Category Archives: Book review

5 Things Frans Johansson says about innovation

medici affect johansson

You may not have heard of Medici before, but you’ve probably heard of the renaissance. The medici family hosted the round tables, the meetups, the social gatherings & mixers. They brought diverse artisans engineers & thinkers together, and the world hasn’t been the same since!

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In the Medici Effect, Frans dissects what this famous family did. His case studies include the likes of Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Orit Gadiesh, Marcus Samuelsson, George Soros & our own favorite Linus Torvalds,

What he discovered really surprised me.

1. Swim at the intersection

Hanging out with folks in your field is great. Whether you’re a physician, financial analyst, Ruby programmer, or artist. But it won’t expose us to enough new ideas. To get that, you need to hang out with those in other disciplines. Learn a language, take dance classes, try your hand at a new sport, or attend meetups of wedding planners or DJs. Whatever it takes to get out of your comfort zone is what will put you at the intersection.

Also: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

2. You need quantity to get quality

This was a very surprising finding of their research. One might think that greats like Albert Einstein were geniuses from the start. But it turns out one consistent factor between all these folks is the quantity of their attempts. They came up with many many ideas, and chased as many as they could. Of course they are only remembered for their successes, but this hides the underlying mathematics. It’s a numbers game in almost all of these cases.

Read: Are SQL Databases Dead?

3. Peel all the potatoes and cook them together

Peel one potato and cook it. Then peel another and cook it. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for efficiently preparing dinner does it? Turns out it’s also not great for innovating. Peel & prepare many ideas at once, and try to execute them in parallel if you can. That’s what these greats have done.

Related: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

4. Be ok with more failures

This is a tricky one. But Johansson puts in perspective with this key quote:

”Inaction is far worse than failure.”

Viewed that way, our caution about diving into a new idea seems more limiting. True it costs money, time & resources to pursue new ideas, ventures & startups. So be sure to reserve resources. That’s right spend that money & time carefully lest you run out before hitting on the big one.

He also says to be suspicious of low failure rates. In yourself or those you’re evaluating. This probably indicates you’re not risking enough, or trying new things constantly.

Read this: Why Oracle Won’t Kill MySQL

5. break out of your network

Your network is powerful to pursue your career, or following existing well traveled paths. But they can be an obstacle when forging new paths, which is what innovation is all about.

So break away from your networks. One way you can do this is by building a new one. But be sure to surround yourself with diverse cultures, upbringing, backgrounds & expertise.

Also: RDS or MySQL 10 Use Cases

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Lulzsec, Anonymous and the sorry state of internet security

zalgo text

If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you might not have heard of Anonymous, the headline grabbing hacker group that’s famous for attacking citibank, ebay, Sony, the FBI, CIA and the websites of various world governments.

Parmy Olson takes us on a ride, through tales that are riveting, and quite a bit scary for what they reveal about today’s internet, and the false sense of security we all have.

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Kids these days!

By now you’ve probably heard their names T-flow, Topiary, Sabu, & Kayla. And then there was AVunit, pwnsauce, Sup_g, and Havij. Cool characters, sitting at keyboards all over the world hatching menacing attacks, and seeming more organized than they actually were…

Topiary jumped into the role as spokesman for the group. Listening to this live hack only seems amusing in retrospect, now that the group has been brought down…

Read: Why devops talent is in short supply

For all the subcultures you’ve never heard of…

Today’s internet is rife with fascinating subcultures, many I’d never heard of. Parmy’s book on Anonymous takes us to the door of all these places, and gives us a candid peak at what goes on there. Kids these days are up to no good!

The bizarro Encyclopedia Dramatica is a wikipedia of weirdness. And then there’s Googledorks, a hackers delight of exploits (ways to break into systems online), and hacks.

And let’s not forget 4Chan the online community and forum that hatched Anonymous.

You thought Ascii Art was cool, but have you heard of zalgo text? That’s the text garbling software that created this posts image.

If you’re looking to dig a little deeper, browse over to know your meme, a sort of urban dictionary for internet subcultures.

Don’t forget the 47 rules of the internet. I’m still looking for rules two through thirty three. Does this have something to do with this 33?

Read: How to evaluate an independent consultant expert

With only a very thin blanket to secure us…

If you’re not already a touch paranoid with the risks of online banking, social networks and identity theft you will be after reading this tale.

Anonymous troublemakers were able to send SWAT teams to unsuspecting people’s homes, crowd source personal information, social engineer their way to facts about someone and then dox them publishing all that personal information online.

