Automate. Celebrate. Vacate

What’s the single biggest thing you can do to make yourself completely indispensable?  Automate yourself out of a job.  It seems counter-intuitive, but the truth is, unless you are a famous cardio-thoracic surgeon, a Soyuz Pilot, or Marilyn vos Savant, there are at least 250 other people in your city who can probably do what you do, better, faster, cheaper, and without complaining as much.  In case you were wondering, anyone can write these blog posts, and probably make them more interesting than I can.

To a large extent, employers keep knowledge workers around to extract marginal utility from them, whether it is in marketing communication, C++ programming, or quality assurance, with the understanding that rank and file employees will get their job done, meet or slightly exceed expectations, and stay out of trouble.  Most people at the center of the bell curve will not excel beyond their job duties, and that’s ok, because they don’t feel as passionately about the business as its founders or equity stakeholders.

Why is it good to automate your job away?  For the same reason that a good sales person can sell anything.  A good efficiency expert can optimize any job process or work flow, not just their own, and those are good people to have around.

When I was a kid, growing up in the Upper Midwest, there were still cars being manufactured in Detroit on a large scale, and things were assembled by hand.  The jobs paid very well, until robotics became commonplace and more and more dangerous occupations got replaced by servos, motors, and embedded systems.

Not very many people got out ahead of the automation, and sadly a lot of them lost their jobs and never re-adjusted.  The simple fact is, if it can be automated, it will be, and if it can improve the bottom line, and it’s good for the business, it will happen.

In the 1970s, the US went from being a labor intensive to capital intensive economy.  Because labor is relatively scarce compared to capital, anything that a knowledge worker can do to reduce labor costs will be recognized by good management, and if they are working for a company that is unable to recognize that, then their job and the job of the CEO will come to an end eventually, and that’s usually for the better.

Automate yourself out of a job, and if you are working for a company that is worth working for, they will give you more responsibilities and reward you with a bigger paycheck.

Virtual Office of the CIO

One of the greatest things about telework is the ability to hire a diverse team of people from all over the country, and even all over the world.

No longer are you stuck interviewing people, having to provide office space, a key card, parking, or even a laptop for them, as mobile computing technology has become so ubiquitous.

However, with telework comes the belief that if your contractors are out of site, they are out of mind, and likewise the concern that if you don’t see them on a daily basis they aren’t going to get the job done.

ThoughtWave Technologies is pleased to announce the Virtual OCIO service. Starting at $100/hour for as little as 8 hours a week, we will provide an on-site project coordinator supported by a back-end team comprising dedicated Linux or UNIX administrators, QA testers, technical writers, and even an administrative assistant, ready to deliver your project complete, on time, and within budget. The staff supporting your project will be dedicated to your effort — you won’t be subsidizing the high maintenance customers.

In addition, you’ll get our technical architecture expertise to make sure that not only is your project complete, on time, and within budget, but that it is done right.

Contact Jonathan Kalbfeld at 310-317-7934 for more information.

The Valuation of the Internet

Have you ever asked how big the Universe is? It’s about 93billion light years across. So, now that we are talking about big numbers, let’s talk about how big the Internet is.

The original 32-bit IPv4 address space is broken up into 5 “classes”, denoted by the letters A, B, C, D, and E. Over time, ISPs have adopted classless routing systems, so everything in the A, B, and C space is now a mishmash of address blocks varying in size from 256 on up to 16,777,216 IP addresses in a single block.

In the usable space, there are 222 routable “Class A” networks, starting at 1.0.0.0 and going up to 223, not including 127, which has a special purpose. Each “Class A”, or more modernly referred to as a /8 (stylized as ‘slash eight’), can hold up to 65536 routable networks of the smallest size.

The smallest block that is allowed to route independently on the Internet has approximately 256 IP addresses, of which 253 are usable, and 3 are reserved with a special meaning.

If you assign each usable IP address with some kind of monthly cash flow number, perhaps $12 per month, which is reasonable considering the cost of ISP services, data plans, hosting charges, cloud instances, web sites, you get an annual revenue of $144 per IP address. Doing a discounted cash flow analysis with a 5% growth rate, and the S&P growth rate at 11%, we arrive at a valuation of $1,602.84 per IP address. That means these tiny blocks of 253 IP addresses are worth about $405,518.52 for a single block.

A medium sized company might have 65,536 IP addresses, and they can be valued at $103,812,741.12. One hundred and three million dollars. There are a lot of companies out there with that kind of address space and nowhere near the valuation of $103M.

A large sized company like Apple, the Post Office, or Level 3 might have one or many Class A networks. If you extrapolate these out, you get a valuation of over $26.5billion per class A network. Know of a bankrupt company with a Class A?

