Thursday, September 30, 2004

Blue Magic

Yet another attempt in soft pastel, this time with more than one color. My problem here was that I used smooth bond paper instead of something with a bit more "tooth." Oh, well, thus goes the rough road of art.

15K rpm hard disk performance

More stuff on hard disks. What is the typical throughput of a 15k rpm hard disk? How many megabytes per second can you squeeze out of it? This article on the latest generation 15K SCSI hard disk drives sheds some light.

Sequential reads max out at about 75Mbps, whereas average is about 57Mbps-60Mbps. A major dependency is the block size: smaller block sizes result in slower throughput, whereas larger block sizes result in higher throughput. Of course. Write operations are slightly slower, but otherwise match the read operations closely.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Muse reading

More experiments, this time with oil pastels. Oil pastels are more like crayons, but you can wash them over with turpentine fo achieve a look that's close to a painting. They're neater to work with than soft pastels, but the turpentine smells to high heavens.

This picture was inspired by a very special geek girl. I think I'll redo it in soft pastel.

Goth countess in pastel

I'm experimenting with various media for drawing. I think I'm taking a liking to soft pastel. It suits my indeterminate style. Notes for the future: experiment with different colors.

This character was drawn up over midnight coffee last weekend when I was out with friends.

Disk performance

So there we were, mulling over a customer's complaint about disk performance of Linux on one of our servers. The reason for the claim: iostat was reporting 117% utilization, whereas the standard on Sun was only supposed to be 20%.

We approached the problem from the definition. What does %util of iostat represent? Disk utilization? In which case, why was it hitting past 100%.

Apparently, it's not a measure of disk utilization, but of CPU utilization at the point that the disk is saturated. The reason it's at 117% is because the server had four processors, which meant only two were being used for the disk I/O function. Well, well, well....

The more appropriate measure would have been the kilobytes read per second, which was cruising in at a respectable 57,000 kbps. At least I thought so.

But even that would have been meaningless, because we were simply doing the test with a dd command. That's only streaming I/O, not really reflective of database transactions, which was going to be the real application.

In any case, it was a good learning experience. I even managed to dig up some good references on file system performance, such as
The RAW Facts on Filesystems.

Monday, September 27, 2004

How Does RFID Work?

I've been wondering how RFID tags operate. I know some tags don't need batteries, so where do they get the energy to respond to the scanners / interrogators?

How Does RFID Work? from Technovelgy provides some answers to this question.

The RF radiation from the scanner provides the passive tag with enough energy.

Another question was: what's the range for RFID? Apparently, it's 20 feet (4 meters) for some of the higher-frequency tags.

What is RFID? from RFID Wizards was also a good resource.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Outsourcing 101: Certification

My entry for my Rational Technology column for Sept. 26, 2004

Professionals, before they practice in their given field, normally have to pass some form of certification exam. The certification exam establishes the baseline by which to determine whether the candidate can perform competently in the chosen field. Thus, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, accountants, and engineers will normally take state-sanctioned board exams.

Transpose this issue to the outsourcing industry which is global in scope. As outsourcing becomes more competitive, companies will want to make sure that the organizations they are outsourcing to have competent staff. Similarly, then, they will also seek outsourcing companies whose people are certified.

Board certifications, though, are typically only recognized in the countries or states where they are administered. While a local license may be of some value in determining whom to hire, outsourcing companies are increasingly turning to internationally recognized certifications to prove the worth of their employees and correspondingly, the value that they can provide.

In the IT world, it is now the norm for vendors to issue certifications based on competence in their products. Microsoft, for example, offers programs for Microsoft Certified Systems Administrators and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developers. Cisco has Cisco Certified Network Architects and Cisco Certified Internetworking Engineers. While these certifications are product-based, they do have the advantage of being internationally recognized.

Not all certifications, though, are product-oriented. There are internationally recognized certifications geared more towards the general practice of IT. One good example is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which defines the framework for IT Service Management. ITIL covers a broad range of topics that touch on the management of technology. Certified professionals under ITIL will be in high demand as project managers and operations experts in business transformation outsourcing endeavors.

International certifications do not only apply to IT. Call center agents and supervisors also have their own certification programs. Medical transcriptionists usually certify with the American Association for Medical Transcription. Accountants can go with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. The list is quite extensive, covering many different professions.