On the more technical side, many sites are vulnerable to SQL Injection a rather technical sounding method to trick websites into dumping the contents of their databases back to a hacker. There’s even an automated tool called sqlmap to help you with the dirty work.

And then there are the very illegal denial of service attack tools like the ominous sounding low orbit ion cannon. Please don’t try this at home!

Definitely the worst of all offenders are the botnets, swarms of infected computers that can be controlled from a central location, to wreak havoc on users and internet firms alike. Thanks Bill!

As a parting word, take a quick look at this instructional video on using backtrack5, a hacking & security testing tool…

Also: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

The older roots of hacking circa 80’s and 90’s

I remember back in the 80’s when War Games came out. It was a scary premise. With the cold war between the US and the former Soviet Union in full bloom, it felt very real.

The 90’s brought Clifford Stoll hunting a hacker through his computer systems in The Cuckoo’s Egg.

And then along comes Kevin Mitnick, turning his finger up at US agents, and wreaking his own havoc in his wake.

The anonymous story turns more political when they meet the likes of Julian Assange, but even that isn’t new. Remember the Pentagon Papers?

What’s really knew is how the internet has grown, but how computers have not gotten more secure through that period. It has all grown more brittle, with many websites, and personal computers steered by unsuspecting users.

Read: Why high availability is so very hard to deliver

Surprisingly soft landing

One thing that really surprised me in this tale, was the sentences many Anons received. The way the headlines read, this was real all-out warfare on governments and corporations a like. But reading the judgements, it appears judges had a different perspective.

Although there were certainly compromises of personal information, the group really wasn’t responsible for a huge amount of theft & fraud. Sure they took down some websites, but whom does that really harm. It makes great headlines, but the bigger systems behind the scenes are actually more secure than that.

”IRC is just the crap out of everyone’s minds…” – Topiary on words thought-typed in IRC chats

After flipping through to the end, it seems we’ve taken a ride through the internet underground, but not through the criminal underworld. That is out there surely, but it’s not run by this scattered team of recluse misfits.

Related: Why Airbnb didn’t have to fail

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25 Rumsfelds Rules for Startups

RumsfeldsRules

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While we are still deep in the woods of a government shutdown, I thought it would be interesting to sum up some of our former Defense Secretary’s words of wisdom.

Rumsfeld may not have done everything right, but some of his quotes are priceless. What’s more they appeal to Startups quite nicely…

1 If you are working from your inbox, you are working on other people’s priorities.

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2 Men count up the faults of those who keep them waiting.

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3 In unanimity, there may well be either cowardice or uncritical thinking.

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4 Test ideas in the marketplace. You learn from hearing a range of perspectives.

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5. You can’t recover a fumble unless you’re on the field. Get out there.

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Read this: Why the Twitter IPO mentioned scalability

6. First law of holes. If you get in one, stop digging.

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7. Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.

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8. You pay the same price for doing something halfway as for doing it completely so you might as well do it completely.

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9. It is difficulties that show what men are.

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10. What you measure, improves.

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Also: Why I don’t work with recruiters

11. If you are lost, “climb, conserve and confess”

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12. It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

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13. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

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14. People don’t spend money earned by others with the same care that they spend their own.

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15. Disagreement is not disloyalty.

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Related: Why a CTO must never do this

16. A lie travels halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.

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17. It is easier to convince someone they’re right, than to convince them they’re wrong.

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18. Your best question is often why.

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19. Simply because a problem is shown to exist, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there is a solution.

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20. The world is run by those who show up.

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Read: Who is Sean Hull?

21. Don’t panic. Things may be going better than they seem from the inside.

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22. Know that the amount of criticism you receive may correlate closely to the amount of publicity you get.

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23. Sunshine is a weather report, a flood is news.

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24. If you expect people to be in on the landing, include them in the takeoff.

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25. If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it.

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Read this: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

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30 Days of Aspirin for your Ailing Management Headaches

Take Two & Call Me In the Morning

I like a book like Gerry Czarnecki’s even if I can’t pronounce his name. He’s laid out things for readers, a very busy bunch who are going to have trouble finding time in their day to read, but can sorely use the advice. Organized into 30 daily bites of probably 15-20 minutes, you can dig through on your commute to work, or on your lunch break.

Also check out Who Moved My Cheese a business self-help classic.

