Sunday, November 19, 2006

Microsoft Religion

A number of years ago, Microsoft Marketing people started using the title Evangelist. The idea as I remember it was to preach to the masses about the wonders and joys of Microsoft products. I'm here to tell you that it worked.

Growing up, my father use to tell me that it was important to use the right tool for the job. He then proceeded to use any old thing lying around to get the job done. We NEVER had the right tool for the job in our house. We used screwdrivers as scrapers, hammers as precision force tools and masking tape instead of duct Duct tape. We got the job done.

I took this philosophy with me when I left the house. I am a tool nut. I love to cook and so, Williams Sanoma is one big toy store. I can't walk in without buying that special olive pitting tool or a new melon baller. I love to get the right tool. My father was correct on all counts. Using the right tool makes the job easier, safer and faster. He was also correct in that sometimes buying the right tool is a waste of money. The extra cost for the tool does not justify the improved productivity. Just as long as the job gets done.

I recently worked in a Microsoft shop that had three programmers. They used Microsoft tools and systems to build a very nice IT infrastructure. Their web site was built on a third party product on top of ASP and it was severely hampering their ability to maintain, improve and change.

I suggested that they consider splitting the system into two parts. The back end part would be 100% Microsoft, using all the productivity and management tools that Microsoft has developed over the years. For the front end, I suggested that we look at all the alternatives and consider Linux and open source options in addition to .NET.

I was treated as a heretic. Why would I even consider those other heathen platforms? Microsoft was the best. It enabled rapid development, reliability, easy maintenance and strong management. Those other tools were just has-beens and even considering them was anathema.

One employee told me that if we used a MYSQL database, he would leave the firm. His Microsoft religion allowed no other systems to be used. Only in a pure Microsoft shop could he improve his technical background and resale value.

Leaving aside the issue of why other systems might or might not be appropriate, since when did Microsoft become so strong that all other systems are worthless? Has Microsoft built a system and associated tools that are so strong that there are no alternatives? How did Microsoft build such a strong cult?

The Microsoft philosophy is to provide one tool that does everything. By definition, it is complicated. There are so many demands on it that the documentation fills multiple DVDs. If you had to choose only one tool, then choose Microsoft. It may take a while to find the right function or feature, but you know that it exists.

The alternative Unix philosophy has been to build small custom tools that do one job well. You aggregate these tools to get the job done. This has the benefit of allowing a developer to replace one or more of these tools with something faster, more robust or cheaper. The drawback is that there is additional overhead in communicating between these components.

My preference is for small tools. They can be blindingly fast or slow as molasses, but a developer can choose pick the right tool for each job. It may not be the best tool, but it will work, just like my fathers masking tape.

I don't have all the answers. I accept that some people believe that Microsoft is the future and that all other options are dead ends. I clearly disagree. If that makes me a heathen and unbeliever, then so be it. I will continue to build the right system for each job. Not the best, not the faster, not the cheapest, but just right.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I took a trip to visit Poland with my oldest sons 12th grade class. The following posts are notes that I sent from Poland on my Blackberry during the trip.

The trip is not easy. Its emotional and over-whelming. I learned many lessons from this experience. Amongst them are:

You are the product of a long history of people. They lived and died so that you might be born. Remember them and honor their memory.

There are bad people in this world. Bad things happen in this world. Some things are so bad that they defy understanding. We need to respond even if we cannot grasp the magnitude of the event.

We tend to think of far away places as different. Oh, that could not happen here! The more I travel, the more I see that the world is pretty uniform. Location is no barrier to events.

6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. We must make sure that they did not die in vain. We must remember their courage and their loss. We must make sure that they are never forgotten.

Israel is a response to the Holocaust. Like it or not, it is a direct result of six million deaths. It is irresponsible to walk away or give up. It is our home.

Poland #5 - Oct 26, 2006 - Lizensk

Once the home of Rav Elimelech from Lizensk, this was the first home of Hassidut in Poland. All that is left is a reconstructed cemetery and mausoleum for Rav Elimelech's grave. More than 6000 followers come here every year on his yartzheight. We came to dance.

As we travel through Poland, I understand more clearly why Cleveland has such a huge polish community. The earth, the trees, the weather are all familiar to me. It is just like home in Cleveland. Birch, oak, maple and evergreens, all the same trees. It is now fall and the colors and smells are all the same. Did the Poles and Jews come to Cleveland for the same reason?

Poland #4 - Oct 26, 2006 - Belzec

The forgotten death camp. 500,000 Jews were killed here in 9 months of 1942. The camp received trains from southern Poland, aka Galiciana. Green road synagogue's membership came from this area before the war. Less than a handful survived this camp. Only one gave testimony.

When I leave a graveyards in Israel, I join the others in washing my hands. I asked Rav Adler why we do not wash our hands when we leave a death camp in poland. He answered that all of Poland is a graveyard. The roads are only paths between the cemetery plots. We wash our hands when we leave Poland.

