Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Closed Source Dumbs Us Down

I was awake for quite a while last night. Probably lingering anxiety that the web site would crash again. Last night I decided to finish a book I had neglected to finish last month, John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down.

Gatto is a 30-year veteran of the New York City public school system. In 1991, he was named teacher of the year for New York State. Ironically, he used the occasion of his acceptance speech to blast the educational establishment, detailing his perceived flaws in compulsory public schooling. I'm hip with this subject matter. My family is homeschooling our kids and I think most of Gatto's criticisms are right on. While it's a little orthogonal to this posting, Gatto's conclusion is that compulsory public schooling is unreformable and should be abolished in favor of a variety of other educational choices, the way the US educational system was back in the early 1800s.

What struck me in the context of open source was a particular essay titled "The Congregational Principle." In it, Gatto discusses the advantages of local self-organization that typified Congregational churches in Puritan New England. The key paragraph for us here is:

Despite the lip service we have continued to pay to local choice ever since Congregational days, our schools are centrally planned and already have a national curriculum in place mediated by the textbook publishing industry and the standardized training of teachers. That our schools have failed spectacularly to give our children the education we want for them, or the selves we want, or to deliver on the dream of the democratic, classless society we still yearn for is obvious enough; what we miss is the logic of our failure. By allowing the imposition of direction from centers far beyond our control, we have time and again missed the lesson of the Congregational principle: people are less than whole unless they gather themselves voluntarily into groups of souls in harmony. Gathering themselves to pursue individual, family, and community dreams consistent with their private humanity is what makes them whole; only slaves are gathered by others. And these dreams must be written locally because to exercise any larger ambition without such a base is to lose touch with the things which give life meaning: self, family, friends, work, and intimate community. [Emphasis in the original.]

The impactful notion to me in there is that community, true community, gathers itself together, voluntarily, around shared dreams. The essence of open source is choice, and choice fosters the community that has become the stereotypical hallmark of healthy open source projects. Closed source eliminates choice. It gathers others together not of their own choice, but out of desperation for lack of alternatives. In Gatto's words, it makes us slaves and dumbs us down.

Am I being over the top? Maybe. But at 2:00 AM last night, it sure seemed to make some sense.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Why doesn't every text field check spelling?

I was editing a bunch of web and wiki stuff today. It's amazing what you find that looks dumb when you go back and edit a few days later. Sometimes, I can hardly believe what I write.

While fixing a typo in a web page today, I had that thought: Why doesn't every text field (like the Blogger web form into which I'm typing this post) check spelling while I type, displaying errors with the red wiggly underscore. MS Word did it first. It was a good idea. Now just about every application has implemented it. I get it in Thunderbird, for instance. So why don't operating systems (Windows) and graphics tool kits (GTK+ or Qt) implement this as a base feature, available to every application, whether they want it or not?

That way, my blog posts would be less typo-infested.

When Blogger/Google goes bad

Looks like everybody has a bad day once in a while...

Actually, at least some of the guys over at Blogger are pretty cool. I know at least one that likes to hack in Lisp.

It must be a corollary to Murphy's Law

We're under siege! I'm hunkered down here in our new San Mateo bunker. Good thing we got the fridge and ordered pizza for everybody on Friday...

Okay, not really, but let's just say that interest has been running high on Vyatta the past few days. We did more web traffic on Friday than we had the past 6 months.

Of course, along with lots of traffic comes lots of scaling problems. It must be a corollary to Murphy's Law that a company's web presence is fated to crash immediately after the company announcement. Ours did on Sunday. Twice.

I got the call from Allan as I was heading into church. Robert drove to the data center and rebooted things, disabling our downloads for a while so we could debug stuff. I thought I had a solution developed with our web programmer, Tucker. I hacked that in and re-enabled things, and it promptly crashed again. Robert had to drive to the data center again and I got a nasty email when I copped to being the culprit. Now I'm on the hook for large quantities of alcohol to appease my cube-mate.

Ah, the joys of scaling a startup. At least people are interested. What if you threw a party and nobody came? ;-)

PS: I find it completely ironic that Blogger seems to be "down" just as I'm writing this...