Czarnecki should know. As a 2nd Army Lieutenant then later heading up board of directors at organizations large and small he’s seen a lot. He digs up the best stories, and offers up lessons straight out of his experiences.

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On interviews – Be careful that you do not let the resume dominate your conversation. You will gain better insight if you listen to what the candidates want to talk about or what they think you want to talk about. – Gerry Czarnecki
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Some of the topics you’ll touch on…

o dealing with mistaken hires that don’t work out
o finding a mentor
o career moves & pivots
o setting expectations with new hires
o hitting peak performance
o filling your bus with rock stars

For startups an all-time favorite of mine is REWORK – 37 Signals guys. These guys have taken the lean methodology and built a real business by being efficient. The pages resonate for me as a small business owner. I’ve found many of the same lessons work in the real world for me.

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Also read
Thank you for arguing by Jay Heinrichs
. With some of the best advice on rhetoric, sales, presentations & persuasion, I re-read bits of the book often.

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Tech Print Isn't Dead – Bloomberg Businessweek

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I usually review a book. But this time I thought I’d trumpet about the best weekly going right now. Nope it’s not a blog, not Wired or any of the other tech mag.

It’s the upstart Bloomberg Businessweek which got a major overhaul a couple years back by
creative director Josh Tyrangiel formerly of the Guardian.

Check out: Why Generalists Are Better at Scaling the Web

The covers are controversial and grab your attention, and the copy is top notch. It’s like reading the economist but with more tech & business heavy content. Work lifestyle articles, back-to-back with business book reviews as haiku? A solid dose of business & tech trends, startups, entrepreneurs and innovation. It’s all here.

Also: What Wouldn’t Google Do?.

If you’re looking for a good read, get a subscription right now.

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MySQL for Devs, DBAs and Debutantes

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I just received my copy of the 5th Edition of Paul DuBois’ MySQL tomb. Weighing in at 1153 pages, it’s a solid text, with a very thorough introduction to the topic of administering MySQL databases.

Buy the book here: MySQL 5th Edition by Paul Dubois

A book for a broad audience

When I say debutantes, it’s a nod to beginners, for this book forges a very solid and complete introduction to the topic of MySQL. Start with installing the software & setting up your environment, and then move on to really understanding the SQL language, from commands to create objects, to ones for adding & modifying data, and then writing code around it.

See also: 5 more things deadly to Scalability

There’s a thorough discussion of datatypes, stored procedures, functions and views.

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Paul Dubois’ definitive reference makes a excellent compliment to High Performance MySQL. They should sit alongside eachother on your database bookshelf.
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For developers there are chapters on writing applications in C, another for Perl and a third for PHP.

For DBAs there are chapters on security, backups, replication, understanding the data directory and general server administration. There is also good coverage of both 5.5 and the newly released 5.6 of MySQL.

What I like about this book

You can think of this book as a definitive reference to MySQL. It includes much of the online documentation that you would find at Oracle’s site, such as command & variable reference, and detailed explanation of how to use the client tools.

Dubois also goes beyond the online documentation though, giving you a bit of a background around concepts, a broader more complete discussion.

Read this: Two Part DBA Interview Guide for Managers & Candidates alike

He also lays out the material in a very logical stepwise way, so for someone new to the MySQL world and the time on their hands, the 1153 pages could be read straight through.

Why No Mention of Percona Toolkit?

I have to admit I was a bit surprised there was no mention of Percona Toolkit. Perhaps it was buried in some dark corner of the text I missed, but it made no mention in the index at all.

Percona Toolkit of course is a tool that every DBA should be familiar with. It is really an essential toolkit and fills the gaps that the prepackaged tools can’t help you with.

Want to checksum your tables to compare data on master & slave? pt-table-checksum does the trick.

Check this: AirBNB didn’t have to fail during the Amazon AWS Outage

Want to find out how far your slaves *really* are behind? pt-heartbeat is your friend.

Want to analyze your slow query log to produce a useful summary report? pt-query-digest to the rescue.

I also see no mention of innotop, which I would also say is an essential tool. These aren’t really advanced topics, so It’s unclear why they are missing. In the real world you need these tools to do your job.

Other Criticisms

My more general criticism is where the book lacks real-world advice from a seasoned DBA. At times the writing feels a bit more of the official line on how things work. But in day-to-day devops and operations, things can be quite different.

