Embracing opposing points of view

In a blog aptly called “Both Sides of the Table”, I read a post entitled “Why You Should Embrace Opposing Views at Your Startup”.

It is a great post by Mark Suster and I highly recommend you read it.

If your startup lives in an echo chamber, and the only voice you hear is your own, it is most certainly doomed.

Dayton, OH embraces immigrants, cites entrepreneurship as a big draw

Bucking a national trend, Dayton Ohio has taken the bold step to welcome immigrants. They published a comprehensive 32 page report describing the program that was approved some days ago.

Here are some quotes that I read that I found encouraging.

According to the city, immigrants are two times more likely than others to become entrepreneurs.

 

1. Focus on East Third Street, generally between Keowee and Linden, as an initial international market place for immigrant entrepreneurship. East Third Street, in addition to being a primary thoroughfare between Downtown and Wright Patterson Air Force Base, also encompasses an area of organic immigrant growth and available space to supportcontinuing immigrant entrepreneurship.

 

2. Create an inclusive community-wide campaign around immigrant entrepreneurship that facilitates startup businesses, opens global markets and restores life to Dayton neighborhoods.

Other coverage of this and related issues can also be found here:

A brief hiatus, and we’re back!

Since early last year when I posted my last blog entry, I’ve been a bit “preoccupied”. Around that time, I started in earnest on getting a start-up off the ground. It was a winding road, and I did not get around to writing anything on this blog. Over the past several months, I have been resurrecting this blog.

The old blog (there’s still a shell there) was called Hypecycles (https://hypecycles.wordpress.com) and try as I might, I could not get http://www.hypecycles.com for this blog.

What’s with “Pizza and Code”?

The last eighteen or so months have been spent getting ParElastic off the ground. The quintessential startup is two guys working in the garage, and subsisting on Pizza! The software startup is therefore two things, Pizza and Code!

What’s ParElastic?

ParElastic is a startup that is building elastic database middleware for the cloud. Want to know more about ParElastic? Go to http://www.parelastic.com. Starting ParElastic has been an incredible education, one that can only be acquired by actually starting a company.

Over the next couple of blog posts, I will quickly cover the two or so years from mid 2009 to the present.

Enjoy!

 

The Application Marketplace: Android’s worst enemy?

I recently got an Android (Motorola A855, aka droid) phone. I had been using a Windows based device (have been since about 2003). I was concerned about the bad reviews of poor battery life and the fact that Bluetooth Voice Dialing was not present. I figured that the latter was a software thing and could be added later. So, with some doubt, I started using my phone.

On the first day, with a battery charged overnight,  I proceeded to surf the Marketplace and download a few applications. I got a Google Voice Dialer (not the one from Google), and a couple of other “marketplace” applications. I used the maps with the GPS for a short while and in about 8 hours the yellow sign of “low battery” came on. I had Google (GMAIL) synchronization set to the default (sync enabled).

Pretty crappy, I thought. My Samsung went for two days without a problem. I had activesync with server (Exchange) or GMail refresh every 5 minutes for years!

The Google Voice dialer I downloaded had some bugs (it messed up the call log pretty badly) and I got bored of the other applications I had downloaded.

Time for a hard reset and restart for the phone (just to be sure I got rid of all the gremlins. After all, I was a Windows phone user, this was a weekly ritual).

I got the update to Google Maps, set synch to continuous, downloaded the “sky map” application and charged the phone up fully. That was on Wednesday afternoon (17th). Today is the 20th and the battery is still all green on the home page.

The robustness of downloaded Android Apps

One of the things that makes the android phone so attractive (the application marketplace) is certainly a big problem. The robustness and stability of the downloaded applications cannot be guaranteed. We all realize that “your mileage may vary”. But, a quick look at the “Best Practices” on the android SDK site indicate that a badly written application can keep the CPU too busy and burn through your battery.

Maybe Android phones (and the battery life in particular) is more an issue of poorly written applications.

Apple (with the Macintosh) had a tight grip on the applications that could be released on the Mac. This helped them ensure that buggy software didn’t give the Mac a bad name. I’m sure Windows users can relate to this.

They seem to have the same control on the iPhone App Store. Maybe that’s why I don’t hear so much about crappy applications on the iPhone that crash or suck the battery dry!

Should Google take some control over the crap on the marketplace or will it all straighten itself out over time?

Punishment must fit the crime

I regularly read Dr. Dobbs Code Talk and noticed this article today. What caught my attention was not the article itself, but rather the first response to the article from Jack Woehr.

Reproduced below is a screen shot of the page that I read and Jack’s comments. Really, I ask you, is C# all that bad?

Microsoft patent 7617530, the flap about sudo

The blogosphere has been buzzing with indignation about a Microsoft patent application 7617530 that apparently was granted earlier this month. You can read the application here.

Yes, enough people have complained that this is like sudo and why did Microsoft get a patent for this. In fairness the patent does attempt to distinguish what is being claimed from sudo and provides copious references to sudo. What few have mentioned is that the thing that Microsoft patents is in fact the exact functionality that some systems like Ubuntu use to allow non-privileged users to perform privileged tasks.

In PC Magazine, Matthew Murray writes,

Because a graphical interface is not a part of sudo, it seems clear the patent refers to a Windows component and not a Linux one. The patent even references several different online sudo resources, further suggesting Microsoft isn’t trying to put anything over on anyone. The same section’s reference to “one, many, or all accounts having sufficient rights” suggests a list that sudo also doesn’t possess.

IMHO, they may be missing something here.

