Sunday, 25 January 2009

Sun Family Feeling: An Australian visa post portem

Time for a dump of some lessons learnt from my blog posting "On Open Source and Open Competition in a not-so-Open World".

Let me start by a recap of what the process looked from my point of view:

  1. My close colleague gets his visa rejected. He is a seasoned Australia visitor, so I assumed (and still assume) he knew what he was doing.

  2. We connect the dots between the rejection and an IM discussion from August 2008 (see comment #29 on my blog), related to competition and Sun employees being let into Australia. Due to the nature of how visa rejections work, I cannot prove this is the case (even with the additional information I have by now), but my current best guess is still that the rejection happened in the aftermath of the discussion in comment #29.

  3. I blogged my frustration, sticking to the facts, except that I didn't make it clear that the ground for rejection (competitiveness) was not given by the Australian immigration authorities, but inferred by ourselves observing the pattern (= no rejections prior to the competitiveness chat).

  4. Comments of support start flowing in. Full of sympathy, most people are puzzled by the rejection. Some infer a conspiracy related to an Australian anti-open-source agenda. I am taken by surprise by the level of interest.

  5. Interest by journalists start appearing, in Australia and overseas. Soon, I am no longer surprised.

  6. I add clarifications. More details to the facts. And I add the exact reason for why I referred to competitiveness (comment #29).

  7. I get plenty of email support from within Sun. "How can we help?" Three direct reports of our CEO Jonathan Schwartz are in email contact with me.

  8. I get a comment from the Australian immigration authorities (Sandi Logan, NatComms Mngr, Immigration, Canberra, comment #45). She clarifies how the rejectee should approach the embassy upon rejection, and goes into what the usual rejection reasons are.

  9. The person whose visa was rejected goes to his Australian embassy. While he still doesn't get a reason for why his visa was rejected in the first place, he is cleared and won't experience issues the next time.

I can tell you I most definitely didn't expect to get nearly 50 comments on this blog entry, nor to end up on Heise and The Register, nor to be contacted by several members of Sun's Executive Leadership Team. So I learned a couple of lessons from this blog entry:

  1. The Internet loves a scandal. If there is a distinct smell of injustice, people will show both interest and support.

  2. Australians are friendly. I knew that already, but getting a comment from the immigration authorities on my blog, that was a lot more than I had expected.

  3. Blog phrasing sometimes has to be very fine tuned. Had I known the amount of attention the blog post would get, I would have been explicit from the beginning about competition being an inferred reason that I cannot objectively prove.

  4. The supportive reaction within Sun Microsystems gave me, and above all the guy whose visa was rejected,  an extremely warm family feeling, resembling that of a much, much smaller company. This even more remarkable given that Sun is in the middle of a painful reduction in force.

Hence, a big Thank You is due (in no particular order)

  • to all the commenters from Australia and elsewhere

  • to the journalists (in Australia and overseas)

  • to Sandi Logan and the Australian immigration authorities

  • to the Sun Microsystems Executive Leadership Team

for your sympathy, support and personal attention!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Ten things I am happy about

"I am happy all week long" is the ending of a Swedish drinking song, which requires the singers to count the weekdays on their fingers. I may have my moments of darkness, but generally speaking, the lyrics of this drinking song are applicable on me.

And I want this happiness to be contagious!

I'm sitting in an Air France flight that I, despite a snow storm and contrary to all expectations, boarded just in time. I'm on my way to the Rocky Mountains to snowboard with my good friend PG, and I'm browsing through a set of notes I made during my previous long-haul flight, where I listed what I thought I had achieved in 2008. Inspired by the white wine tasting offered by Air France, I let my thoughts on that list combine with the chain letter I recently fell victim of, where one is supposed to broadcast seven unexpected or random facts about oneself.

And then I get an idea. Although I despise chain letters, I want to start a new one: "Ten things I am happy about". I am fully aware that the world is full of uncontestable reasons for dissatisfaction (and I don't feel any urge to provide any possible readers of mine with a URL to prove my point). But the world is also full of reasons for happiness and joy! And these reasons deserve to be underlined, thought about, enjoyed, shared. Everyone has his or her own reasons to feel happy. So do I.

My conclusion: If I can start an ever so small epidemic of happiness, it's worth a try.

The rules are simple:

  1. Think about what you are genuinely happy about.

  2. Write it down.

  3. Make it seem as if it were exactly ten things.

  4. Think about who contributed to your feeling of happiness.

  5. Find out a connection from the ten things to ten persons that make you happy.

  6. Share your synthesis with the almighty web, using a method of your choice (such as your own blog, a guest entry on somebody else's blog, a comment on a blog).

