On John Siracusa’s latest Hypercritical podcast he speculated widely about why Apple might be going a different route than some other companies when it comes to datacenter and cloud services design.

To summarize:

  • He pointed out that Google has not only written all their own core applications, they also have created a customized Linux build and a unique file system. They even design their own server hardware. (Although as an aside, while the hardware they are using is technically “custom”, the stuff I’ve read on this makes it pretty clear that they are using pretty stock desktop motherboards.)
  • Similarly, Facebook, while formerly using off-the-shelf hardware and software, has increasingly created customized kit. They have a special cross compiler, HipHop, (technically source code transformer) that takes the PHP that Facebook’s programmers write and turns it into C code that is then compiled. They have also recently announced the Open Compute Project, which outlines all their customizations in server and datacenter design in hopes that other companies can adopt some of them and drive down the cost.
  • Finally, Siracusa talked about Amazon and how, just like Facebook and Google, they have significant investments in custom applications and datacenter infrastructure and how they are trying to monetize those investments by selling services like S3 and EC2.

Based on the way that Apple tends to go its own way and on its almost pathological abhorrence of depending on anyone but itself, you might think that it would follow the models above when designing its own datacenters.

But apparently it hasn’t.

From the photos shown at the WWDC keynote, it looks like Apple is using standard HP servers and NetApp storage. No sign of XServes or other Apple-specific stuff. And from some traces of iCloud network traffic, it appears that Amazon’s Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure cloud services are somehow involved in serving up at least parts of the iCloud data.

Now why would this be? As Siracusa says, “It’s out of character.” So why would Apple put its new flagship service into the hands of others?

In the podcast, Siracusa seemed unable to come up with a solid answer to this that he could get behind. Perhaps a lack of time to build something better? Or maybe bad experiences with Mobile Me? In fact, he seems to believe that using commodity software and hardware is almost unthinkable. He goes on a long jag about how hard it is to get different vendors’ software and hardware to work together, apparently unaware that everyone (other than Google, perhaps) has to deal with this. He calls this kind of integration “unproven”. Really? And surprisingly enough, the chat room didn’t seem to correct him. Co-host Dan Benjamin did seem to be pushing on this a bit, but then ultimately let Siracusa go.

But anyway, there’s a pretty simple answer for why Apple has gone down this road, and it shows that their choices here are not as “out of character” as you might initially think.

Think about it: What does Apple Corporation do? They design and market software and devices and they sell media to run on those devices. That’s pretty much it. They don’t build anything. They don’t sell online services that aren’t somehow associated with their software or devices.

In this regard, there is a huge difference between Apple and the three companies that Siracusa opened with. Google, Amazon, and Facebook are all web services companies at heart. So just like it’s worth it for Apple to create custom software and hardware, it’s worth it for Google, Amazon, and Facebook to create custom datacenter technology.

Look at how Apple handles the manufacture of their high-profile devices. Instead of running their own factories (like they used to), all assembly and parts are handled by outside companies that are specialists. Screens and processors and RAM by Samsung.  Camera by Largan or Sony. Assembly by Foxconn. Etc.

Apple’s apparent datacenter decisions are similar to this: Why should Apple come up with their own datacenter technology? Why would they want to spend any energy on this when others (Amazon, Microsoft, Akamai, HP, NetApp etc.) have already done all the needed legwork? Why not take advantage of others’ expertise in an area that is not critical to Apple’s core business?

In fact, if Apple truly is able to run iCloud on top of all these existing cloud service providers they may have a much better cloud solution than any one of those providers has on its own. If Amazon has a catastrophic failure, that’s no problem for iCloud because it’s also running at Microsoft and Akamai. If Microsoft has better connectivity in a certain part of the world than does Amazon, then Apple can make sure that iCloud services come from Microsoft for that part of the world.

As it turns out, Apple may be again trumping the industry by going its own way. Not quite so “out of character”, eh?




Looking through this site, I noticed many similarities among the photos. Obviously, the people in the old photos are mostly the kid versions of the people taking the new photos. But there are some more subtle things. For example, every single person is holding their old photo with their left hand. Another thing: All the pictured kitchens are yellow. This resonates with me since we just changed the paint in our kitchen from “Public School Green” (at least that’s what I think the chip said – it’s been a while) to “Spiced Butternut”. Frankly, I’m not sure what effect spiciness might have on a paint color. The paint company obviously doesn’t name the spice. Could be paprika, I guess. But, I’m looking at our walls and I don’t think this particular color is all that reddish.