Let’s set that all aside. What I find interesting is this. The patent application states, and I reproduce three paragraphs of the patent application here and have highlighted three sentences (the first sentences in each paragraph).

Standard user accounts permit some tasks but prohibit others. They permit most applications to run on the computer but often prohibit installation of an application, alteration of the computer’s system settings, and execution of certain applications. Administrator accounts, on the other hand, generally permit most if not all tasks.

Not surprisingly, many users log on to their computers with administrator accounts so that they may, in most cases, do whatever they want. But there are significant risks involved in using administrator accounts. Malicious code may, in some cases, perform whatever tasks are permitted by the account currently in use, such as installing and deleting applications and files–potentially highly damaging tasks. This is because most malicious code performs its tasks while impersonating the current user of the computer–thus, if a user is logged on with an administrator account, the malicious code may perform dangerous tasks permitted by that account.

To reduce these risks, a user may instead log on with a standard user account. Logging on with a standard user account may reduce these risks because the standard user account may not have the right to permit malicious code to perform many dangerous tasks. If the standard user account does not have the right to perform a task, the operating system may prohibit the malicious code from performing that task. For this reason, using a standard user account may be safer than using an administrator account.

Absolutely! Most people don’t realize that they are logged in as users with Administrator rights and can inadvertently do damaging things.

My question is this: why is the default user created when you install Windows on a PC an administrator user? As you go through the install process, the thing asks you questions like “what is your name” and “how would you like to login to your PC”. It uses this to setup the first user on the machine. Why is that user an administrator user?

If you are smart (and if Microsoft really wanted to be good about this) the installation process would create two users. A day-to-day user who is non-Administrator, and an Administrator user.

I’m a PC and if Windows 8 comes up with an installation process that creates two users, a non-administrator user and an administrator user, then it would have been my idea. But, I don’t intend to go green holding my breath for this to happen. Someone tell me if it does.

A Report from Boston’s First “Big Data Summit”

A short write-up about last night’s Big Data Summit appeared on xconomy today.

My thanks to our sponsors, Foley Hoag LLP and the wonderful team at the Emerging Enterprise Center, Infobright, Expressor Software, and Kalido.

On MapReduce and Relational Databases – Part 1

Describes MapReduce and why WOTS (Wart-On-The-Side) MapReduce is bad for databases.

This is the first of a two-part blog post that presents a perspective on the recent trend to integrate MapReduce with Relational Databases especially Analytic Database Management Systems (ADBMS).

The first part of this blog post provides an introduction to MapReduce, provides a short description of the history and why MapReduce was created, and describes the stated benefits of MapReduce.

The second part of this blog post provides a short description of why I believe that integration of MapReduce with relational databases is a significant mistake. It concludes by providing some alternatives that would provide much better solutions to the problems that MapReduce is supposed to solve.
Continue reading “On MapReduce and Relational Databases – Part 1”

On MapReduce and Relational Databases – Part 2

This is the second of a two-part blog post that presents a perspective on the recent trend to integrate MapReduce with Relational Databases especially Analytic Database Management Systems (ADBMS).

The first part of this blog post provides an introduction to MapReduce, provides a short description of the history and why MapReduce was created, and describes the stated benefits of MapReduce.

The second part of this blog post provides a short description of why I believe that integration of MapReduce with relational databases is a significant mistake. It concludes by providing some alternatives that would provide much better solutions to the problems that MapReduce is supposed to solve.
Continue reading “On MapReduce and Relational Databases – Part 2”

Tell me about something you failed at, and what you learnt from it.

I have been involved in a variety of interviews both at work and as part of the selection process in the town where I live. Most people are prepared for questions about their background and qualifications. But, at a whole lot of recent interviews that I have participated in, candidates looked like deer in the headlight when asked the question (or a variation thereof),

“Tell me about something that you failed at and what you learned from it”

A few people turn that question around and try to give themselves a back-handed compliment. For example, one that I heard today was,

“I get very absorbed in things that I do and end up doing an excellent job at them”

Really, why is this a failure? Can’t you get a better one?

Folks, if you plan to go to an interview, please think about this in advance and have a good answer to this one. In my mind, not being able to answer this question with a “real failure” and some “real learnings” is a disqualifier.

One thing that I firmly believe is that failure is a necessary by-product of showing initiative in just the same way as bugs are natural by-product of software development. And, if someone has not made mistakes, then they probably have not shown any initiative. And if they can’t recognize when they have made a mistake, that is scary too.

Finally, I have told people who have been in teams that I managed that it is perfectly fine to make a mistake; go for it. So long as it is legal, within company policy and in keeping with generally accepted norms of behavior, I would support them. So, please feel free to make a mistake and fail, but please, try to be creative and not make the same mistake again and again.

Oracle fined $10k for violating TPC’s fair use rules

Oracle fined $10k for violating TPC’s fair use rules.

In a letter dated September 25, 2009, the TPC fined Oracle $10k based on a complaint filed by IBM. You can read the letter here.

Recently, Oracle ran an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal and The Economist making unsubstantiated superior performance claims about an Oracle/Sun configuration relative to an official TPC-C result from IBM. The ad ran twice on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (August 27, 2009 and September 3, 2009) and once on the back cover of The Economist (September 5, 2009). The ad references a web page that contained similar information and remained active until September 16, 2009. A complaint was filed by IBM asserting that the advertisement violated the TPC’s fair use rules.

Oracle is required to do four things:

1. Oracle is required to pay a fine of $10,000.
2. Oracle is required to take all steps necessary to ensure that the ad will not be published again.
3. Oracle is required to remove the contents of the page www.oracle.com/sunoraclefaster.
4. Oracle is required to report back to the TPC on the steps taken for corrective action and the procedures implemented to ensure compliance in the future.