Certifications are not perfect, and they do not necessarily guarantee that a candidate can land a job. Yet all the same, we cannot discount the value they provide. Certified professionals do carry a premium.

Gearing the products of Dumaguete's colleges and universities towards these internationally-recognized certifications will give us a fantastic edge over other cities and countries vying for outsourcing business. We know that we produce a fantastic crop of graduates every year; now we just have to take that extra small step to prove to the world how great they are.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Orange sunset

At less than a megapixel, my Nokia camera phone usually produces less-than-stellar pictures. But on occasion, I do manage to catch a good one.

I caught this at sunset at Eastwood City Cyberpark. It feels like the sun puts in one final defiant burst of color against the coming of night.

Makes me happy. I hope it does for you, too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

International certification in accounting

Still on the search for more international certifications relevant to the outsourcing market, I stumbled upon another one today. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). A brief description:

The most popular international certification is offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Until a few years ago, this certification was the only truly international certification. However, in recent years a few other certifications have started to become internationally recognized. This paper discusses the reasons for the popularity of international certifications, the reasons why resistance to them has been encountered, and reports on the status of the various internationally recognized accounting certifications in the former Soviet Union (CIS), Eastern and Central Europe.

This one should be worth further investigation. The link location is at

Power5 Design

IT Jungle has an article on Power5 architectural design. It simplifies a lot of the concepts and provides the answers to my earlier question.

Introduction to Multithreading, Superthreading and Hyperthreading

Conceptually, what's the difference between Hyperthreading, as popularized by Intel in the Xeon processors, and Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) of the POWER5 chip? Apparently, they're one and the same.

The article from Ars Technica, Introduction to Multithreading, Superthreading and Hyperthreading gives the low down on everything related to the subject.

I am still curious, though, on what the actual implementation differences are.

Interesting mail I got today.

Dear Sir/Madam;

The University of the Philippines Linux Users' Group, also known as
UnPLUG, is planning a major event, tentatively named “Out of the
Window”, on November 13 - 17, 2004 at the College of Engineering at the UP Diliman. A seminar will be held on November 15, 2004 at the Engineering Theater which will serve as the highlight of a week-long CD swapping.

The planned event is to encourage UP students to dispose of their pirated software and replace it with legal software. If they cannot afford the proprietary ones, then we will give a free and open-source software (FOSS) for every pirated application or OS that they will surrender.

A major supplier of blank CD has already promised to provide us the replacement CDs.

It won't be easy to encourage them to replace their pirated software, if they don't know how to use the replacement software. We are hoping that you can provide speakers for the said seminar with topics revolving around on how to install, use, maintain, and transfer Windows-based files to non-Windows system or applications.

Things that we hope you can provide for the non-Geeks.

1) Free seminar relating to softwares that are not made by Microsoft and other proprietary companies.

2) Free software and/or evaluation software (esp. the use of Java Technologies / Eclipse / Web sphere)

3) Manuals or guidelines on how to install and use the software. Plus how to convert or open files made from Windows.

Things that we hope you can provide for the Geeks.

1) Seminars, and actual Cluster installation and configuration.
Hopefully to see how cluster are used in the real world.
2) Server demonstration.
3) Software partitioning demonstration.
4) J2EE, Eclipse, Websphere, AIX installation and configuration,
although a lot of us already know this, maybe you can provide for the secret tweaks.
5) Any of the new stuff.

Seminars like the one we are planning to hold will benefit the students, as they see with their own eyes the real-world application of softwares that can run in Linux. In this regard, we are hoping for your favorable response to make this world a windowless one.

Thank you very much.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Medical transcription certification

Still on the search for information on outsourcing-related certifications. I really am getting discouraged that I'll find what I'm looking for in one place.

In any case, a search for medical transcription certifications yielded the web site of the the American Association for Medical Transcription. They have descriptions of training programs and certification exams.

Offshore Outsourcing Certifications

Offshore Outsourcing Certifications is an article about globally recognized certifications in the outsourcing industry. This looks very promising in that it lists the important certification programs that I am looking for as fodder for my next article.

ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) and ITSM Directory

I was looking for globally recognized professional certifications relevant to call centers and outsourcing and I came upon the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) and ITSM Directory.