Also: Bulletproofing MySQL Replication with Checksums

For example, stored procedures. In MySQL they are there, however using them brings real performance challenges. They’re not always compatible with replication. Given all of that, why include a whole chapter with endless discussion of them without strong reservations. It would lead a novice user or developer to incorporate them into an application only to be shocked and surprised at the problems they bring.

Another example, looking through the system variables reference, I see the sync_binlog option. There is a short caution “…lower values provide greater safety in the event of a crash, but also affect performance more adversely”. Now reading this as a novice DBA I might think great, crash protection. But having tried this parameter in production, I found a huge impact on performance and had to disable it. What’s the advice here? It’s a bit confusing.

Conclusions

This is a really great book as an introduction to MySQL, and delving into intermediate topics. I would sit it on your bookshelf along side High Performance MySQL. What this book lacks in advice, you can turn to the latter book, and what High Performance MySQL lacks in terms of introductory material this book covers in spades. They make a great compliment to each other.

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The Needle in Big Data Noise

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Also take a look at: I hacked Disqus Digests to discover new blogs

Who the heck is Bayes

Thomas Bayes was a scientist & thinker, Fellow of the Royal Society, and back in 1763 author of “An Essay toward Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances”. His method advocated learning by approximation, to get closer and closer to the truth by gathering more information, and factoring that into probabilities & predictions.

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What isn’t acceptable under Bayes’s theorem is to pretend that you don’t have any prior beliefs. You should work to reduce your biases, but to say you have none is a sign that you have many.
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Why should you care?

From hurricane & earthquake warnings, to financial storms or terrorism, prediction is more important than ever. Epidemiologists can make use of Bayesian techniques to protect populations, gamblers can use it in sport, and investors for markets.

See also Amp up your blog traffic by improving your pagerank

Why Nate Silver is different

Nate is famous for predicting the 2012 presidential election with uncanny accuracy. So the book is an in depth look at how he thinks, and how he works with data. He talks of Hedgehogs – those who believe in big ideas and work from large principals, versus Foxes who see the world as messy, often inconsistent and unpredictable, but who nevertheless tend to present better though less definitive predictions. The philosophy is less of modeling, and more of testing, and adjusting along the way to get closer to the truth.

See also Sales sucks, but a bear market offers hard lessons

For engineers & startups

Nate interviewed John Sanders of a scout for the LA Dodgers. He identified five abilities and characteristics that predict success in baseball. Looking at them together, I think they can well predict success in Startup land too.

1. Preparedness & work ethic
2. Concentration & focus
3. Competitiveness & self-confidence
4. Stress management & humility
5. Adaptiveness & learning ability

The book is a bit technical and sometimes long winded. But it is choc full of real insight, and wisdom that we can all put to use in our careers and businesses.

Also: AirBNB didn’t have to fail – AWS outages be damned!

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Dinner, dollars & devlishly creative thinking

Efficiency at Dinner?

I just finished reading Tyler Cowen’s opus, An Economist Gets Lunch. I have to admit I’m already a fan of his writing, getting a daily dose on from his blog Marginal Revolution.

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What I like about this book is that it is unconventional by definition. Further economists like scalability engineers like to think about efficiency. How can I squeeze out more from less? Like the business question how do I get better ROI or more bang for my buck? Questions spring to mind like – What does an economist know about food? Or – What does food eating have to do with economics? Well on both points you’ll get some surprising answers.

Hiring or job seeking? Check out our MySQL DBA Interview questions which is useful to managers, candidates and human resources alike.

To the former question, Cowen has some really good insight because he brings the fresh perspective of an economist. His sort of mantra throughout the book is:

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Food is a product of economic supply and demand, so try to figure out where the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative and the demanders are informed.
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Economists & engineers talk shop

What about the second question, how is the food we eat related to economics? Further does it have an impact on environmental and energy consumption questions? As it turns out in a rather big way yes it does. Let Tyler say it in his own words…

[quote]
When it comes to relieving climate change problems, there are two approaches. The first to put it squarely is to have everyone memorize facts about boats & bananas, and update that analysis as often as is necessary. The second approach is to rely on the price system, specifically to modify prices so that they reflect more information about the value of the environment. That’s the economically smart way to address climate change. The first method is wielding a pea shooter and the second is more like a bazooka.
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Interested in web speed? Why generalists are better at scaling the web.

What he advocates more specifically is taxing the things we want to reduce. Biggest on the list are fossil fuels he says and next up meat production which through methane emissions contribute to climate change problems. These taxes will naturally curb our use, cause us to take fewer trips, be more efficient with our use, and tighten the wallet naturally.