But anyway, back to Dear Photograph. Another weird thing was the the two photos that mention “swag”. One says “When will I have this much swag again?”. The other, “I wish I had as much swag then, as I do now.” I’m thinking that perhaps these two people should get together and discuss.

My overall feeling about the site is that there’s a pall of sameness about the photos there. I would like to see situations where the new photo and the old don’t even seem to intersect anymore.


LA Times: Who’s teaching L.A.’s kids? The Times used public data to figure out something that neither the LA School District nor its teachers union seem to want anyone to learn: Which teachers are good, and perhaps more importantly, which teachers hold kids back. The best part of this article: The reporters name names and then discuss the situation with the teachers themselves. Most of the “ineffective” teachers seem surprised to find out they are in that category — and a little miffed that they weren’t given information like this by the district so they could try to do something about it. Outstanding work by the Times.


Radiolab: Words. Fabulous would be one.


Neotropolis: Urban Farming. A nice piece on the new Ohio City Farm.

One interesting thing, of course, is that unlike most of the West Side of Cleveland, which was heavily agricultural and was at one time known as “the grape capital of the country”, this specific plot of land was almost certainly never farmed at this scale before.

This piece of property, along what was then Pearl Road, was essentially downtown Ohio City in the earliest days of the community and then became the famous “Irishtown Bend,” a neighborhood invariably described using both the term “shanty” and the term “hovel”. After the Irish moved out, much of the land was eventually converted to industrial and warehouse use. And of course the plot itself happens to be on an extremely unstable hillside.

Here’s how things were laid out in 1858, just after Ohio City was annexed by Cleveland. The plot of land that the Ohio City Farm is on today is the triangle formed by Pearl, Bridge and Franklin Streets. (This is from the “Hopkins Map” of 1858.)

And here’s how the same plot of land was built up in about 1892. (This is from the Sanborn Insurance Map.)

Notice that Hicks St. and two adjacent alleyways (Pearl Alley and Terrace St.) run across the middle of current Ohio City Farm space. None of those streets exist north of Bridge St. today, although all three streets (now renamed W 24th Pl., W 24th St., and W 23rd Pl.) do still run along the east side of the West Side Market south of Bridge.

One thing that amazes me about the map above is all the streets and houses that would today be on a fairly steep hillside. Basically Terrace St. — the alley to the east of Hicks — would be at the top of the hill today and River Bed St., a section of which you can see in the upper right corner of the 1892 map, would be at the bottom. The drop there is approximately100-110 feet. I’ll need to look into this further, but one explanation might be that the hill has eroded much further to the west now.

Here’s the same space today.

Almost no buildings. Very few streets. In the late 20’s the eastern end of this area had been cleared to build the viaduct that would take trains into the new Union Terminal (known as Terminal Tower today). By 1961 the forces of Urban Renewal had managed to tear down pretty much everything north of Bridge Ave and east of West 25th St. In 1963 the Riverview Terrace housing development opened. By 1999 it had become just as blighted as the shanties it replaced and the county housing authority tore down all but the high-rise part of it.

So over its long history, large scale farming of this property was probably just not in the cards.

Until today, when a bunch of Burmese refugees are planting fancy restaurant crops there.


Mandy Metcalf: ODOT Strikes Again. OK, so we all know that ODOT has completely bungled the Cleveland Innerbelt Bridge project not to mention the rest of the Innerbelt redesign. And now Mandy’s article makes it clear that they have done the same to the West Shoreway project.

A process that was supposed to be all about removing barriers and increasing access to the lakefront now appears to have evolved into a project that has no purpose besides putting some consultants and contractors to work.

On this “New” West Shoreway, can folks from Lakewood still drive to and from work without stopping for lights? Of course — wouldn’t want to inconvenience them! Are there still lots of ramps chewing up acres of lakefront property? We actually get more of ’em! Get rid of the scary tunnels? Nope — more of them too! Is the road following the same tortuous route? Definitely! How about the unsafe bridge? Definitely keeping that!

And now in this process of improving nothing, ODOT is also planning to tear down some of the few remaining old buildings on the east end of Detroit Ave for — as Mandy clearly proves — no reason at all. And without really telling anybody about it. Amazing.