  7. Use only mild pressure on your nominated happiness persons to do the same.

  8. Inspire also some not directly nominated people to spontaneously confess their reasons for happiness using the same recipe.

I've now done this, and made sure none of my nominated ten people have already been nominated in the meme of "seven insignificant details". If they want to convert the blog-of-seven to my blog-of-ten, fine by me, but I take no responsibility for the consequences for breaking the chain of seven, as Barton George described ("one Austrian broke the chain, lost the cap for his toothpaste, never found it, and his tube dried out").

1. Family. For me, family equals happiness. This refers to my wife, my son, my daughter and also my mother. All of them make me happy in their own way. In this category, I nominate my son Alexander, who is verbal and has made me happy also through starting to blog. However, he would probably make nearly every other category, except possibly for "Order".

2. Friends. Next to family, friends are most important. New Year's Eve, and the Scandinavian parties of Valborg and Midsummer, the yearly trip with the boys to an undiscovered country, other common interests. Here, I nominate Ralf Wahlsten, who shares Alexander's trait of being a possible candidate in nearly every category (in Ralf's case, the exception is "Photography").

3. Furuvik. Furuvik is my Art Nouveau country house in Finland, my link to my country and ancestors, to Swedish Finland. Aesthetics, order, sports, running "Möviken runt". In this category, I nominate Giuseppe Maxia, a colleague at MySQL (now Sun), a friend who inspires me in many ways (languages, the written word, the net) and who has broken two ribs playing table tennis with Alexander in Furuvik.

4. Swedish Finland. Few foreigners even know of the existence of the roughly 300.000 Finland Swedes, but this ethnic group forms the basis of my identity and permeates most of the other sources of happiness. In this category, I nominate my classmate Maini Kihlman (née Metsärinne), who despite -- or perhaps because of -- her Finnish origins embodies the network and the sense of security of Swedish Finland.

5. Language. Through language, one can show consideration and respect. To speak the language of ones counterpart creates a sense of community and a deeper contact. In this category, I nominate Aivar Joonas, an Estonian and an aesthetic, a musician and the creator of a lot of the order and beauty in Furuvik. Aivar has provided me with inspiration when it comes to both Estonian, Finnish, Swedish, Russian and German.

6. Sports. I am a born couch potato, but I have been able to defy my own nature. I have run five marathons, the last one of which in less than four hours. Alexander and I have climbed the Mt Blanc. I have discovered the joy of motion. I share this joy with many, and I choose to nominate Dave Douglas, SVP at Sun, with whom I ran six times in six different places last year -- including "Möviken runt", starting from Furuvik.

7. Photography. To me, photography is a way to document family, order, friendship and other forms of happiness. Beauty and aesthetics. Creativity. In this category, I nominate my wife Kirsten, who is my favourite motive in front of my lenses.

8. The written word. To structure thoughts, dress them in words and share them with others, that is a source of joy. If I didn't feel that way, you would hardly read these words. In this category I nominate my highly verbal friend and boss MÃ¥rten Mickos, who like Alexander and Ralf would have made it into nearly every category.

9. Order. I like order and structure, beauty and simplicity, and aesthetics. They give me peace of mind and happiness, and show different aspects of the same underlying fundament. In this category I nominate Aaro Söderlund, the architect behind the renovation of Furuvik, a classically educated person.

10. The net. Internet (Xing, blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn) strengthens the forec in the other sources of happiness. The written word is read by many. Pictures are looked at. Happy moments can be shared with friends and family. The network connects. In this category, I nominate Bob Brewin, a Distinguished Engineer from Sun, who last june visited Furuvik with four other nominated people (Alexander, Ralf, Giuseppe and Dave) and two people from my seven-insignificant-facts list (Monty, Patrik), and who understands how to keep in contact via the net.

Summary: Are you happy? If so, please share your happiness, whether nominated or not, according to the above rules. Sharing happiness is contagious!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Seven useless facts

Giuseppe claims he didn't want to get involved, but this tell-seven-things-about-you game is as fun as it is useless. The rules:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.

  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post - some random, some weird.

  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.

  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

So, here come seven completely useless facts about myself:

  1. My first programming language was APL, which I learned from my father (1924-2001, worked for IBM Finland 1951-83). The picture is of an APL ball for an IBM electric typing machine / terminal (and I bought such a typing machine in 1979).