From the site: "The IT Infrastructure Library, ITIL , is a series of documents that are used to aid the implementation of a framework for IT Service Management (ITSM). This framework defines how Service Management is applied within specific organisations. Being a framework, it is completely customisable for application within any type of business or organisation that has a reliance on IT infrastructure."

It further goes on to talk about the support structures, delivery structures, and security.

This looks promising. Should be worth a further look.

Sarah Kerrigan

I snapped this pic of a young lady dressed up as Sarah Kerrigan from the Starcraft video game. Also cross-posted on my moblog.

Cosplayers rule!

Re-exploring the blogging phenomenon

So, here I am again. Blogging has taken off and every other person that I know, from the veteran to the tyro to the hot chick has got a blog.

I haven't really shown the drive to maintain blogs, with the possible exception of my weekly column on Rational Technology, published in Dumaguete and on my own web site. Well, there's also the moblog at TextAmerica but that's a slightly different story.

This time around, though, I think things will be slightly different. Tools are better developed, and my occupations and preoccupations are a bit better defined.

So here goes again.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Outsourcing 101: Up the Value Chain

A Rational Technology repost.

Call centers are the darling of Philippine economy, and they have every reason to be. There's a certain glamor associated with working in this business. They offer a low barrier of entry to young people seeking employment. They pay relatively well. Most importantly, they deliver: altogether, they're projected to generate over 100,000 jobs over the next year.

Bright as the near-term prospects may be, we do have to approach the future with some caution and forethought. Will the call center boom continue? Maybe it will, or maybe it won't. As with Internet service providers, shawarma stands, and pearl shakes, overheated expansion could cause the call center market to collapse upon itself. Or the call centers could move to the next low-cost leader, perhaps Viet Nam or China or some other country. And then what?

The surest way to head off this possible future is to skill up and move up value chain. Call centers may be the glamorous face to outsourcing, but they're hardly the complete story. Higher up the ladder are business process outsourcing and business transformation outsourcing. Getting to these rungs provides a more secure foothold in the global market.

Business process outsourcing is a concept many of us are already familiar with. Take accounting, for example. Businesses require the services of an accountant to do their books and navigate complex and changing tax laws. Big companies may have their own in-house accounting staff, but small companies can't afford this full-time help. The business owner could decide to do the bookkeeping himself, but this is normally an area best left to specialists. Solution: outsource this business process to an accounting firm.

Now why would a company in the United States or Europe outsource their accounting functions to a firm in another country? Well, why not? Just as with call centers, it could be because of lower operating costs, more efficient processing, or both. It all depends on the value that an offshore accounting firm can provide.

What about the differing accounting procedures, taxation laws, and government regulations? As with a Texan drawl or Boston twang, these are conventions that offshore accountants can learn. More than that, offshore accountants will also have to pass state certifications in order to operate. This is certainly more difficult than affecting a foreign accent, but that's why it would be harder for competitors to match as well.

Now think beyond accounting. What are the other company processes that could be outsourced? There's payroll processing, logistics management, procurement, IT, to name just a few.

Business transformation outsourcing is even higher up the value chain. Instead of just repetitive business processes, this level of outsourcing now offers the management expertise to transform a company. This is the domain of consultants, operations managers, and efficiency experts. At this point, it's no longer just about lower cost or efficiency; it's about knowledge, skills, and understanding of cultural nuances that companies can't find anywhere else. Here, you are invincible.

Against this massive landscape of global outsourcing, looking beyond the obvious reality of call centers, we the citizens of Dumaguete need to skill up -- in accounting, in law, in business management, in medicine, in information technology, in engineering -- and we need to measure up to international standards.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Outsourcing 101: People

A Rational Technology repost.

Real estate, electrical power, and communications networks are very important considerations for outsourcing firms but they are not nearly as important as a talent pool which they can tap for their operations. You can build up the first three in a matter of weeks or months but save for a massive and expensive relocation exercise, it will take years to build up a base of people.

Call centers, our prime example of outsourcing, feel this problem acutely. It starts at the hiring line: following the current industry average, a call center will take in only five agents out of every one hundred candidates that apply. Along the way, there is the problem of attrition: out of these five people hired at the start of the year, three people will have quit by the end of the year.