I hate to say it, but the City needs to shut this project down and start over. It might mean forfeiting a ton of money, but there’s no point in spending anything on a project that is taking us so far away from our original goal.

For a refresher on the basics of that goal, look at Chicago’s Lake Shore Dr. between Randolph and Roosevelt. Even at up to 10 lanes of traffic, that section of Lake Shore is far preferable than the current and future freeway that ODOT wants to give us.

I think the core issue in both the West Shoreway and Innerbelt situations is that the City feels that it has no expertise in transportation planning and so has simply handed all the decision making over to ODOT. ODOT then designs whatever it wants. And in all cases, what ODOT wants is to move traffic through an area as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Here’s the deal: Sometimes “quickly and cheaply” isn’t what’s best. Sometimes it’s best if traffic doesn’t move quickly. Believe it or not, sometimes it’s best if traffic slows down or even stops! Sometimes it’s best to pay a little more and get something nicer.

But since ODOT are the “experts” — and because they control so much of the money — we defer to them and end up with what they want instead of what we want.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County need to tell ODOT what we want and simply refuse to accept any designs that don’t meet those goals. We need to realize that we are actually the “experts” on our own communities. We need to start acting that way.


Turkish Restaurants are popping up all over!

For years the only Turkish in Cleveland was at the Anatolia Cafe in Cedar Center. But things are changing — quickly!

I took the kids and our current Iraqi student guest Mustafa to a fairly new restaurant, Dervish, in Avon last night. Had a really great time. I’m not enough of an expert on Turkish food to know whether the various kababs we had were spectacular or just excellent, but Mustafa proclaimed them to be “exactly” like what he gets at home. So that’s gotta be pretty good.

Anyway, we probably didn’t have to go that far to get our kababs. There are (or will be) two Turkish restaurants near our house all of a sudden.

Just opened in Tremont, the Istanbul Turkish Grill, is on Professor near the corner of Starkweather. No reviews yet, but Doug Trattner blurbed it in Scene Magazine.

Later will come Alaturka, in the old Kan Zaman space at 1917 W. 25th St here in lovely Ohio City. According to the Plain Dealer, it’s going to be run by Yashar Yildirim, one of the owners of Anatolia Cafe! So that’s a good pedigree. It sounds like the restaurant should be open this fall.

Really looking forward to trying these out.


Rany Jazayerly: Abd el-Kader and the Massacre of Damascus. A lot of folks have pointed to this article. I think there’s a little bit of “Hey, look: There’s a dermatologist who normally blogs about the Kansas City Royals and here he is writing a long piece about 19th century Middle East history. Weird!” Anyway, it’s a really good piece. I definitely had never heard of el-Kader despite the fact that there’s a town named after him just up Route 52 from Dubuque.


Slate: How Many Americans Can’t Swim? Perhaps half of them. And a vast majority of most poor and minority groups.

Slate: Why Do Foreigners Like Fanta So Much? Very interesting history of the product. Did you know it was created by the Nazi arm of Coca-Cola in the 40’s? Or that it was used to make soup?


Scientific American: Australia’s common wombat could soon be uncommon. The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat population is down to a hundred or so, and has been endangered for years. Now apparently even the “common” wombat is losing population — mostly by getting run over by cars on the highway.

Consumer Reports: Teen defensive driving school improves confidence, skills. The school in question, Street Survival, only costs $75 for a full day’s instruction and looks like an excellent investment.

This article also links to Consumer Reports’ recommendations of the best cars for teens. The comments on that second article and this earlier one on the same topic are extremely interesting.

Consumer Reports obviously puts far more emphasis on electronic stability control than their readers do — insisting it be on any of their recommended cars and calling it “the most important safety feature since the safety belt,” because it can prevent accidents from happening instead of just protecting drivers in an accident.

Their readers seem to think that anti-lock brakes and airbags — on all cars since the early nineties — are plenty of protection for their kids. That and making sure the kids drive a huge vehicle. Many comments take issue with the “luxury” marques on the list. (Presumably on there because these brands were the first to adopt some of these safety systems.) There’s definitely a “my kid doesn’t deserve to drive that” vibe to the whole thing. I wonder how many of those folks have purchased expensive computers and televisions for those same kids…