In case you were wondering, the 222 usable Class A networks are worth $5,899,885,703,331.84 using this model.

How to Save Money In The Cloud Without Really Trying

Most customers using Amazon Web Services are way over-provisioned.  They have come from a background where their applications are running on static hardware, because that’s The Company Way, as Mr. Twimble would say.

The truth is, optimizing your resource usage should be a weekly exercise.  If your applications are properly redundant, there is no reason you can’t scale up and down your instances on demand and save a great deal.

For instance, Amazon’s top end RDS (Relational Database Service) instance costs about $6,500 a month running in redundant mode in Northern California.  That gives you 244GB of usable memory.  If you are only using 2% of your CPU and you are doing 500 queries a minute, you don’t need that.  You can scale it back to a slightly less powerful machine, and even without a reserved instance, save $5000 a month.  Or you can hire ThoughtWave Technologies to do this on a weekly basis, and the ongoing fee would be tied directly to the cost savings baselined from the start of engagement.  If we can’t save you any money in a particular month, you don’t have to pay us for that month.

Contact Jonathan Kalbfeld at +1 310 317 7933 for more information.

Don’t quit your day job

I once had an opportunity in 1999 to share an elevator in a sprawling Menlo Park office complex with a luminary of the venture capital world. At the time, my employer, Webvan, was preparing to list on the Nasdaq as WBVN.

For one reason or another, I was in these offices on Sand Hill Rd., and got 30 seconds to ask him his best advice to a budding entrepreneur. I was 22 at the time, and had an idea for a company that would allow people to send postal messages directly from their computer to people who had not yet connected to the Internet. At the time, access was very costly, and most mobile phone plans did not include data. If they did, it was not reliable.

His advice to me was “Don’t quit your day job, kid!”

I thought it was derisive at first, but he had not yet had enough of an opportunity to really gauge me as a person, and I decided not to take it personally. It wasn’t until February of this year, at the ripe old age of 37, that I discovered what he really meant.

He could have just said “your best seed capital is your paycheck.”

All of the best entrepreneurs were either in school full time or working for someone else. It makes sense. You get paid a salary which keeps the lights on and the water running, and the rent or mortgage paid, and then with your free time, you can think of something amazing. In fact, having only 2-3 hours a day to work on something forces you to learn time management, and gives you definite time when you have to be productive. If you are doing it full time, you will actually take your free time for granted.

If you are working on something else, like a creative endeavor, it’s the same story. Keep your day job. A number of my friends are producers, directors, and actors, and they make a healthy living JavaScript-ing, XML-ing, and python-ing while they work on their submission to Sundance.

If someone is going to pay you to think, take the money, do what they ask of you, and with your free time, work on your dream until you don’t have to work for them any more. Then, you will have developed the time management skills and you’ll be even more productive and successful. And if it doesn’t work out, you still have your day job.

I Haz A Sad

The geek community lost someone truly special today.  Someone who touched a lot of lives and inspired a lot of people.  Someone who may not be fortunate enough to have a movie or book made about her life, but who inspired so many of us to do amazing things.

I am speaking of my old friend Melody Bliss.  Back in the 1990s, I knew her as Melody Yoon, and she lived across the street from me when I rented a small one-bedroom apartment in Mountain View in 1997.  Mel would regale all of us with her expert wisdom on all things UNIX, Texas, gun safety, and kittens.

I was really a beginner, a noob as they say, and Mel was one of those people who always made time to explain things.  I used to joke that she taught me how to spell ‘ls’, the first UNIX command I ever used.  It’s probably actually true.

Melody taught me how to set up dialup networking on my Sun Sparc IPX, running the Solaris operating system.  She made things look easy, because they were easy for her.  I remember being completely dumbfounded and baffled when she set up my computer to use PPP over the Metricom Ricochet wireless service.

We all knew her as _Melody_ on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), and I believe she probably added the underscores in her name because she was so popular that it made an extra few steps so that she would get fewer chat messages and things would be manageable.

Mel had persistent health issues and lost her battle today.  We all lost her battle.  She will be truly missed.  Whatever you are doing, and whatever your field of expertise is, take a moment to think about someone who helped you when you were a beginner, and thank them.

The Cloud is Older than Your Mom

Not really, but it sounds cool.  People like to talk about the cloud like it is something new that was newly created in recent history.  In fact, the concept of virtualization as a service has been around since the 1960s, with mainframe technology.

In the 1990s I worked at a company called Sun Microsystems.  We used this fantastic software from Platform Computing called LSF, or Load Sharing Facility.  In a sense, it was a “cloud” of servers that were used for important things like simulating microprocessor regression testing, and doing off-hours massively-parallel analytics on a contract basis for other companies.