  2. In 1980 I wrote a Z80 machine code program which calculated all primes up to 32767 in 200 milliseconds using the Sieve of Erathostenes.

  3. The same year, 1980, I wrote an APL program that accurately "predicted" a header in Svensk Damtidning, a Swedish "royal gossip magazine".

  4. The same year, 1980, I decided, based on real-life experience of stubbornness of my potential co-founder, not to start a company with Michael "Monty" Widenius.

  5. In 2003, I travelled Munich-Amsterdam-Delhi-Amsterdam-Munich only to spend a night in a chair at Indira Gandhi airport without being let into the country, as I had forgotten to apply for an Indian visa in advance.

  6. I pretend to blog in eleven languages. I have also pretended to give speeches in those languages (plus Chinese, Czech, Finnish and French, which I don't yet blog in).

  7. In August or September each year since 1993, I have travelled with my university friends to a new country none of us has visited before. An additional requirement is for the country to be perceived as so inhospitable by our wives, that they don't even want to join us. Last year, we picked Kosovo.

My seven invitees:

  1. Zack Urlocker, long-time colleague at MySQL and Sun, fellow runner and traveller, because I have complete faith in him taking swift action on the game-of-seven.

  2. Dave Douglas, EVP at Sun, my co-passenger in Decadence Airlines who has contributed very much to making my life@Sun a happy one.

  3. Patrik Backman, my former colleague from MySQL AB and Sun, because I consider it my responsibility to encourage him to refresh his blog or start a new one.

  4. Michael "Monty" Widenius, because of useless fact #4 above, and because he should do it again (blog, that is)

  5. Alok Parikh, my mentee from Sun's mentoring program, because I'd love to see what seven facts he'll come up with.

  6. Giuseppe Guerrasio, who has encouraged me to continue my Italian blog (and of all languages I don't speak, I speak Italian the best).

  7. Ulf Scherling, an Austrian who is one of my great role models in photography. So are Riccardo Desiderio, Oswin Eder, James Duncan Davidson and Julian Cash, but I've blogged about them earlier so it's time for Ulf.

Monday, 12 January 2009

On Open Source and Open Competition in a not-so-Open World

Open Source is global in nature. You can develop a database in, say, Finland or Sweden, and become known in, say, Ukraine or the United States.

This would imply that Open Source knows no borders.

In practice, borders hamper Open Source work a lot. I have been familiar with the hassle involving MySQLers in Russia and the Ukraine trying to get Schengen (European Union) and US visas for meetings. And I have myself gone through a lot of hassle travelling to Russia and once even (out of my own stupidity and carelessness, though) been denied entry to India when I already was on Indira Gandhi airport in New Delhi.

But now, I've experienced what I had expected the least:

Several Sun Microsystems Inc employees, especially related to the Database Group, have been denied short stay business visas to Australia, over the last few months, as they have been seen to be competing with local Australian businesses unfairly.

I regret to share that this will adversely affect MySQL presence at in Hobart, Tasmania 19-24.1.2009.

Footnote: The illustration is from the border between Finland and Russia. When I grew up, it used to be a very closed one.

Update / clarification

I am overwhelmed by the attention this post has got! It's been quite a ride, and a lesson in blogging. In retrospect, I should perhaps have anticipated the level of interest, and spent time fine-tuning my wording. I didn't, so there's a need for clarifications and an update for anyone who doesn't want to read all the over 30 comments.

First: Personally, I am not the one to have been declined a visa to Australia. The person whose visa was affected is a close colleague, but not myself. I've been several times to Australia, both prior to and after joining MySQL AB, and I have never had any issues.

Second: Given my frustration at the rejection of the visa of my colleague, I chose to use the word "several" to describe two instances.

Third: The first instance, in August 2008, is referred in detail in Comment #29. Not thinking I was providing a scoop for The Register, Heise Online and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, I didn't even look up that chat log until replying to the commenters on the blog. And in that first instance, the person in question ("kv") had already got a visa. He was not denied a visa. However, the interaction over instant messaging with "local_mysql_activist" implied that the visa could be overturned by the immigration authorities at the border, so "kv" did not dare go try his luck. I apologise for the inaccurate wording on my part, as it's technically not true that "several" MySQLers would have got their visas rejected (although I can assure you that's how "kv" personally feels).