At the time of this writing, the link http://www.oracle.com/sunoraclefaster is no longer valid.

Can you copyright movie times?

MovieShowtimes.com, a site owned by West World Media believes that they have!

In his article, Michael Masnick relates the experience of a reader Jay Anderson who found a loophole on a web page MovieShowtimes.com and figured out how to get movie times for a given zip code. He (Jay Anderson) then contacted the company asking how he could become an affiliate and drive traffic their way and was rewarded with some legal mumbo jumbo.

First of all, I think the minion at the law firm was taking a course on “Nasty Letter Writing 101” and did a fine job. I’m no copyright expert but if I received an offer from someone to drive more traffic to my site my first answer would not be to get a lawyer involved.

Second, this whole episode could have well been featured in the book, Letters from a Nut, by Ted L. Nancy or the sequel More Letters from a Nut.

But, this reminds me of something a former co-worker told me about an incident where his daughter wrote a nice letter to a company and got her first taste of legal over zealousness. He can correct the facts and fill in the details but if I recall correctly, the daughter in question had written letters to many companies asking the usual childrens questions about how pretzels, or candy or a nice toy was made. In response some nice person in a marketing department sent a gift hamper back with a polite explanation of the process etc., But one day the little child wanted to know (if my memory serves me correctly) why M&M’s were called M&M’s. So, along went the nice letter to the address on the box. The response was a letter from the say guy who now works for MovieTimesForDummies.com explaining that M&M’s was a copyright of the so-and-so-company and any attempt to blah blah blah.

I think it is only a matter of time before MovieTimesForDummies.com releases exactly the same app that Jay Anderson wanted to, closes the loophole that he found and fires the developer who left it there in the first place.

Oh, wait, I just got a legal notice from Amazon saying that the link on this blog directing traffic to their site is a violation of something or the other …

Multithreaded File I/O (Reflections on Dr. Dobb’s article by Stefan Wörthmüller)

Thoughts on the results that Stefan Wörthmüller reports in his article on Dr. Dobb’s Journal.

I ran across an interesting article on Multi-Threaded File I/O in Dr. Dobb’s today. You can read the article at http://www.ddj.com/hpc-high-performance-computing/220300055

I was particularly intrigued by the statements on variability,

I repeated the entire test suite three times. The values I present here are the average of the three runs. The standard deviation in most cases did not exceed 10-20%. All tests have been also run three times with reboots after every run, so that no file was accessed from cache.

Initially, I thought 10-20% was a bit much; this seemed like a relatively straightforward test and variability should be low. Then I looked at the source code for the test and I’m now even more puzzled about the variability.

Get a copy of the sources here. It is a single source file and in the only case of randomization, it uses rand() to get a location into the file.

The code to do the random seek is below

   if(RandomCount)
   {
      // Seek new position for Random access
      if(i >= maxCount)
         break;
      long pos = (rand() * fileSize) / RAND_MAX - BlockSize;
      fseek(file, pos, SEEK_SET);
   }

While this is a multi-threaded program, I see no calls to srand() anywhere in the program. Just to be sure, I modified Stefan’s program as attached here. (My apologies, the file has an extension of .jpg because I can’t upload a .cpp or .zip onto this free wordpress blog. The file is a Windows ZIP file, just rename it).

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// mtRandom.cpp   Amrith Kumar 2009 (amrith (dot) kumar (at) gmail (dot) com
// This program is adapted from the program FileReadThreads.cpp by Stefan Woerthmueller
// No rights reserved. Feel Free to do what ever you like with this code
// but don't blame me if the world comes to an end.

#include "Windows.h"
#include "stdio.h"
#include "conio.h"
#include
#include 

#include
#include 

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
// Worker Thread Function
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

DWORD WINAPI threadEntry(LPVOID lpThreadParameter)

{
    int index = (int)lpThreadParameter;
        FILE * fp;
        char filename[32];

        sprintf ( filename, "file-%d.txt", index );

        fprintf ( stderr, "Thread %d startedn", index );
        if ((fp = fopen ( filename, "w" )) == (FILE * ) NULL)
        {
                fprintf (stderr, "Error opening file %sn", filename );
        }
        else
        {
                for (int i = 0; i < 10; i ++)
                {
                        fprintf ( fp, "%un", rand());
                }

                fclose (fp);
        }

        fprintf ( stderr, "Thread %d donen", index );

    return 0;
}

#define MAX_THREADS (5)

int main(int argc, char* argv[])

{
    HANDLE h_workThread[MAX_THREADS];

    for(int i = 0; i < MAX_THREADS; i++)
    {
        h_workThread[i] = CreateThread(NULL, 0, threadEntry, (LPVOID) i, 0, NULL );
        Sleep(1000);
    }

    WaitForMultipleObjects(MAX_THREADS, h_workThread, TRUE, INFINITE);
    printf ( "All done. Good byen" );
    return 0;
}

So, I confirmed that Stefan will be getting the same sequence of values from rand() over and over again, across reboots.

Why then is he still seeing 10-20% variability? Beats me, something smells here … I would assume that from run to run, there should be very little variability.

Thoughts?

From the “way-back machine”

We’ve all heard the expression “way-back machine” and some of us know about tools like the Time Machine. But, did you know that there is in fact a “way-back machine” ?

From time to time, I have used this service and it is one of those nice corners of the web that is nice to know. I was reminded of it this morning in a conversation and that led to a nice walk through history.