Applying an economists eye to food & environment yields some excellent insights. For those of us in the startups & internet these fresh takes may well give us some insight in business too. If nothing else it’ll help us find the best meal for dinner!

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Ken Auletta Gets Us Googled

Also find Sean Hull’s ramblings on twitter @hullsean.

The title sounds vaguely fatalistic, the end of the world is nigh, that kind of thing. It turns out though that Auletta is a journalist having reported over the years a lot on old media. So when he says “as we know it” he’s speaking as much to old media as he is to the tech vanguard.

You’ll also want to check out The Big Switch – Rewiring the World From Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr.

But what makes his book superb isn’t just his phenomenal journalistic skills, in digging up all the facts and serving up a fair and accurate presentation of things. I think it’s important that he’s not a cheerleader at all, and approaches the topic with a critical eye as much to old media who ignored many of the warning signs in early 2000′s as to google who he emphasizes has been hubristic, at times arrogant, and has struggled with issues of privacy and copyright as they’ve built their technology.

Also check Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do.

What makes this book even more important though is to step back and think of it as a case study in how the internet has become such a disruptive force. And in that light, google is a business which has rode that wave as much as it has defined it. Interestingly Google was not afraid to bring him to Mountain View to speak in their AtGoogleTalks series, and that video is now up on YouTube.

Ken Auletta on At Google Talks

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Switch to the cloud – shift of a century

The switch to cloud is way bigger than you think

A Review of Nicholas Carr’s book “The Big Switch”, available on Amazon here.

Also find Sean Hull’s ramblings on twitter @hullsean.

Do you work in devops or as a performance consultant? Do you manage web applications backed by databases? If so you probably love high performance beefy iron, big servers with equally fast RAID arrays that deliver lightening fast response to an entire application and ultimately your customers.

A related article, Devops can learn from Sandy, serious and very real disaster recovery lessons.

So if you’re like me you may feel a little leery about the cloud. On AWS for example, server commoditization has taken infrastructure for a sharp turn south. We struggle with unreliable disk performance & shared network bandwidth, while our applications compete with other customers in the so-called multi-tenant environment. Even the servers themselves drop like flies. Something’s got to give!

[quote]
All of them would be wise to study the examples of General Electric and Westinghouse. A hundred years ago, both these companies were making a lot of money selling electricity-production components and systems to individual companies. That business disappeared as big utilities took over electricity supply. But GE and Westinghouse were able to reinvent themselves. They became leading suppliers of generators and other equipment to the new utilities, and they also operated or invested in utilities themselves. Most important of all, they built vast new businesses supplying electric appliances to consumers — businesses that only became possible after the arrival of large-scale electric utilities. Sometimes a company can discover an even better business if it’s willing to abandon an old one.
[/quote]

Shopping for a smartphone? Find out why the Android platform is broken.

That’s why Carr’s book offers an eerie and uncanny read. What we’re seeing today in infrastructure very closely parallels what happened to electricity before it. Turns out at the turn of the century electricity production was not centralized and no electric grid was yet criss-crossing the country. Big companies actually built and managed their own power plants.

What happened?

Through the efforts of great entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison & Samuel Insull, the electricity production machinery were centralized and eventually incorporated and run by government managed utilities. All of this drove costs of electricity precipitously downward.

Looking for a database expert? Take a look at our MySQL Interview guide for candidates, hiring managers and recruiters alike.

How did we benefit? Oh can you count the ways?

Now households could afford electricity too. Next we saw consumer appliances and automation begin. Vacuum cleaners to washing machines flourished, bringing social change with it.

[quote]
What the fiber-optic internet does for computing is exactly what the alternating-current network did for electricity: it makes the location of the equipment unimportant to the user. But it does more than that. Because the internet has been designed to accomodate any type of computer and any form of digital information, it also plays the role of Insull’s rotary converter: it allows disparate and formerly incompatible machines to operate together as a single system. It creates harmony out of cacophony.
[/quote]

Cloud providers fail, components fail, datacenters fail. Find out why AirBNB & Reddit didn’t have to fail even while it’s AWS cloud went down.

The takeaway

The shift to cloud computing is way bigger than one application or one business. And the gains and momentum are way larger than we in devops may realize. With that it’s an inexorable shift, and one we would do well to embrace. Like all shifts we need to learn to adopt our technologies, as the benefits to business are incalculable.

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