Linux Foundation Video Contest ... Winner?

 Well, the Linux Foundation has released their winning video today...

Do I not sound impressed? Yeaaaa.....

I'm actually not that impressed. I have to admit, that I found the winning video to be very dull.  It overly simplifies Linux... actually... does it even mention Linux?? It doesn't highlight how Linux brings people together from all walks of life. It doesn't say how Linux runs on verything from toasters to supercomputers or that it runs on more devices than any other OS in the world.

Please also forgive me for saying this, but ... in the winning video, the narrator's voice silently screams "people who use Linux are geeks, and they can barely speak, much less maintain a complex body of software through social interaction!!" Man, the guy's voice reminds me of the one giving the Grails webinar... ugghh... and I don't have very fond memories about Grails.

I thought that some of the finalists were a little too light-hearted. Some of them were slightly spooky, but I would have thought that a quirky, funny, yet clever video would have snuck through to the end. Alas, I was wrong.

My 5 favourites were this, this, this, this, and this, in no specific order, if only because they captivated or identified with the audience somehow. I would have even preferred the Novell Meet Linux ads over the winner of the contest (Flame suit on!). I would have even preferred the TrueNuff spoof advertisements over the winner, in spite of not being pro-linux whatsoever.

They would have been better off showing a clip of somebody playing NumptyPhysics.


Re-branding Engineering

Recently there was an comment / article in the EE Times about re-branding the engineering profession as one that is rewarding on many different levels. I wanted to share my reaction to the article, for anyone who might grace these pages with their eyes.

I would definitely agree with Cohn's perspective. He is the IBM fellow who spoke out about his love for the profession, and how he would do it for free. I myself feel the same. John Cohn spends a lot of his time trying to re-brand the engineering profession, and make it exciting for youths. On the other hand, there is a lot of truth to the follow-up saying that the job market for people like us is getting smaller and smaller in North America and Western Europe.

People who don't understand engineering practise, see it as just another expense to get what they want in the end. Yes, that sentiment is directed at the majority of management. So why would any business entity, in their right mind, spend more money to have engineering done in the western world, when they can get the same product from the eastern world at a fraction of the price? From an engineer's perspective, meaning we think sometimes too much about process and financial efficiency, our natural answer to that question, would be 'none'. Maybe the engineering curriculum should include a course about the societal responsibility towards engineering.

Our social system, in North America at least, is starting to become tarnished. We have some of the best technical universities in the world. However, once our engineering graduates step out of the gates, they find themselves in one of the worst job market declines in history. I find it somehow disturbing, that a high-school dropout working on an automotive assembly line can have more in wages, benefits, and job security than a lot of engineers that I know.

Engineering is one of the most demanding disciplines in terms of training requirements, but the social and financial rewards of a career in the discipline are starting to disappear. Training (in North America at least) costs a lot of money. When the payback is not there after graduation and there is only incentive to move to Asia to find work, or to push a pencil at desk somewhere doing some unrelated job, it can be a very discouraging experience. Society today does not reward engineers for their hard work. Aside from labelling engineers as geeks or nerds, this does not paint a very great picture for the future generations.

Aside from outsourcing, middle-management is another problem. I like my company because we have relatively few overpaid executives. The result is that the engineers hold a large part of the business responsibility and decision power. My boss still writes code - it's amazing. The structure of our organization is more-or-less flat, as opposed to hierarchical, like a pyramid, where each manager has a manager.

Maybe these tough economic times will fertilize the industrial landscape for new and unique companies to sprout up. Undoubtedly, this requires that the government make some venture capital available. New graduates who attend a job fair should see a booth that says something of the form
Are you a fountain of new ideas? Are you independent and self-motivated? Good leadership skills? Get a government grant to jump-start your company!

Aside from bailing out the auto industry (don't get me wrong, we definitely need more gas-guzzling cars on the road ... cough, cough, ahem ...), the government should also be making initiative for our young engineers to start rebuilding the industry closer to home, from the rubble of industries that once were.


Two Bits

Well, I've finally done it. I've been working for a few months now on porting Linux to a new device. Do you know what it came down to in the end?

Two bits in a 32-bit number.

That's it. There were times when I became quite a hermit working on this device. People would look at me like I was crazy sometimes. I had to open it the case and solder a few connections on. At the very beginning I was probing pcb pads to find the right traces. I hooked it up to a scope, put together a few voltage-level shifter circuits. I designed and fabricated a breakout board for easier access to some really small traces.

Just when I thought that I was destined to lose my grip on reality, I was greeted by what seemed to be some ascii characters on the oscilloscope. Then, with a bit more tinkering, at a point in time that seemed to be more precious than diamonds, as my eyes started to well up a little bit, I saw the following message on my console:
Linux version 2.6.29 (cfriedt@localhost) (gcc version 4.1.2 (Gentoo 4.1.2 p1.1)) #5 Fri Apr 10 18:16:27 CEST 2009
CPU: XScale-PXA270 [69054117] revision 7 (ARMv5TE), cr=0000397f

The device itself will remain unnamed .... for now ...


Cringely Compares Financial Mess to a Nuclear Meltdown

I read Robert Cringely's post about the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, and thought it was quite insightful, particularly

  • when compared it to the financial meltdown of the last 6 months
  • when he clearly stated that there are consequences for having the wrong people in charge

Quite often, when I speak about the economic crisis of late, I make an analogy that the risk analysts for certain investment firms are very much like the safety engineers in a civil engineering. However, there is one major discrepency - when a skyscraper collapses that a civil engineering firm has built, the engineering firm is held legally and financially responsible. At least in Canada, that concept is stressed upon engineering students right from the beginning. Furthermore, the regulatory body for professional engineering in Canada will not allow someone to act as a professional engineer without certifying that they are fully aware of their own liability. In many cases, the collapse of a building has similar reprocussions to the collapse of an economy. Lives are ruined. Some people lose everything. It's unfortunate that public administration, and certain investment banking firms are not also required to have liability.

The public administration that changed the laws for acceptable risk analysis methods did so based on a paper by a certain Waterloo mathematician. It was a formula for risk analysis that simplified calculation in a few very special cases. In spite of publications warning about improper usage of that formula, the public administration never fixed what they had broken.

The economic meltdown actually started a decade ago after the US government had approved certain changes in acceptable risk analysis for bank loans. The consequences of those changes went unnoticed, because the people overseeing the loans simply did not know to observe them. Similarly, public administration was either not qualified enough to understand the mathematics of the risk analysis methods they approved, or they were simply ignorant of the warnings and did nothing about them.

Why is it, that an engineer can be held legally responsible for disaster, but a financial analyst cannot be? Why is it, that there are often highly unqualified people in positions of great power?

Those are questions that we should really never need to ask.