Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Passing of Dr James Johannes

My normal blog entries cover technical issues.  This post is going to be very different.  It is an homage to the man who referred to himself as my academic grandfather because my Ph.D. advisor had been his first Ph.D. student.  A man I have had the pleasure of knowing and working for for almost twenty-five years.

Dr. James D. Johannes
Dr James Johannes (Dr J) passed away Tuesday May 17 2011 at the age of 76.  This came as a shock to those who knew him because he was a vibrant person.  He was the type of person that one just expected to always be there.  Until a few months ago, he came to the office nearly every day. Within the past few years, he earned his pilot's license for the first time.

Dr Johannes earned his Ph.D. in his early 40's from Vanderbilt University.  At the time, he lived in Huntsville and had two children (Mark and Michele) and commuted about 100 miles each way to take classes.  His dear wife Aurelia -- who was the epitome of a classy and tough southern lady -- supported him and the children through this.  This was clearly a factor in them being understanding and supportive of my finishing my Ph.D. with four small children in the house.  Aurelia appreciated what my wife Michele (not his daughter) was doing.

Dr Johannes founded On-Line Applications Research (OAR) Corporation in 1978.  He was an Emeritus Professor of the Computer Science department faculty at University of Alabama in Huntsville and was the first head of the department.  Based upon the number of dissertations on the shelves at OAR, he advised over twenty-five successful Ph.D. students. When he retired, he was serving as the Graduate Dean of the UAH College of Science.  He wrote the Thesis and Dissertation Style Guide required by the university that I followed on my own dissertation.  It certainly made it easier to get clarifications.

I first encountered Dr J as a student in Spring 1988.  I was taking the Ph.D. level Operating Systems class he was teaching. I must have made a good impression because after the class was over, I received a job offer.  I asked if they could hold the offer for a few months.  My daughter Jessica (now 22) had just been born and I wanted to make sure she passed her six-week check up before switching jobs.  In July 1988, I started work at OAR and my first project was RTEMS.  You should know the RTEMS story.

Dr J also could show pride in those around him. I was the lucky recipient of his special events twice.  The first was a company wide lunch at the Huntsville Country Club when I passed my Ph.D. defense!  He knew the system and didn't wait for graduation.

Twentieth Anniversary
The other special event was in 2009 when we celebrated my twentieth anniversary at OAR.

There are many Dr J stories but I will only share a few.  Long ago, he called me at home on a Saturday completely unexpectedly.  I assumed I was about to be fired and went to a quiet place in the house to take the call.  Dr J had that professorial demeanour that makes professional students always a bit leery. It turned out he needed some sysadmin help with a Solaris computer he had at home.  Why he had a Solaris computer at home I don't know.

He didn't like to dispose of old computers. OAR still has a CP/M computer with 8" floppy drives in storage.  The HP1000 was taken to his house after the OAR folks refused to move it to our third office location in the mid-1990s.  I think Aurelia finally made him dispose of it.

Dr J was loved and respected by a wide circle of people.  He will be missed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Power Restored But Issues Remain

Power was restored to OAR at ~5pm CST Tuesday May after being off since about the same time May 27.  The area is still under a dawn to dusk curfew so no hands on to fix things until tomorrow morning.  If a machine came up, we are running checks remotely.  The known status is
  • rebooted cleanly and appears to have all services running correctly.
  • OAR VOIP phone service rebooted cleanly.
  • did not automatically come up and needs hands on help.  I was not the one checking this machine and that's all I know.
  • None of the RTEMS lab machines are up.  I smelled something acrid in
    the lab after the outage so don't know.  They are on different UPS's so unless it is the circuit the machines are on, it has to be a single piece of equipment. That has to be investigated tomorrow.
Tomorrow's work is focused on testing batteries in UPS's, running checks on machines, and cleaning the refrigerator.  Everyone is really chomping at the bit to get back to work. and Power Update is my personal server.  It is a purely volunteer effort and unfunded.  It is in my home.  We lost power Wednesday April 27 about 6pm CST.  Power was restored overnight Sunday.  Monday we returned home and I started to get the server back online.  There was some damage to various MySQL databases so I did a check like this after stopping mysqld:

service mysqld stop
cd /var/lib/mysql
for i in */*.MYI; do myisamchk --max-record-length=1048576 -r -f $i; done
That seemed to resolve all of those issues.