Later on, the world discovered server farms — specialized collections of load-balanced equipment designed to run important internet luminaries like Yahoo and Alta Vista and MySpace.

In 2007, when I was  at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I started exploring a piece of software called QEMU.  QEMU was a virtual machine emulator, that was a software-based system for running x86 operating systems on non-x86 platforms like SPARC, PowerPC, or ARM.

Over the years, QEMU adapted into something called KVM, which is Kernel Virtual Machine, a hypervisor that allows the simultaneous running of multiple operating systems on Intel-based hardware.

Now, instead of painstakingly installing each server and running the OS on bare metal, we can instead virtualize everything into a disposable container that is created and destroyed as it is needed.

Clouds are just made up of nodes, like undifferentiated stem cells.  They are still server farms, and load sharing facilities, and massively parallel systems, but we call them something else now.  Welcome to the 1960s!

How the ThoughtWave Technologies Support Model is More Modern than Most

Our support model is more modern, and much simpler, than most support models.  In most cases, if you want telephone technical support from most places, you have to call a number, wait to speak to someone, and give them a contract number.  If you haven’t paid up, they aren’t going to help you, and you will be twisting in the wind.

How do we do things differently?  For starters, anyone who has a running instance in our cloud is eligible for support. This means if it’s a Saturday afternoon and you have booted an instance because you want to play FreeCiv or chat with your friends on IRC, you can talk to a human being on the phone.

Simply send a text message to (213) 984 1000 with one of your running instance IDs

For example:

7d5f68ad-45a9-633e-127b-89a2bc675a92

Our automatic support system will check the database of running instances, and if your instance ID is valid, the system will dial your phone number and connect you to our support center.  You’ll either be connected directly to someone who will be notified upon pickup that this is cloud-related, or you will be sent to a voice mail box that is checked very frequently, and someone will get back to you ASAP.

Try doing that with some of the other major cloud providers without spending an arm and a leg.

While we’re launching fireworks, let’s launch a website as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 4.33.47 PM

I’m pleased to announce the new ThoughtWave Technologies website at thoughtwave.com.  We have scaled down our service offerings by 70% to concentrate on our core capabilities — cloud computing and SPARC LDOMs.

We can’t compete in the voice services business and why should you colocate a server with us when there are cheaper places?  (If you want to colocate still, let me know, but it’s probably not worth your time.)

Now you can sign up, establish and account credit (still a manual process, and billing is manual as well), and get a  complete self-service environment, where you can provision your cloud instances, upload your own OS images, and begin working on your application today.

Have fun!

The Smartest City I know

To quote Johnny Cash, “I’ve been everywhere, man!”

I spent the first nineteen years of my life living in Michigan.  Southeastern Michigan is home to the automobile industry, the University of Michigan and some of the top pharmaceutical companies.  You probably don’t think of the Detroit area as an intellectual hotspot, but it is.  There are thousands of mechanical engineers and physicians and other intellectuals.  They are very good at what they do.

After that, I spent seven years in the Bay Area, starting out in San Jose and working my way up to the peninsula until I became a homeowner in 2000 in San Francisco.  I worked with people who had started companies at 19 and sold them by 22.  People with Stanford and Berkeley educations, and people with no formal education who were doing jobs that might be done by scientists in other areas.

In 2003, I moved down to Los Angeles.  From 2003 to 2013, I was married and did not get out much.  I only knew about the LA metro area from what I could see through my prism of suburbia and my interactions with parents of other young children, as I have two toddlers.

In 2013 I found myself living alone once again, eventually purchasing a three bedroom condo in Studio City just footsteps from Ventura Blvd.  Most of my neighbors work in “The Industry”, which is funny because that represents less than 2% of the LA metro area, or about 75,000 people.  Everyone else works in Aerospace, or Finance, or Education, or Defense, or Technology.

Say what you wish about LA — talk about the vapidity of celebrities and all of the people you hear about on TMZ, but I can tell you from my own experience that is a tiny tip of the iceberg that represents this amazing city.  Some of the smartest people are the writers that come up with things to entertain us, day after day.  There are hundreds of channels, many more than when we were kids and only three major networks to choose from.  Entertainment has pushed the envelope of intelligence.

In addition, all of the advanced media technology for digital streaming, and content delivery relies on software developers and enterprise architects — very smart people.

I did not feel this way when I first moved here, and I am more impressed with this place than anywhere else I have lived.  It is the Smartest City I know.

I have not yet lived in New York City, Washington DC,  or Boston so I may find myself revising this post in a few years.