Three years ago, Belzec was excavated as an archaeological site and rebuilt as a monument. The boys on our trip started the morning joking and annoying. At Belzec, they understood the impact of the moment and we had a moving ceremony with the standard set of songs. For the moment, we were united.

Once we got back to the bus, the boys resumed their ways. Oh well. This is a special group.

Poland #3 - Oct 25, 2006 - Majdanek

Like the women and children who arrived here 65 years ago, our group arrived and went straight to the bath and delousing room. In the first room, the womens hair was removed. They removed their clothes in the next room and then entered the showers, with hot water or cold depending on the whims of the guard on duty. Like these women we walked from the showers into the next room. Unlike them, we didn't die from the poison gas. We sat, we talked, we sung songs of strength and belief in God.

This was my first time in a gas chamber and I have no need to do it again. You can see the remains of the Zyklon B gas. Its a blue-green splotch across most of the ceiling. Most of the Jews who arrived here die in this room or its twin next door in the mens delousing building.

On the far side of the camp which by the way is surrounded by the buildings of Lublin, we saw the crematorium. I shuddered to see the furnaces and the racks which were used to load the bodies. The Germans were good at removing any uncomfortable sights. A dead Jewish body looks no different from a dead Nazi. after cremation, only ashed and a few bones are left. With a little crushing, even that is just dust.

I thought that the tour was over. Wrong again. On Nov 3, 1943, Himmler decided that he was tired of the Jews rebellions in Treblibka, Sobibor and Warsaw. On the day, all of the Jews who worked in and around Majdanek were taken to the far side of the camp near the crematorium and shot. 18300 people died in the camp that day. Their remains were buried and then burned.

When the Russians captured the camp in the summer of 1944, all that was left of the jews was a pile of ashes. The Russians built a monument: a huge dome covering an open mound of 7 tons of ash and bones.

Our group walked through the camp as free men. We proudly wore our sweatshirts with the star of David. Many of us wore Israeli flags. I had the privilege of carrying one of the flags on a pole. It was cold and windy, but the flag stood straight and proud. The Nazis are gone. Only we remain.

I had the honor of reciting the El Male Rachamim over their graves. The boys read a selection of texts from the holocaust. As is becoming our standard, we sung Hatikva and Adon Olam.

The questions remain, but the imagery is too overwhelming.

Polnad #2 - Oct 24, 2006 - Treblinka

Here is the plan. Make a big clearing in the forest. Two or three football fields in each direction. Run train tracks from the nearest major city, say Cleveland. Now ship trains of 60 cars with 100 people per car. Put the trains in a holding area and break then up into sets of three cars each. Send each group of cars every 30 minutes to the station. Get everyone out. Split them up into men and women and children. Tell them that they need to be deloused. Have them strip and cut the womens hair. Send each group to "the showers" and pump in poison gas for 30 minutes. Clear out the bodies to one of three open pit mass graves. Repeat until done.

Nothing is left of Treblinka except the open clearing. 870,000 people were killed here. 72 survived. This was a death camp, not a work camp. Himmler decided to remove all evidence so he had their graves dug up and the remains burnt and ground to powder. Why? If you succeed in wiping out whole communities, can you believe that it can be forgiven or forgotten by removing the evidence?

Consider the numbers. Take every person in Cleveland. The shop keepers. The teachers. The utility workers. Every household in every neighborhood. Send 6000 people every day for a year until no-one is left. The city is empty.

How, why?

Poland #1 - Oct 24, 2006 - Tiktin - Tykocin

Today we went to Tiktin. A small town that use to have 5000 residents of which about half were Jewish. It was a Shtetl with a big Shul that was built in 1640. There are lots of pictures of the residents from the early 1900's. There was a big Shomer Hadati community. Our guide was surprised to learn that my father and uncles were active in Shomer Hadati in the states. According to him, it was a very eastern European organization.

The town was ceded to the Russians in 1939 and then captured by the Germans in 1941. The Jewish population was collected one morning and walked and driven to a forest about 4 miles away. It was a place where they used to play and where they gathered wood.

The Germans took groups of 50 deeper into the forest and had them strip next to a large pit. The people were then shot and fell dead and dying into the pit. No Jew survived the killing that day and the searches that the Germans made over the following weeks.

It is hard to understand the Germans. Why play with your victims? Do we play with a cow before we kill it? Even if you believe that Jews are not humans, what benefit is there to humiliate them?

We visited the forest and the mass grave. It is quiet and peaceful. I was saddened by the useless deaths and by the loss of continuous tradition. What rules did the rabbi's of Tiktin follow? None of the pictures show women with covered hair. Were they all wearing wigs?

We sung Hatikva at the graves. A witness says that the victims were asked by the Germans to sing this song as they left the town. I can see already that Israel was built on anger and conviction that this kind of activity shall never happen again. This message was never verbalized to or by the boys that I am with. I wonder if and when its going to hit them.

We are on our way to treblinka. It cannot be any better.