Let's see how these numbers work out. Call centers measure their capacity according to the number of seats that they carry. A seat, as the name implies, is the workspace of an agent, consisting of a telephone and a computer terminal. Since a call center is usually a round-the-clock operation, a single seat translates to three agents, alternating on three work shifts.

A typical starting size for a small call center would be around 100 seats, which translates to 300 agents. To meet this requirement, they need to have interview 6,000 candidates. This is just at the start. By the end of the year, they will have had to take in an additional 180 agents to take the places of the people who have left; this means interviewing an additional 3,600 candidates per year to maintain the 100 seats.

Clearly this poses a serious challenge to an aspiring outsourcing city like Dumaguete. Our colleges and universities have an annual output of only 5,000 graduates. Not all these graduates will be qualified, and not all those qualified will necessarily take up employment with a call center. It's a population problem, all right, but the quite the reverse of what doomsayers are preaching: we don’t have enough people.

Rather than be daunted by this issue, let's look at ways of addressing it head on. The most obvious approach would be to increase our pool of people. It might be increased enrollment for our existing schools, increasing the number of schools, or expanding the search area beyond the confines of Dumaguete. These will have their attendant issues and will take time to implement, but it is something that we will have to look into.

Another approach would be to shoot for a higher hiring rate, going beyond the 5% industry standard. Thus far, products of the Dumaguete education system have gotten very good marks from call centers. In the first few batches of screening, 30% of Dumaguete candidates were taken into call center programs. Encouraging statistics, indeed, but let us not become complacent: these numbers are typically high at the start, but eventually taper down once the initial excitement wears off.

On the other hand, it’s more important to ask: what did the passing candidates have in common? What did the Dumaguete educational system do right? How can this advantage be sustained and developed further?

Finally, let’s look at attrition. Retention is generally a problem of the call center itself, yet the reality is: half of the agents that leave a call center do so because they are lured by higher pay from a competing call center. For a city of our size, we may have to consciously limit the number of call centers setting up shop, lest we end up with an over-expanded market that will collapse under its own weight. It’s not a protectionist strategy, just common sense. What this exact number is has yet to be decided, but again, something else that the city must look into.

Given the size limitations we have as a call center hub, what are our other options then? Why, move up, of course, but that’s a topic for next week.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Outsourcing 101: Bandwidth

A Rational Technology repost.

Imagine Joselito from Bacong, gallantly fielding questions from Mrs. Smiths all over the world at his call center's prime shift. The requests are varied: it could be a technical problem, it could be a complaint, it could be a simple question about a new product. What tools would this modern day hero require?

Clearly, a telephone would be the call center agent's most basic requirement. However, it's not the standard phone line that Cruztelco would install in a typical Dumaguete household. Calls are typically one way, either incoming or outgoing, depending on the type of business the call center is running. Calls are all international toll-free lines. And all calls must go through.

On top of the telephone would be a very fast Internet connection. The call center agent also faces a computer to check on the status of a customer, to look up answers to questions he may not be so familiar with, to send the problem to a specialist, or to respond to queries that may come via email or the web. More often than not, all this information is housed in once central location which is not in the call center, which may well be in another country altogether. Clearly, a rinky dink little dial-up modem is not going to work in this situation.

Now, stretch your imagination somewhat. In this fictional call center in Dumaguete where the heroic Joselito from Bacong works, there is not just going to be him. There will be 5,999 other call center agents like him. Each one of them will require that special telephone line and that super-fast Internet connection.

That begs the question: can a little backwater town like Dumaguete support the communications needs of an outsourcing company? How many Joselitos from Bacong can we actually connect, given the perpetually pessimistic prognosis of the province?

Unbeknownst to many people, Dumaguete is actually one of the most well-connected cities in the Philippines in terms of international communications cable networks. Even national communications links connecting Luzon to Mindanao cross through Dumaguete.

You might laugh because, for almost ten years now, we've borne with dial-up Internet and phones that sometimes work and sometimes don't, but that's only because hardly anyone wants to pay for quality service. But the cables are already laid out, waiting for people willing to invest.

Bandwidth is the carrying capacity of a communications channel, and as far as that's concerned, our international cable links run up to 320 gigabits per second. Without getting too much into the technical details, that translates to capacity for around 5,000,000 call center agents in Dumaguete and the outlying cities.

You want to talk potential? Yeah, we got potential, and then some.