Fourth: The connection between the first instance and the second instance, where my close colleague was rejected a visa, is not evidenced by any official information from the Australian government. The rejection letter merely says ”SHORT TERM BUSINESS ETA APPLICATION WAS NOT APPROVED NO AUTHORITY TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA HELD BY PASSENGER”. However, the person who now got rejected has been frequently in Australia and, to the best of my knowledge, lacks any record which would imply a visa rejection (such as, but not limited to, unpaid traffic fines).

Fifth: Some readers have asked me whether I see an Australian anti-open-source conspiracy. Definitely not! The trip was related to an open source conference, and the applicant went by the book, asking for a short-term business visa where many frequently travel on tourist visas for equivalent purposes. Thus, the denial could be the result of an overzealous bureaucrat in the aftermath of #29. But that assessment is firmly in the realm of speculation and has no claim on objectivity.

Sixth: Thanks for all the offers of help! However, by now, is so close that we can’t appeal this. Flights have had to be cancelled, and are now either full or horrendously expensive. So the harm has been done (for whatever the reason may be) and Sun / MySQL won't be represented at at the level originally intended. Some of us will still come, though.

Finally, I'm deeply grateful for all the sympathy and support we got. Thank you!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

In 2008, I flew 273649 km or 200 times longer than I ran, which was 1382 km

MySQLers share many activities that they take part in during the course of a year. One of them is flying. Another is running. Running is considerably more pleasurable than flying. Case in point: There is a MySQL Runners Club, but no MySQL Frequent Flyer club -- although the latter would count a huge number of us working with MySQL at Sun as potential members.

The Dopplr Raumzeitgeist shows where I was 2008

I think I am a fairly eager runner, and a fairly frequent flyer. Thanks to Dopplr (a traveller's social website that I evaluated last year), I know that I've travelled 283 659 km since the first trip I've entered into Dopplr (which was early January 2008). If I assume that I've flown ten thousand kilometres this year (from Mauritius to Munich), that leaves 273649 km for 2008. Sadly, this means my flying distance outnumbers my 1382 running kilometres 2008 by a factor of nearly 200 to 1.

(For those to whom km mean as little as miles mean to me: Flying = 170 038 miles, running = 859 miles).

Luckily, the ratio for time spent midair to time spent running isn't as disadvantageous. Assuming an average flight speed of 850 km/h (and assuming that all my travels were by airplane, although some were by train, bus, ship or by car), I spent 321 h in the air. That is 13 days, and just a factor of 2.6 times longer than the 123 hours spent running.

Still, I can't say I'm proud of my carbon footprint, and even if I know I spent a lot of time travelling, it still puzzles me that I've managed to spend a whopping 13 days in the air. To that, one can add several days of involuntary participation in the Security Theatre shows and doing other pointless queuing and waiting.

What I am proud of is my new personal marathon record at 3:55:22 in Finland 16.8.2008, my new personal half marathon record at 1:45:58 in Munich 29.6.2008, and the fact that I was consistent enough to run over 100 km every single month of 2008. For more stats, look at my private bragging-about-running blog entry in either Swedish, German or English.

Finally, a big Thank You to my fellow runners at Sun. Running can be a great social event, and you made the difference! I ran 6 times with Dave Douglas (in Menlo Park, Kista, Sweden, at the Red Square in Moscow, in Kiev, Ukraine, in Santa Cruz and close to my country house in Nagu, Finland), 5 times each with Zack Urlocker and Patrik Backman, and twice with Larry Stefonic.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Back to work & Personal New Year Resolutions

I spent the last two weeks offline in the Indian Ocean (not all the time as literally as in the picture on the left, though). This triggered a bit of long term thinking and observations, some of which I've already published my ten New Year Resolutions in Swedish, in German and in English, respectively. Some of these are purely private, many are inspired by work at MySQL and Sun.

I won't spam Planet MySQL with all of the resolutions, but here's an excerpt to tease you into reading the actual blog entry:

On the Irrationality of the Human Mind

Human beings are irrational. People in general behave illogically, sometimes directly against their own self interest. I am no exception. Using glimpses of logical thinking to indoctrinate myself, I assert that I can change my behaviour to alleviate the consequences of my irrationality and sometimes even turn it into an asset. And this self indoctrination I have concentrated into my New Year Resolutions 2009.

I also had time for more mundane observations, particularly of animals (chamaeleons, boas, centipedes, lemurs) on Madagascar. Some of my most superficial reflections, I documented in my blog evaluation of a book on the iPod touch (a gadget brought by Father Christmas to my son).

Tomorrow, it's back to work!