The outstanding issue now is that it appears my ISP had some damage to their network operations center.  All appears OK but in the process of recovering, they have deleted the DNS entry for  This was filed with them last night.

Huntsville is still under a dusk to dawn curfew and power is NOT restored to Research Park.  City schools are scheduled to start again on Thursday May 5.  So we are hoping for power tomorrow or Thursday.

More as it becomes available.

Terrible Storm and RTEMS Outage

Surely by now, you have noticed that the RTEMS Project appeared to drop completely off the face of the planet about 6pm CST April 27.  It was at this time that the third storm system moved through north Alabama and knocked out all major power transmission lines.  This blog is a first in a series to let you all know what happened and what is happening now.

The primary servers and lab machines for the RTEMS Project (.org and .com) are in Huntsville Alabama which was in the path of the storm April 27th 2011. This storm  killed 340+ across multiple states and left a huge trail of destruction.  I have heard reports of business signs being found 100 miles (160km) away.  The following is a nice weather summary without the heart wrenching photos of the death and devastation.

Huntsville had three systems pass over it that day. The first was nasty but no issues impacting the server or our home. The second system resulted in water getting into the server area but we still had power. This allowed us to clean up and get the server back online until the third system hit. The third system was the killer. It was the devastating one that wiped out communities from Mississippi through Alabama and Georgia to points further north. It destroyed the major power transmission lines into north Alabama and Mississippi. Local utilities get power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and TVA could not supply power to them. Their blog is here with details:

I was teaching an RTEMS class during this with the sole attendee being a wonderful fellow from the UK.  We spent much of Wednesday in a safe area inside OAR.  And once the storm had passed and we realized we were the lucky ones, we finished the class without power.  His hotel room was wet and without power but his bed was dry.  He could charge his laptop from the car.  We took a table and a couple of chairs from OAR and sat outside the door.  When the sun moved and we got hot,  we moved the furniture.  At one point, we were on the other side of the parking lot.  We had nothing else to do and a dusk to dawn curfew, so we followed the class material, chatted, drank soda, etc.. Just chilled and did RTEMS stuff.  Phillip deserves a big thank you for helping me make sure all was turned off Thursday and cleaning the fridge and freezer Friday. I sent him to Chattanooga for the weekend and I hope it was some nice relaxing site-seeing.

Friday, my family went to a hotel in a neighbouring city and waited for power to be restored. We came home Monday afternoon since our home had no apparent damage and power was restored.  We are near the main hospital so we usually get power early.  I started ensuring the and server came back up OK. Michele is cleaning the fridge and freezer out. If we didn't lose any electronics due to power spikes, then that's all I think we have. That makes us very lucky. Michele and I know people with deaths in their families or homes destroyed. Cleaning the fridge looks pretty tame in comparison.

We tried to stay in touch using our cell phones for email but the towers died about 12 hours in.  Plus if we didn't know you on Facebook or via our private emails, it looked like we disappeared.  I apologize for not remembering linkedin and the RTEMS facebook group.  I didn't even remember IRC until Friday when we got to the hotel.

Huntsville Utilities announced yesterday (Monday night) that they have done all they can.  Everywhere TVA has given them power has been passed on to residents.  Only 30% have power.  I believe that Redstone Arsenal, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Research Park will be the last in the area to be restored.  They consume a LOT of power between them and it is more important to get power back to houses.

We really appreciate the good karma that was sent our way. We are both tired and frazzled but that's no biggie.