If you aren’t familiar with the “way-back machine”, take a look at http://www.archive.org/web/web.php

Some day you may wonder what a web page looked like a while ago and the “way-back machine” is your solution.

Here are some interesting ones that I looked at today. The Time Magazine in February 1999.

Time magazine web page in February 1999
Time magazine web page in February 1999

Ever wondered what the Dataupia web page looked like in February 2006? I know someone who would get a kick out of it so I went and looked it up.

The Dataupia web page from February 2006
The Dataupia web page from February 2006

Check it out sometime, the way back machine is a wonderful afternoon diversion.

The “way back” archive is not complete, alas!

Florida recounts

Diluting education standards in Kansas (part II)

Coming in the aftermath of the efforts to outlaw the teaching of evolution in the state, this story about Kansas is unfortunate.

http://blog.acm.org/archives/csta/2009/09/post_4.html

http://usacm.acm.org/usacm/weblog/index.php?p=741

The state has significant employment problems and the recent down turn in the economy has caused significant impact on the aircraft industry in the state. With a nascent IT start-up scene there, this is probably the worst publicity that the state could have hoped for.

Who are you, really? The value of incorrect response in challenge-response style authentication.

We all know how service providers validate the identity of callers. But, how do you validate the identity of the service provider on the other end of the telephone? In the area of computer security, the inexact challenge response mechanism is a useful way of validating identities; a wrong answer and the response to a wrong answer tell a lot.

Service providers (electricity, cable, wireless phone, POTS telephone, newspaper, banks, credit card companies) are regularly faced with the challenge of identifying and validating the identity of the individual who has called customer service. They have come up with elaborate schemes involving the last four digits of your social security number, your mailing address, your mother’s maiden name, your date of birth and so on. The risks associated with all of these have been discussed at great length elsewhere; social security numbers are guessable (see “Predicting Social Security Numbers from Public Data”, Acquisti and Gross), mailing addresses can be stolen, mother’s maiden names can be obtained (and in some Latin American countries your mother’s maiden name is part of your name) and people hand out their dates of birth on social networking sites without a problem!

Bogus Parking ticket
Bogus Parking ticket

So, apart from identity theft by someone guessing at your identity, we also have identity theft because people give out critical information about themselves. Phishing attacks are well documented, and we have heard of the viruses that have spread based on fake parking tickets.

Privacy and Information Security experts caution you against giving out key information to strangers; very sound advice. But, how do you know who you are talking to?

Consider these two examples of things that have happened to me.

1. I receive a telephone call from a person who identifies himself as being an investment advisor from a financial services company where I have an account. He informs me that I am eligible for a certain service that I am not utilizing and he would like to offer me that service. I am interested in this service and I ask him to tell me more. In order to tell me more, he asks me to verify my identity. He wants the usual four things and I ask him to verify in some way that he is in fact who he claims to be. With righteous indignation he informs me that he cannot reveal any account information until I can prove that I am who I claim to be. Of course, that sets me off and I tell him that I would happily identify myself to be who he thinks I am, if he can identify that he is in fact who he claims to be. Needless to say, he did not sell me the service that he wanted to.

2. I call a service provider because I want to make some change to my account. They have “upgraded their systems” and having looked up my account number and having “matched my phone number to the account”, the put me through to a real live person. After discussing how we will make the change that I want, the person then asks me to provide my address. Ok, now I wonder why that would be? Don’t they have my address, surely they’ve managed to send me a bill every month.

“For your protection, we need to validate four pieces of information about you before we can proceed”, I am told.

The four items are my address, my date of birth, the last four digits of my social security number and the “name on the account”.

Of course, I ask the nice person to validate something (for example, tell me how much my last bill was) before I proceed. I am told that for my own protection, they cannot do that.

challenge-responseComputer scientists have developed several techniques that provide “challenge-response” style authentication where both parties can convince themselves that they are who they claim to be. For example, public-key/private-key encryption provides a simple way in which to do this. Either party can generate a random string and provide it to the other asking the other to encrypt it using the key that they have. The encrypted response is returned to the sender and that is sufficient to guarantee that the peer does in fact posses the appropriate “token”.

In the context of a service provider and a customer, there would be a mechanism for the service provider to verify that the “alleged customer” is in fact the customer who he or she claims to be but the customer also verifies that the provider is in fact the real thing.

The risks in the first scenario are absolutely obvious; I recently received a text message (vector) that read

“MsgID4_X6V…@v.w RTN FCU Alert: Your CARD has been DEACTIVATED. Please contact us at 978-596-0795 to REACTIVATE your CARD. CB: 978-596-0795”

A quick web search does in fact show that this is a phishing event. Whether someone tracked that phone number down and find out if they are a poor unsuspecting victim or a perpetrator, I am not sure.

But, what does one do when in fact they receive an email or a phone call from a vendor with whom they have a relationship?

One could contact a psychic to find out if it is authentic, like check the New England SEERs.

http://twitter.com/ILNorg/status/3786484194

http://twitter.com/NewEnglandSEERs

RT @Lucy_Diamond 978-596-0795 do not return call on text. Call police or your real bank. Caution bank fraud. Never give your pin to anyone

RT @Lucy_Diamond Warning bank scam via cell phone text remember never give your pin number to anyone. Your bank won’t ask you they know it

Agent: For your security please verify some information about your account.What is your account number

Me: Provide my account number

Agent: Thank you, could you give me your passphrase?

Me: ketchup

Agent: Thank you. Could you give me your mother’s maiden name

Me: Hoover Decker

Agent: Thank you. and the last four digits of your SSN

Me: 2004

Agent: Just one more thing, your date of birth please

Me: February 14th 1942

Agent: Thank you

Agent: For your security please verify some information about your account.What is your account number

Me: Provide my account number

Agent: Thank you, could you give me your passphrase?

