wrath which was to come. And IBM came unto Microsoft, who licensed unto them QDOS, the child of CP/M and 8086. (8086 was the daughter of Intel, the child of Moore). And QDOS grew, and was named MS-DOS. And MS-DOS and the PC together waxed mighty, and conquered all markets, replicating and taking possession thereof, in accordance with Moore s Law. And Intel grew terrible and devoured all her children, such that no chip could stand before her. And Microsoft grew proud and devoured IBM, and this was a great marvel in the land. All these things are written in the Books of the Deeds of Microsoft. In the fullness of time MS-DOS begat Windows. And this is the lineage of Windows: CP/M begat QDOS. QDOS begat DOS 1.0. DOS 1.0 begat DOS 2.0 by way of Unix. DOS 2.0 begat Windows 3.11 by way of PARC and Macintosh. IBM and Microsoft begat OS/2, who begat Windows NT and Warp, the lost OS of lore. Windows 3.11 begat Windows 95 after triumphing over Macintosh in a mighty Battle of Licences. Windows NT begat NT 4.0 by way of Windows 95. NT 4.0 begat NT 5.0, the OS also called Windows 2000, The Millenium Bug, Doomsday, Armageddon, The End Of All Things. Now it came to pass that Microsoft had waxed great and mighty among the Microchip Corporations; mighter than any of the Mainframe Corporations before it had it waxed. And Gates heart was hardened, and he swore unto his Customers and their Engineers the words of this curse: Children of von Neumann, hear me. IBM and the Mainframe Corporations bound thy forefathers with grave and perilous Licences, such that ye cried unto the spirits of Turing and von Neumann for deliverance. Now I say unto ye: I am greater than any Corporation before me. Will I loosen your Licences? Nay, I will bind thee with Licences twice as grave and ten times more perilous than my forefathers. I will engrave my Licence on thy heart and write my Serial Number upon thy frontal lobes. I will bind thee to the Windows Platform with cunning artifices and with devious schemes. I will bind thee to the Intel Chipset with crufty code and with gnarly APIs. I will capture and enslave thee as no generation has been enslaved before. And wherefore will ye cry then unto the spirits of Turing, and von Neumann, and Moore? They cannot hear ye. I am become a greater Power than they. Ye shall cry only unto me, and shall live by my mercy and my wrath. I am the Gates of Hell; I hold the portal to MSNBC and the keys to the Blue Screen of Death. Be ye afraid; be ye greatly afraid; serve only me, and live. And the people were cowed in terror and gave homage to Microsoft, and endured the many grave and perilous trials which the Windows platform and its greatly bodacious Licence forced upon them. And once again did they cry to Turing and von Neumann and Moore for a deliverer, but none was found equal to the task until the birth of Linux. These are the generations of Linux: SAGE begat ARPA, which begat TCP/IP, and Aloha, which begat Ethernet. Bell begat Multics, which begat C, which begat Unix. Unix and TCP/IP begat Internet, which begat the World Wide Web. Unix begat RMS, father of the great GNU, which begat the Libraries and Emacs, chief of the Utilities. In the days of the Web, Internet and Ethernet begat the Intranet LAN, which rose to renown among all Corporations and prepared the way for the Penguin. And Linus and the Web begat the Kernel through Unix. The Kernel, the Libraries and the Utilities together are the Distribution, the one Penguin in many forms, forever and ever praised. Now in those days there was in the land of Helsinki a young scholar named Linus the Torvald. Linus was a devout man, a disciple of RMS and mighty in the spirit of Turing, von Neumann and Moore. One day as he was meditating on the Architecture, Linus fell into a trance and was granted a vision. And in the vision he saw a great Penguin, serene and well-favoured, sitting upon an ice floe eating fish. And at the sight of the Penguin Linus was deeply afraid, and he cried unto the spirits of Turing, von Neumann and Moore for an interpretation of the dream. And in the dream the spirits of Turing, von Neumann and Moore answered and spoke unto him, saying, Fear not, Linus, most beloved hacker. You are exceedingly cool and froody. The great Penguin which you see is an Operating System which you shall create and deploy unto the earth. The ice-floe is the earth and all the systems thereof, upon which the Penguin shall rest and rejoice at the completion of its task. And the fish on which the Penguin feeds are the crufty Licensed codebases which swim beneath all the earth s systems. The Penguin shall hunt and devour all that is crufty, gnarly and bodacious; all code which wriggles like spaghetti, or is infested with blighting creatures, or is bound by grave and perilous Licences shall it capture. And in capturing shall it replicate, and in replicating shall it document, and in documentation shall it bring freedom, serenity and most cool froodiness to the earth and all who code therein. Linus rose from meditation and created a tiny Operating System Kernel as the dream had foreshewn him; in the manner of RMS, he released the Kernel unto the World Wide Web for all to take and behold. And in the fulness of Internet Time the Kernel grew and replicated, becoming most cool and exceedingly froody, until at last it was recognised as indeed a great and mighty Penguin, whose name was Tux. And the followers of Linus took refuge in the Kernel, the Libraries and the Utilities; they installed Distribution after Distribution, and made sacrifice unto the GNU and the Penguin, and gave thanks to the spirits of Turing, von Neumann and Moore, for their deliverance from the hand of Microsoft. And this was the beginning of the Fourth Age, the age of Open Source. Now there is much more to be said about the exceeding strange and wonderful events of those days; how some Suits of Microsoft plotted war upon the Penguin, but were discovered on a Halloween Eve; how Gates fell among lawyers and was betrayed and crucified by his former friends, the apostles of Media; how the mercenary Knights of the Red Hat brought the gospel of the Penguin into the halls of the Corporations; and even of the dispute between the brethren of Gnome and KDE over a trollish Licence. But all these things are recorded elsewhere, in the Books of the Deeds of the Penguin and the Chronicles of the Fourth Age, and I suppose if they were all narrated they would fill a stack of DVDs as deep and perilous as a Usenet Newsgroup. Now may you code in the power of the Source; may the Kernel, the Libraries and the Utilities be with you, throughout all Distributions, until the end of the Epoch. Amen.