Friday, February 24, 2006

So much for stealth mode

Well, I think Vyatta is out of stealth-mode now. We officially launched the Vyatta community around open source networking this morning with a press release.

Last night, Om Malik blogged about us. Today, we're getting all sorts of inbound calls wanting all manner of information, everything from whether we have a vendor for Vyatta logo merchandise (yes, already done) to whether small investors can buy our stock (no, because we're still privately funded).

I have already done a couple of off-the-cuff interviews today, including one for Network World this morning. The good news is that most people are grokking the value proposition and what we're trying to do.

Some of the articles are portraying this as Vyatta trying to kill Cisco. That makes for good drama, but I think that's a bit over the top. This is about returning the Internet to its open source roots, providing customers a more cost effective, flexible, and secure option for running their networks. That's something we all benefit from.

To give a proof point around that, one of the calls I took this morning was from a guy who had been referred to us by somebody who saw the Business 2.0 article. It turns out the guy ran an ISP in Africa and wanted something cost effective that can do both routing and WiFi. We still need to do some work to get WiFi working, but if somebody gets a hankering to get it done before us, the code is all there.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Office Conundrum

I have blogged the past couple of days about the setting-up of our new office. I stumbled across some other people struggling with the same sort of issues. Let's just face it, offices have their drawbacks, in addition to many good points. One option is to try to jettison the whole concept.

The guys at Charter Street have coined a great phrase: going Bedouin. Simply, going Bedouin is about avoiding as much infrastructure purchase as you can and putting all your cycles into building your product, not your overhead. This includes everything from offices and cubes to servers, phones, and software. Greg Olsen, the author at Charter Street, says that if you can buy it as a service, you should, letting other people take care of the day-to-day maintenance. Don't hire a full-time IT staff, he suggests.

It's important to note that Olsen doesn't suggest ditching the office altogether. An office can be an important meeting location when people have to be face to face and there is an element of team bonding that can be lost when everybody is remote. But Olsen is clear that things should be kept in check: "Leases can be short term and opportunistic."

My favorite quote: "I remember longing wistfully for the days when the company's infrastructure fit into my backpack."

Along similar lines, Jackson West contributed a great article to Om Malik's Blog, titled The New Office Space. In it, West references Olsen's article but suggests that you can ditch the office almost entirely and do everything in WiFi-connected coffee shops. West thinks that coffee shops can be the base for everything from daily work and email to recruiting and product demos. His article even provides a list of recommendations of the best haunts for San Francisco Bedouin workers.

My take is that I think there's a balance here. My own experience working at coffee shops has been mixed. They're not very private and they're noisy, so I find them difficult to make lots of business calls from, particularly extended conference calls. Next, there is always the issue with finding a power connection. In some Starbuck's, I have experienced people "hovering" for a table near a power outlet, similar to Christmas shoppers circling the mall parking lot looking for an open space. Finally, I think it depends a lot on what your business is about and how well your team knows each other.

If your team has worked together before and knows each other, and your business is such that people can work relatively independently, or at least electronically, I think you can move closer West's vision. If you can't meet that criteria, however, something more akin to Olsen's Bedouin concept has merit. The difference is that Olsen acknowledges the virtues of having a shared space, even if people aren't in it every minute of every day.

In Vyatta's case, we had to follow West's model at first because we simply didn't have any offices. We found that even though our team was small and we could get work done, we weren't bonding as well as we wanted. Some of us had worked together, whereas others hadn't. Now that we have the office, I find that there's a bit more cohesion. Over time, we'll probably need the office less, and we'll probably start looking more Bedouin.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Black Box That Would Conquer Telecom

Wow! Vyatta managed to score a nice article in Business 2.0 this week: The Black Box That Would Conquer Telecom, written by Om Malik, who writes a great blog at http://www.gigaom.com/.