Me: ketchup

Agent: That’s not what I have on the account

Me: Really, let me look for a second. What about campbell?

Agent: No, that’s not it either. It looks like you chose something else, but similar.

Me: Oh, of course, Heinz58. Sorry about that

Agent: That’s right, how about your mother’s maiden name.

Me: Hoover Decker

Agent: No, that’s not it.

Me: Sorry, Hoover Bissel

Agent: That’s right. And the last four of your social please

Me: 2007

Agent: thank you, and the date of birth

Me: Feb 29, 1946

Agent: Thank you

Agent: For your security please verify some information about your account.

What is your account number

Me: Provide my account number

Agent: Thank you, could you give me your passphrase?

Me: ketchup

Agent: Thank you. Could you give me your mother’s maiden name

Me: Hoover Decker

Agent: Thank you. and the last four digits of your SSN

Me: 2004

Agent: Just one more thing, your date of birth please

Me: February 14th 1942

Agent: Thank you. Could you verify the address to which you would like us to ship the package.

(At this point, I’m very puzzled and not really sure what is going on)

Me: Provided my real address (say 10 Any Drive, Somecity, 34567)

Agent: I’m sorry, I don’t see that address on the account, I have a different address.

Me: What address do you have?

Agent: I have 14 Someother Drive, Anothercity, 36789.

The address the agent provided was in fact a previous location where I had lived.

What has happened is that the cable company (like many other companies these days) has outsourced the fulfillment of the orders related to this service. In reality, all they want is to verify that the account number and the address match! How they had an old address, I cannot imagine. But, if the address had matched, they would have mailed a little package out to me (it was at no charge anyway) and no one would be any the wiser.

But, I hung up and called the cable company on the phone number on my bill and got the full fourth-degree. And they wanted to talk to “the account owner”. But, I had forgotten what I told them my SSN was … Ironically, they went right along to the next question and later told me what the last four digits of my SSN were 🙂

Someone said they were interested in the security and privacy of my personal information?

We people born on the 29th of February 1946 are very skeptical.

Desktop Email Client vs. GMail: Why desktop mail clients are still better than the GMail interface

The GMail user interface, while very good and much better than some of the others lacks some useful functionality to make it a complete replacement for a desktop email client like Outlook.

Joe Kissell writes in CIO magazine about the six reasons why desktop email clients still rule. He opines that he would take a desktop email client any day and provides the following reason, and six more:

Well, there is the issue of outages like the one Gmail experienced this week. I like to be able to access my e-mail whenever I want. But beyond that, webmail still lags far behind desktop clients in several key areas.

Much has been written by many on this subject. As long ago as 2005, Cedric pronounced his verdict. Brad Shorr had a more measured comparison that I read before I made the switch about a month ago. Lifehacker pronounced the definitive comparison (IMHO it fell flat, their verdicts were shallow). Rakesh Agarwal presented some good insights and suggestions.

I read all of this and tried to decide what to do about a month ago. Here is a description of my usage.

My Usage

1. Email Accounts

I have about a dozen. Some are through GMail, some are on domains that I own, one is at Yahoo, one at Hotmail and then there are a smattering of others like aol.com, ZoHo and mail.com. While employed (currently a free agent) I have always had an Exchange Server to look at as well.

2. Email volume

Excluding work related email, I receive about 20 or 30 messages a day (after eliminating SPAM).

3. Contacts

I have about 1200 contacts in my address book.

4. Mobile device

I have a Windows Mobile based phone and I use it for calendaring, email and as a telephone. I like to keep my complete contact list on my phone.

5. Access to Email

I am NOT a Power-User who keeps reading email all the time (there are some who will challenge this). If I can read my email on my phone, I’m usually happy. But, I prefer a big screen view when possible.

6. I like to use instant messengers. Since I have accounts on AOL IM, Y!, HotMail and Google, I use a single application that supports all the flavors of IM.

Seems simple enough, right? Think again. Here is why, after migrating entirely to GMail, I have switched back to a desktop client.

The Problem

1. Google Calendar and Contact Synchronization is a load of crap.

Google does somethings well. GMail (the mail and parts of the interface) are one of these things. They support POP and IMAP, they support consolidation of accounts through POP or IMAP, they allow email to be sent as if from another account. They are far ahead of the rest. With Google Labs you can get a pretty slick interface. But, Calendar and Contact Synchronization really suck.

For example, I start off with 1200 contacts and synchronize my mobile device with Google. How do I do it? By creating an Exchange Server called m.google.com and having it provide Calendar and Contacts. You can read about that here. After synchronizing the two, I had 1240 or so contacts on my phone. Ok, I had sent email to 40 people through GMail who were not in my address book. Great!

Then I changed one persons email address and the wheels came off the train. It tried to synchronize everything and ended up with some errors.

I started off with about 120 entries in my calendar after synchronizing every hour, I now have 270 or so. Well, each time it felt that contacts had been changed, it refreshed them and I now have seventeen appointments tomorrow saying it is someones birthday. Really, do I get extra cake or something?

2. Google Chat and Contact Synchronization don’t work well together.

After synchronizing contacts my Google Chat went to hell in a hand-basket. There’s no way to tell why, I just don’t see anyone in my Google Chat window any more.

Google does some things well. The GMail server side is one of them. As Bing points out, Google Search returns tons of crap (not that Bing does much better). Calendar, Contacts and Chat are still not in the “does well” category.