8 July 2010

Michael Prokop: Report from FAI developer workshop 07/2010

Last weekend (2010-07-02 2010-07-04) nine people met at the FAI developer workshop at Linuxhotel in Essen/Germany. If you can t remember: FAI is a non-interactive system to install, customize and manage Linux systems and software configurations on computers as well as virtual machines and chroot environments, from small networks to large-scale infrastructures and clusters. The participants of the FAI meeting: picture of participants of the FAI developer workshop 2010 second row from left to right: Michael Goetze, Michael Prokop, Andreas Schuldei
first row from left to right: Sebastian Hetze, Manuel Hachtkemper, Thomas Lange, Mattias Jansson
missing on the picture: Thomas Neumann (left on sunday midday) and Stephan Hermann (only part-time) Friday afternoon started with getting to know each other, continuing with discussions all around FAI. On saturday we started to hack on FAI. * Between the hack sessions and discussions the attending people presented their FAI usage and approaches. Some notes from the presentations:
FAI Manager webfrontend / Stephan Hermann Stephan \sh Hermann presented his FAI web frontend which should be released under the GPL license in those days. The frontend uses qooxdoo whereas the backend is based on django, rpc4django and python-tftpy. Screenshot of FAI manager webfrontend A demo video is available at Currently Stephan is searching for a nice name for his FAI management tool please send suggestions either to him or to the linux-fai-devel mailinglist. Grml / Michael Prokop Grml is a Debian based Linux live system specially made for system administrators. Grml uses grml-live for building the ISOs, whereas grml-live itself uses FAI s dirinstall feature to build the live system. This provides the Grml team with a nice way to autobuild 18 ISOs per day, known as Mika also presented Grml s netscript bootoption and the ethdevice bootoption of live-initramfs which is useful for booting Grml/FAI via PXE. Host Europe / Michael Goetze Host Europe uses FAI for installing Debian and Ubuntu (32+64 bit) in the support center. They have ~20 FAI classes and use a Debian lenny NFSROOT as base for all deployed systems. Their main problems with FAI aren t related to FAI itself, but instead e.g. broadcom NICs with lack of support for it in Lenny s kernel. They are not using softupdate (yet) and currently use Kickstart for deploying CentOS but are working on deploying CentOS with FAI as well. LIS AG / Sebastian Hetze Linux Information Systems AG (LIS AG) are using FAI 3.2.17 and provide a luma and PyQt based GUI to their customers. They use DHCP, LDAP and DDNS for inventory, configuration and deployment. Mathematical Institute of the University of Bonn / Manuel Hachtkemper The Mathematical Institute of the University of Bonn uses FAI 3.1.8 and 3.3.5 for managing ~150 systems. They are automatically running softupdates every day, reporting how many hosts actually did run the softupdate and how many didn t run. The involved failogwatch tool supports two regex files, one for excluding specific hosts and the other one for grepping for known problems in the logs. Spotify / Andreas Schuldei + Mattias Jansson Spotify is a peer-to-peer music streaming service and the operating people at Spotify use FAI for deploying the systems. Currently they are using FAI 3.3.3 to deploy ~400 bare metal machines and ~150 virtualised machines. They have their class names in DNS using the txt/Text record entry. They are using a self written prepend_class script to manage dependencies between classes. University K ln / Thomas Lange Thomas uses FAI s trunk version (of course :) ), managing ~25 machines with less than 20 FAI classes. He s not using softupdates as Lenny s aptitude ignores the hold status of packages (this bug should be fixed for Squeeze). $COMPANY One of the big telecommunication providers in Germany uses FAI 3.3.3 for installing their bare-metal and virtual servers, providing Debian, Ubuntu and SLES. They are using Debian NFSROOT as a base for all systems as well and their main problems with FAI wasn t FAI itself but how to manage installation of virtual machines.
On Saturday evening we had a nice barbecue which included beer and K lsch *d&r*. ;) On Sunday we continued with discussions and development. Our work-log of the weekend: Important decisions made: We noticed that many FAI users implement their own way how to handle dependency management between classes, we will re-consider how we could provide such a mechanism through FAI s core. We also noted that it s important that any self-written scripts used within FAI are fully idempotent and users should be aware of this. Last but not least many thanks to the sponsors of the FAI developer workshop 07/2010! The workshop wouldn t have been possible without our generous sponsors, namely being:

