Of Principal Engineers, and Alternative Commuting…

I am a Principal Engineer (PE) at Sun Microsystems; that statement probably doesn’t mean much to most people reading this, so to put it into context: the PEs at Sun are a diverse community comprised mostly of senior technical field staff – mostly long-termers – who by virtue of being “customer-facing” are not exactly engineers in the “Sun MTS” C-Compilers-and-Kernel-Hacking sense.

PE is a peer-reviewed position on parity with MTS Senior Staff Engineer (SrSE) – in fact some customer-facing PEs are also SrSEs – and thus the role is one grade down from the notorious and exalted role of Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer, aka “DE”.

In fact I do sometimes wonder whether being a PE inside Sun isn’t perhaps more fun than being a DE, since we tend to be younger and noisier than the DEs, but without the director-grade baggage of being expected to behave in an austere, august and politic manner; also we have a somewhat greater sense of “community”, even if it is largely defined by the question “How can we create more PEs?“.

However I am beginning to wonder if membership of the PE community isn’t beginning to spawn some unexpected psychological commonalities; there are three of us in our building, and we all seem drawn to alternative transport.

First up is Chris Gerhard, arguably the most sane of the three of us even after allowing for his all-consuming cycling obsession, best expressed by his ownership of a “triplet”:


Gerhard, en famille, with “Triplet”

Next comes me with the Trice:


My Inspired Cycle Engineering “Trice XL”

…but third and finally is Tim Uglow who today won the prize for most utterly bonkers PE in GMP03 by commuting into work by dog-sled:

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Uglow and Samoyeds “Cleo” and “Finn”, pulling a Kickbike Scooter.

Apparently 4 Samoyeds like Tim’s would be capable of pulling a car, so that’s possibly the next step – to hitch them to Chris’s Triplet and start a bus service…

Travels with my Beard


“Would I look less dodgy without my rucksack?” I asked. “Dodgy,” he replied. “What about if I wore a suit?” “You’d look like a dodgy bloke in a suit,” he said. “How about if I shaved my beard?” “Dodgy. Just face it – you look dodgy,” came the disconcerting reply.

Over the seven weeks I was stopped and searched three times under the terrorism act. But it seemed absurd to me, I mean what does a terrorist look like? Do they all have beards and rucksacks? Does making sweeping generalisations make us any safer?

No, said John O’Connor, who was in charge of the Met police flying squad in the late 1980s when London faced the threat of the IRA. He told me a terrorist will always do the unexpected and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of having reassuring stereotypes.

But people were making generalisations and it scared me, especially when the Met introduced a shoot-to-kill policy. If an innocent, beardless, Brazilian man had been killed, was I even more of a target?

A Bright and Shiny ID Card Future!


The scene: An anonymous provincial town in middle England somewhere. Four plotters gather together in a darkened room. The year is 2008.

Plotter 1: Right everyone. Today is the day. Is everyone ready?

All: YES!

Plotter 1: Is everyone a ‘clean skin’ that has avoided the attention of the greatest security agencies in the world?

All: YES!

Plotter 1: Does everyone have a rucksack packed with explosive?

All: YES!

Plotter 1: Is everyone fully aware of our warped religious justification for committing mass murder?

All: YES!

Plotter 1: Is everyone suitably brainwashed that they will follow my commands without question?

All: YES!

Plotter 1: Is everyone willing to die in the name of their cause?

All: YES!

Plotter 1: Is everyone in possession of their ID cards?

All: Errr….

Plotter 1: What? What if you require access to key services on the way to cause carnage on the transport infrastructure of Britain?

All: Err…

Plotter 1: Right that’s it. Take off those bloody suicide belts. No ID card no mass murder. If it wasn’t for that blasted Blair we would have got away with it…..

Evil Advertising from ErrorSafe.COM

So I loaded my normal list of cartoons and news for this morning – “Open in Tabs” is such a marvellous feature – and about halfway through my Safari browser flashed-up an error alert – which stops everything – to say:


NOTICE: If your computer has errors in the registry database of file system it could cause unpredictable or erratic behaviour, freezes and crashes. Fixing these errors can increase your computer’s performance and prevent data loss.

Would you like to install ErrorSafe to check your computer for free? (Recommended)


Use of an Alert Box for advertising struck me as being rather naughty, not to mention the use of the word “(Recommended)” – my emphasis in the above – without saying that it was the vendor, not the OS manufacturer, recommending this; but as a Mac user and with a reasonable idea of what is/is not a risk I decided to play along:


It opened a large JavaScript panel above my Dilbert cartoon (I wonder if United Media can be held liable for whom advertises on their site?) and popped open a confirmation box, proudly asserting:

This file has been digitally signed and independently certified as 100% free of viruses, adware and spyware.

…although after what happened next, I remain to be convinced:


A complex animated Progress Bar – in MS-Windows colours and style – scrolled from left to right, ticking-off the tests that it was performing and telling me that it found 50 – a whole fifty! – “System Errors” on my machine.

Fifty Windows errors, on my G4 Apple MacOS 10.3.9 iMac. Yeah, really. It also auto-downloaded a .EXE file from their home base and presented it to me for execution.

This appears to be a truly lame confidence trick; aside from the fact that my browser dows not have permission to make those sorts of test upon underlying operating system files, there is the small matter of my being on the completely wrong operating system for it to execute anyway.

There is a possible mitigation that my being an Apple Mac user may be the cause of those 50 errors, but aside from the cluelessness implied by that possibility (that they do not trap the possibility) there is no way in hell I would use software that was advertised by such a hard sell, howeverso much it is “(Recommended)“.

Also: their logo looks astonishingly similar to that of the Victorinox Swiss-Army Knife.

Caveat browser.

Cars of the Rich and Famous

Bill Gates drives a Porsche 959 and had to help change the law so that he could.

Ingvar Kamprad drives a 1993 Volvo 240 GL.

My oh my.