So, it is back to Outlook Calendar and Contacts and POP Email. I will get all the email to land in my GMail account though, nice backup and all that. But GMail Web interface, bye-bye. Outlook 2007 here I come, again.

The best of both worlds

The stable interface between a phone and Outlook, a stable calendar, contacts and email interface (hangs from time to time but the button still works), and a nice online backup at Google. And, if I’m at a PC other than my own, the web interface works in a pinch.

POP all mail from a variety of accounts into one GMail account and access just that one account from both the telephone and the desktop client. And install that IM client application again.

What do I lose? The threaded message format that GMail has (that I don’t like). Yippie!

A meaningful networking platform for children with special needs.

Parlerai creates a secure network of family, friends and caregivers surrounding a child with special needs. Help spread the word, you can make a difference.

My friend Jon Erickson and his wife Kristin have been working on Parlerai for some time now. As parents of a child with special needs, Kristin and Jon were frustrated by a lack of available tools for parents like us to track and share information and ultimately collaborate with the people making a difference in their daughter’s life. They have built the Parlerai platform which will profoundly and positively impact the lives of the individuals in their family, and the lives of parents around the world.

Parlerai creates a secure network of family, friends and caregivers surrounding a child with special needs.

Parlerai creates a secure network of family, friends and caregivers surrounding a child with special needs and uses innovative and highly personalized tools to enhance collaboration and provide a highly secure method of communicating via the Internet. There are tools for parents, tools for children and tools for caregivers. As the world’s first Augmentative Collaboration service, Parlerai (French for “shall speak) gives children with special needs a voice.

Parlerai is for children with special needs. They use it to communicate and access online media and information in a safe environment.

Parlerai is for parents of children with special needs. They use it to share and communicate information about their children. It gives them a single medium through which they can collaborate with others who are part of their childrens world.

Parlerai is for consultants, educators and caregivers of children with special needs. With Parlerai, they are able to collaborate with others who are part of the childrens world.

In an interview with Dana Puglisi, Kristin describes the value of Parlerai

“For consultants, educators, and other caregivers, imagine trying to make a difference in a child’s life but only seeing that child for half an hour each week. How do you really get to know that child? How can you make the most impact? Now imagine having access to information provided by others who work with that child – her ski instructor, her physical therapist, her grandmother, her babysitter. Current information, consistent information. Imagine how much more you could learn about that child. Imagine how much greater your impact could be.”

Here is what you can do to help

I read some statistics about children with special needs some months ago. Based on those numbers, each and every one of us knows of at least three people whose children have special needs. Parlerai is a system that could profoundly change the lives of these children and their parents and caregivers. Do your part, and spread the word about Parlerai. You can make the difference.

Spread the word, visit http://tinyurl.com/parlerai (a link to this blog post) or http://www.parlerai.com.

More information is also available at Jon’s blog at http://jon-erickson.blogspot.com/ and Kristin’s blog at http://kristingerickson.blogspot.com/

Facebook’s OpenID integration is not very useful!

Is facebook paying lip-service to OpenId integration?

Preamble:

I don’t know a damn thing about OpenID and less about web applications, but I do know a thing about security, authentication and the like. And, I am a facebook user and like most other internet consumers in this day and age, I am not thrilled that I have to remember a whole bunch of different user names and passwords for each and every online location that I visit.

Facebook’s OpenID integration

Once, and for one last time, you login to facebook with your existing credentials. Let’s say that is your username <joe@joeblow.com> and then you go over to Settings and create your OpenID as a Linked Account. In the interests of full disclosure, I am still working with Gary Krall of Verisign who posted a comment on my previous post describing problems with this linking process. I am sure that we will get that squared away and I can get the linking to work.

Once this linkage is created, a cookie is deposited on your machine indicating that authentication is by OpenID. You wake up in the morning, power up your PC and launch your browser and login to your OpenID provider, and in a second tab, you wander over to http://www.facebook.com.

The way it is supposed work is this, something looks at the OpenID cookie deposited earlier and uses that to perform your validation.

Are you nuts?

As I said earlier, I don’t know a lot about building Web Applications. But, methinks the sensible way to do this is a little different from the way facebook is doing things.

Look, for example, at news.ycombinator.com. On the login screen, below the boxes for username and password is a button for other authentication mechanisms. If you click that, you can enter your OpenID URL and voila, you are on your way. No permanent cookies involved.

Now, if you didn’t have your morning Joe, and you went directly to news.ycombinator.com and tried to enter your OpenID name, you are promptly forwarded to your OpenID providers page to ask for authentication. Over, end of story. No permanent cookies involved.

Ok, just to verify, I did this …

I went to a friends PC, never used it before, pointed his browser (firefox) to news.ycombinator.com, clicked the button under login/password, entered my OpenID name and sure enough it vectored over to Verisign Labs. I logged in and voila, I’m on Hacker News.

Am I missing something? It sounds to me like facebook is paying lip service to OpenID. Either that or they just don’t get it?

A farewell to facts, rigor and civility

I read this article from Mike (The Fein Line) Feinstein’s blog and it occurs to me that we have collectively chosen to ignore facts, rigor and civility.

For a whole bunch of reasons (beyond the one that Mike mentions), I have to say that I too am happy and proud that I live in Massachusetts.

OpenID first impressions

I have been meaning to try OpenID for some time now and I just noticed that they were doing a free TFA (what they call VIP Credentials) thing for mobile devices so I decided to give it a shot.

I picked Verisign’s OpenID offering; in the past I had a certificate (document signing) from Verisign and I liked the whole process so I guess that tipped the scales in Verisign’s favor.

