Yesterday I ran into a familiar SSL problem. I learned that a Sun engineer named Andreas Sterbenz had written a handy utility to solve the problem, and posted it on his Sun blog.
I looked to see what else he had posted. The last entry mentioned that he had jumped ship to Google, and pointed at his new Google blog. Go look at it, it’s pretty typical of a Google employee blog.
Not every new employee takes the hint. Sometimes they get fired as a result.
It’s known as the Google Vortex or Google Black Hole, and it affects products as well as people. Things pass through the event horizon in Mountain View, and you never hear from them again.
There’s something deeply ironic about it. Google is, after all, a company that just got slapped by the FTC and fined in France for not protecting privacy. If it’s your information, well, information wants to be free, right? But if it’s information about what the Google cafeteria is like or what the working hours are at Google, ironclad secrecy applies. You can’t even tell people that you’ve signed an NDA saying you can’t tell them anything.
Microsoft has a reputation for paranoia, but you see far more open commentary from Microsoft developers than you do from Google employees. Can you imagine a Google developer writing publicly about the internal limits of Google algorithms? Microsoft lets developers write that kind of stuff. Apple is notoriously secretive too, but get on the developer mailing lists and you’ll find helpful Apple employees actually answering questions. The only other Google-like situation I can think of was the person I knew who got a job at GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of the NSA. Obviously that’s all I ever learned about that. But speaking of the NSA, I wonder if they have cheese and wine parties with their Google friends and laugh about who has the more restrictive employment contract?
Obviously IBM is rather different from Google as well. I actually started this work blog because IBM encouraged me to do so. Big Blue has some guidelines for public blogging, of course; if you want, you can go and read them, because they’re public too. How weird is that, eh? Obviously IBM got on the cluetrain. Google has not yet done so.
I can’t help thinking about the USA vs the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It’s widely viewed that the culture of secrecy in the USSR held back their scientific progress. So far Google has managed to entice enough smart people to move behind the iron curtain that they’ve kept ahead–but then, the Soviet Union managed to entice a few defectors in the early days too. Ted Nelson’s “Computer Lib” contained this anonymous quote:
“IBM is run by and for people who really believe in authority. IBM is, to my way of thinking, the way the Soviet Union would be if the Soviet Union worked.”
If there’s ever a third revised edition of Computer Lib, I can’t wait to see what it says about Google.
(Oh, and Ted, if you ever happen to see this: I’d love to help you put together a complete web edition of Computer Lib. I know you’re not keen on the web because of its limitations, but Computer Lib and Dream Machines are important historical documents that ought to be preserved and made available to the public, and even a read-only hypertext copy would be a good start. People could at least easily link to it and comment on it then, and spread the ideas.)
This week saw the 40th anniversary of IBM CICS, the Customer Information Control System. It had 7 releases before being re-engineered as CICS TS (Transaction Server); CICS TS has just seen the release of version 4.1. I’m going to take a guess that they don’t use agile software development methods in the CICS department at Hursley. Yet for all its age, CICS keeps up with the times: it now supports Atom feeds, Java, and Web Services–REST as well as SOAP.
Of course, that’s not why 90% of Fortune 500 companies use it. It’s one of those rather dull products that runs invisibly, year after year, processing millions of transactions reliably and actually getting the answers right. Key parts of its behavior are formally specified in Z notation. It’s the back-end software that processes your ATM transactions and airline reservations. Yet in spite of that, it seems to have a fan following–there’s an I ♥ CICS group on Facebook. If you’re wondering what you’re missing, the University of Maryland has some screenshots of their CICS system. Of course, these days you can do your CICS development using Eclipse and give your applications a web interface.
Another really old IBM product that’s still in service is IMS, a database so old that it predates the relational model, let alone SQL. Built to track all the parts required to build the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo moon missions, it’s still being used today, 41 years later. It’s the product you use if your database is 60 terabytes in size. After CICS has processed your ATM transactions, chances are at some point the movement of the money will be noted in the Federal Reserve’s massive IMS database.
Like CICS, IMS has kept up with the times, with support added for web technologies. Ironically, the fact that XML is hierarchical makes IMS a better match for XML processing than the more modern relational databases–you can translate your entire document directly into IMS fields, preserving the hierarchical element structure directly, and then perform XPath queries via IMS’s JDBC interface.
I don’t use CICS or IMS myself. I only occasionally use a 5250 emulator, mostly to perform System i administration tasks; I haven’t logged in to z/OS in over a year. The mainframe I do use runs Linux, and I like it that way–Unix is quite old enough for me. Yet there’s something oddly fascinating about these mainframe products and their continued existence; it’s almost like discovering there are trilobites still living in the back of your filing cabinet.
From Amazon.com’s page for Discrete Mathematical Structures for Computer Science by Kolman and Busby:
Suggested Tags from Similar Products
harry potter (1303)
stephenie meyer (812)
breaking dawn (748)
jk rowling (708)
edward cullen (567)
vampire romance (535)
And the review… Yeah, it’s not a book for beginning programmers.
During a recent conference call, I learned that IBM has adopted a genetic non-discrimination policy. Apparently this news somehow slipped past me back in 2005 when it was announced. The company also supports proposed legislation to make it illegal to discriminate based on someone’s genetic code.
A few other facts about IBM you might not know:
- IBM hired its first black employee in 1899, along with three female employees. (At the time, it was known as the Computing Scale Company.) The four worked for the company for over 25 years.
- The first disabled employee was hired in 1914.
- IBM began hiring women to work as professional systems service staff in 1935. Thomas J. Watson Sr. wrote: “Men and women will do the same kind of work for equal pay. They will have the same treatment, the same responsibilities and the same opportunities for advancement.”
- In 1944, IBM was the first corporation to support the United Negro College Fund.
- In 1953, IBM published the first US corporate mandate on equal employment opportunity, stating that the company would hire people based on their ability, “regardless of race, color or creed”.
- Sexual orientation was added to the nondiscrimination policy in 1984.
So no, it really isn’t a bunch of middle-aged white guys in suits. Which reminds me–the dress code was relaxed in the early 90s. I’ve seen senior executives get teased during on-stage presentations for wearing a tie. At IBM Austin I’ve seen sandals and Hawaiian shirts.