Favorite quote from the article: "But if Vyatta's black box can do all it promises at a fifth the price of the competition, the company stands to win a lot of converts. In fact, it could be an all-out rout."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Never Take Allan to Office Depot

We have been having a printer problem. We thought we'd be smart and buy a nifty all-in-one printer/fax/copier for the new office. Allan went out last week and came back with a Cannon of some sort. It looked fine to start with, but the big hiccup was that it wasn't network ready. After messing around with the printer and the LinkSys print server for a few days, we finally decided to thrown in the towel and return the thing to Office Depot.

So, Allan and I trudged over there and hauled it back. I have to say, the girl at Office Depot working the register was great. She accepted everything back with no issues. We told her we wanted to return the Canon and buy something else instead. She said that was fine and told us to pick out what we wanted. We found a network ready HP color laser model and brought the pick-up tag to the front. She promptly dispatched a stock boy to bring it out. Meanwhile, Allan and I were waiting.

So, Allan sees a new Lenovo laptop sitting over at a display by the register. We walk over and he starts talking about this anti-virus, rollback feature that Lenovo/IBM supposedly build into these things. He starts dinking around with the keyboard, just generally killing time. Then he decides to fiddle around with the USB port, pulling what he thought was a mouse or something from it. Well, it turns out that Office Depot has a theft alarm system that uses USB that they plug into each of their display laptops so that they don't walk off (they are also mechanically bolted down). Anyway, about a nano-second after Allan pulls this USB cable from the machine, there is an ear-splitting alarm that starts going off. The girl at the register is rolling her eyes and I'm looking sheepish. Everybody in the store is looking our direction. The manager finally had to come over and disable the alarm. It look about 5 minutes, during which Allan and I tried to look not-guilty. I don't think it worked.

Moral of the story: Don't take Allan to Office Depot.

New Fridge

Woo hoo! Being at the office was starting to feel a bit like Survivor. Sure, we had chairs to sit on and computers to peck at, but we didn't have a fridge in the kitchen. Rick brought in bagels yesterday morning and I felt like I had to hurry up and consume as many as possible before the cream cheeze started to go bad.

Well, today we hit the big time and got a new fridge delivered. It's big and black, matching the kitchen floor. Allan thinks the door is on the wrong side, but I think it'll work great. The inside is cold and the cream cheeze won't spoil.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Open Source Dinner

One of the VC firms involved with Vyatta organized a dinner of a bunch of open source companies last night. We had Bill Hilf, the VP of open source at Microsoft; Kim Polese from SpikeSource; Simon Crosby, one of the founders of Xen and XenSource; Mike Schroepfer, the VP of engineering for Mozilla; Robert Fanini, the founder of GroundWork; and Scott Dietzen, the CTO of Zimbra. It was a heavy hitting crew. Everybody was in town and geared up for the Open Source Business Conference. I was sitting next to Simon (XenSource) and Robert (GroundWork), and across from Bill (Microsoft) and Mike (Mozilla). The conversation was great. I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store.

Simon and I got engaged in a long conversation regarding AMD (where I worked in a long-ago life) and Intel (where Simon worked). The consensus was that Intel is pretty poorly positioned for the next 12 - 18 months. We'll see what happens when the next round of Intel chips arrives later this year. Simon said the virtualization capabilities of both Intel and AMD's new chips are going to be pretty amazing, paired with Xen.

It was funny watching Bill and Mike discuss browser strategies. I was waiting for the WWF Smackdown to break out, but everybody was remarkably civil. Both of them seemed to have a realistic view of the browser wars.

The big rumor around the table was the Oracle/Sleepycat deal.

Anyway, it was fun to attend. Vyatta was not quite there in terms of announcing anything at OSBC, but I'm sure we'll be attending next year.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

New office

Well, we moved into the new office on Feb 6. It's a start. There were chairs and cubes. It has a good sized kitchen (with no furniture) and two conference rooms. We have no printer.

On the good side, we started using our own code to power the router into our server room. Allan was a bit stymied when he booted our live CD in the Dell PC and then figured out that the Dell only supported a USB keyboard and our system image didn't support the same. I was a bit shocked to finally see a PC without PS/2 ports. The industry has been talking about going USB-only for a decade now. I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime, though.