The registration was a piece of cake, downloading the credential generator to my phone and linking it to my account was a breeze. They offer a File Vault (2GB) free with every account (Hey Google, did you hear that?) and I gave that a shot.

I created a second OpenID and linked it to the same mobile credential generator (very cool). Then I figured out what to do if my cell phone (and mobile credential generator were to be lost or misplaced), it was all very easy. Seemed too good to be true!

And, it was.

Facebook allows one to use an external ID for authentication. Go to Account Settings and Linked Accounts and you can setup the linkage. Cool, let’s give that a shot!

Facebook OpenID failure
Facebook OpenID failure

So much for that. I have an OpenID, anyone have a site I could use it on?

Oh yes! I could login to Verisignlabs with my OpenID 🙂

Update:

I tried to link my existing “Hacker News” (news.ycombinator.com) account with OpenID and after authenticating with verisign, I got to a page that asked me to enter my HN information which I did.

I ended up with a page: http://news.ycombinator.com/openid_merge and a single word “Unknown” on the screen.

I’ve got to be doing something wrong. Someone care to tell me how badly messed up I am?

Update (sept 11)

Thanks to help from Gary (who commented on this post), I tried the “linking” on Facebook again and this time it worked a little better.

But, I still have to enter my password when I want to login to facebook. Something is still not working the way it should.

Still the same issue with Hacker News.

What I learnt from the GMAIL outage

We all have heard about it, many of us (most of us) were affected by it, some of us actually saw it. This makes it a fertile subject for conversation; in person and over a cold pint, or online. I have read at least a dozen blog posts that explain why the GMAIL outage underscores the weakness of, and the reason for imminent failure of cloud computing. I have read at least two who explain why this outage proves the point that enterprises must have their own mail servers.  There are graphs showing the number of tweets at various phases of the outage. There are articles about whether GMAIL users can sue Google over this failure.

The best three quotes I have read in the aftermath of the Gmail outage are these:

“So by the end of next May, we should start seeing the first of the Google Outage babies being born.” – Carla Levy, Systems Analyst

“Now I don’t look so silly for never signing up for an e-mail address, do I?” – Eric Newman, Pile-Driver Operator

“Remember the time when 150 million people couldn’t use Gmail for nearly ten years? From 1993–2003? And every year before that? Unimaginable.” – Adam Carmody, Safe Installer

Admittedly, all three came from “The Onion“.

This article is about none of those things. To me, the GMAIL outage could not have come at a better time. I have just finished reconfiguring where my mail goes and how it gets there. The outage gave me a chance to make sure that all the links worked well.

I have a GMAIL account and I have email that comes to other (non-GMAIL) addresses. I use GMAIL as a catcher for the non-GMAIL addresses using the “Imports and Forwarding” capability of GMAIL. That gives me a single web based portal to all of my email. The email is also POP3’ed down to a PC, the one which I am using to write this blog post. I get to read email on my phone (using its POP3 capability) from my GMAIL account. Google is a great backup facility, a nice web interface, and a single place where I can get all of my email. And, if for any reason it were to go kaput, as it did on the 1st, in a pinch, I can get to the stuff in a second or even a third place.

But, more importantly, if GMAIL is unavailable for 100 minutes, who gives a crap. Technology will fail. We try to make it better but it will still fail from time to time. Making a big hoopla about it is just plain dumb. On the other hand, an individual could lose access to his or her GMAIL for a whole bunch of reasons; not just because Google had an outage. Learn to live with it.

So what did I learn from the GMAIL outage? It gave me a good chance to see a bunch of addicts, and how they behave irrationally when they can’t get their “fix”. I’m a borderline addict myself (I do read email on my phone, as though I get things of such profound importance that instant reaction is a matter of life and death). The GMAIL outage showed me what I would become if I did not take some corrective action.

Technology has given us the means to “shrink the planet” and make a tightly interconnected world. With a few keystrokes, I can converse with a person next door, in the next state or half way across the world. Connectivity is making us accessible everywhere; in our homes, workplaces, cars, and now, even in an aircraft. It has given us the ability to inundate ourselves with information, and many of us have been over-indulging (to the point where it has become unhealthy).

And here I was complaining about Verizon Wireless!

I thought poorly of Verizon Wireless service and features (though I’ve been a customer for a while).

That all changed when I read this.

Hey Verizon, where do I sign up for that two year contract? But, could you give me a cellular data plan with more than 5GB per month please …

Till January 1, 2010, Bye-Bye Linux!

Bye-Bye Ubuntu! Back to Windows …

Around the New Year each year, the fact that I am bored silly leads me to do strange things. For the past couple of years, in addition to drinking a lot of Samuel Adams Double Bock or Black Lager, I kick Windows XP, Vista or whatever Redmond has to offer and install Linux on my laptop.

For two years now, Ubuntu has been the linux of choice. New Year 2009 saw me installing 8.10 (Ignorant Ignoramus) and later upgrading to 9.04 (Jibbering Jackass). But, I write this blog post on my Windows XP (Service Pack 3) powered machine.

Why the change, you ask?

This has arguably been the longest stint with Linux. In the past (2007) it didn’t stay on the PC long enough to make it into work after the New Year holiday. In 2008, it lasted two or three weeks. In 2009, it lasted till the middle of August! Clearly, Linux (and Ubuntu has been a great part of this) has come a very long way towards being a mainstream replacement for Windows.