30 January 2010

Josselin Mouette: Please save the graphical installer

The current state of g-i, the graphical version of the Debian installer is very concerning. Currently, the GTK+ version in squeeze (2.18 and soon 2.20) has very serious bugs in the DirectFB backend, which make it unusable for g-i. Because of that, the first alpha version of d-i will ship without graphical installer support. Unless someone steps up and does something, this will be the end of the graphical installer. Among other things, it means the end of support for several languages: Indic scripts, Thai, Amharic, and all RTL languages. Option 1: fix GTK+ DirectFB support Until now, we always found some good wills who volunteered to fix GTK+ so that g-i worked again. I d like to thank Attilio Fiandrotti and Sven Neumann for their past work, but unfortunately it seems they have better things to do now. If someone takes over their work and hacks on GTK+ to get it to work correctly again on DirectFB, we will be able to go on this way at least for the squeeze release. This requires someone with serious DirectFB knowledge who will not be afraid to dig into the GDK internals. Option 2: switch to X11 If GTK+ doesn t work on DirectFB, there is another plan, but it needs to happen fast. It should be possible to make the installer work on X11. This has the advantage that we know X11 works fine and is maintained in the long term, and so does the X11 GTK+ backend. This has also the drawback to make the installation media slightly larger. This requires quite some work on udebs: It looks like a lot, but there s nothing complicated in it. Anyone familiar enough with Debian can do this, with a little support from the maintainers of said packages. So this could well be you. Assuming you re interested in keeping g-i alive. Alternatives Other possibilities to support complex languages include:

2 December 2009

Margarita Manterola: Barbara Liskov, mother of Object Oriented Programming, among other things

This post is about Barbara Liskov, for the Ada Lovelace Day. Barbara Liskov is the first woman in the United States of America that obtained a Ph.D. from a Computer Science department, in 1968. However, this isn't by any chance her greatest achievement. She's the creator of the CLU programming language, a language created in the mid-70s, that we would find crufty and ugly nowadays, but that with its strong emphasis in abstraction, the use of clusters (basically equivalent to what we call classes today) and iterators, was to become the rock foundation of Object Oriented Programming. Apart from that, she worked in the design of a timesharing operating system, called Venus; designed another programming language, called Argus, that was oriented to distributed applications, and also set the foundations for much of what is currently done as distributed computing. Aged 70, she's currently still working at MIT, as the leader of the Programming Methodology Group, researching ways to tolerate byzantine faults. For all this work, she received the John von Neumann medal in 2004, and the Alan Turing award in 2008. All in all, what I find the most inspiring of all her life, is the fact that she was able to pursue her career, working on a new way of creating programs, while she was also a wife and a mother; and that today, aging 70, she's still researching, leading a group, and working towards making computing better.

1 May 2007

Simon Law: Party on for Net Freedom

CFP 2007
Originally uploaded by sfllaw.
Tonight, I'm going to be attending an open panel discussion at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2007. It's completely open to the public and will be a discussion on freedom on the Internet. There are going to be a number of famous people there, including Whit Diffie, Peter Neumann, Anita Allen, Bruce Schneier, and Ed Viltz. I'm not sure exactly what they're going to be talking about, but I bet it'll be thought-provoking. At around 20:30, I'll be down at the CFP Welcome Party, which is basically a big fundraiser for Creative Commons and EPIC. You've probably heard me mention Creative Commons a few times, because they're a big proponent of having a healthy body of creative work that artists can draw from. Almost all of the art I produce is available under a Creative Commons license, which I've chosen so that you can share, copy, and modify it. So I'm more than happy to socialize with interesting people and to support a good cause. Sounds interesting? You bet! How do you get there? Well, the panel is at Hotel Bonaventure, and starts at 18:30. Details here. Then the welcome party is at 20:30, at Austin's place. Details here. For directions to Austin's house, send me an e-mail. Austin's address is on this flyer. If you're leaving from the Hilton, try these directions. Hope to see you there!