But, my benchmark for ease of use still remains:

  1. Ease of initial installation
    • On Windows, stick a CD in the drive and wait 2 hours
    • On Linux, stick a CD in the drive and wait 20 minutes
    • Click mouse and enter some basic data along the way
  2. Ease of setup, initial software update, adding basic software that is not part of the default distribution
    • On Windows, VMWare (to run linux), Anti-Virus, Adobe things (Acrobat, Flash, …)
    • On Linux, VMWare (to run windows), Adobe things
  3. Ease of installing and configuring required additional “stuff”, additional drivers
    • printers
    • wacom bamboo tablet
    • synchronization with PDA (Windows ActiveSync, Linux <sigh>)
    • On Windows, DELL drivers for chipset, display, sound card, pointer, …
  4. Configuring Display
    • resolution, alignment
  5. Configuring Mouse and Buttons
  6. Making sure that docking station works
    • On Windows, DELL has some software to help with this
    • On Linux, pull your hair out
  7. Setting Power properties for maximum battery life
    • On Windows, what a pain
    • On Linux, CPU Performance Applet
  8. Making sure that I login and can work as a non-dangerous user
    • On Windows, group = Users
    • On Linux, one who can not administer the system, no root privileges
  9. Setup VPN
    • On Windows, CISCO VPN Client most often. Install it and watch your PC demonstrate all the blue pixels on the screen
    • On Linux, go through the gyrations of downloading Cisco VPN client from three places, reading 14 blogs, web pages and how-to’s on getting the right patches, finding the compilers aren’t on your system, finding that ‘patch’ and system headers are not there either. Finally, realizing that you forgot to save the .pcf file before you blew Windows away so calling IT manager on New Year’s day and wishing him Happy New Year, and oh, by the way, could you send me the .pcf file (Thanks Ed).
  10. Setup Email and other Office Applications
    • On Linux, installing a Windows VM with all of the Office suite and Outlook
    • On Windows, installing all of the Office suite and Outlook and getting all the service packs
    • Install subversion (got to have everything under version control). There’s even a cool command line subversion client for Windows (Slik Subversion 1.6.4)
  11. Migrate Mozilla profile to new platform
    • Did you know that you can literally take .mozilla and copy it to someplace in %userprofile% or vice-versa and things just work? Way cool! Try that with Internet Exploder!
  12. Restore SVN dump from old platform

OK, so I liked Linux for the past 8 months. GIMP is wonderful, the Bamboo tablet (almost just works ), system booted really fast, … I can go on and on.

But, some things that really annoyed me with Linux over the past 8 months

  • Printing to the Xerox multi function 7335 printer and being able to do color, double sided, stapling etc., The setup is not for the faint hearted
  • Could I please get the docking station to work?
  • Could you please make the new Mozilla part of the updates? If not, I have Firefox and Shrill-kokatoo or whatever the new thing is called. What a load of horse-manure that upgrade turned out to be. On Windows, it was a breeze. Really, open-source-brethren, could you chat amongst yourselves?

But the final straw was that I was visiting a friend in Boston and wanted to whip out a presentation and show him what I’d been up to. External display is not an easy thing to do. First you have to change resolutions, then restart X, then crawl through a minefield, sing the national anthem backwards while holding your nose. Throughout this “setup”, you have to be explaining that it is a Linux thing.

Sorry folks, you aren’t ready for mainstream laptop use, yet. But, you’ve made wonderful improvement since 2007. I can’t wait till December 31, 2009 to try this all over again with Ubuntu 9.10 (Kickass Knickerbockers).

OpenDNS again

More on OpenDNS

I wasn’t about to try diddling the router at 11:30 last night but it seemed like a no-brainer to test out this OpenDNS service.

So, look at the little button below. If it says “You’re using OpenDNS” then clearly someone in your network (your local PC, router, DNS, ISP, …) is using OpenDNS. The “code” for this button is simplicity itself

<a title="Use OpenDNS to make your Internet faster, safer, and smarter." href="http://www.opendns.com/share/">
     <img style="border:0;"
          src="http://images.opendns.com/buttons/use_opendns_155x52.gif"
          alt="Use OpenDNS" width="155" height="52" />
</a>

So, if images.opendns.com was sent to my ISP, it would likely resolve in one way and if it was sent to OpenDNS, it would resolve a different way. That means that the image retrieved would differ based on whether you are using OpenDNS or not.

Use OpenDNS

Step 1: Setup was trivial. I logged in to my router and deposited the DNS server addresses and hit “Apply”. The router did its usual thing and voila, I was using OpenDNS.

Step 2: Setup an account on OpenDNS. Easy, provide an email address and add a network. In this case, it correctly detected the public IP address of my router and populated its page. It said it would take 3 minutes to propagate within the OpenDNS network. There’s an email confirmation, you click on a link, you know the drill.

Step 3: Setup stats (default: disabled)

All easy, web page resolution seems to be working OK. Let me go and look at those stats they talk about. (Click on the picture below to see it at full size).

Stats don't seem to quite work!
Stats don't seem to quite work!

August 17th you say? Today is September 1st. I guess tracking 16 billion or so DNS queries for two days in a row is a little too much for their infrastructure. I can suggest a database or two that would not break a sweat with that kind of data inflow rate.

July 30, 2009: OpenDNS announces that for the first time ever, it successfully resolves more than 16 Billion DNS queries for 2 days in a row.

(source: http://www.opendns.com/about/overview/)

So far, so good. I’ve got to see what this new toy can do 🙂 Let’s see what other damage this thing can cause.

Content Filtering

Nice, they support content filtering as part of the setup. That could be useful. Right now, I reduce annoyances on my browsing experience with a suitably crafted “hosts” file (Windows Users: %SYSTEMROOT%system32driversetchosts).

127.0.0.1       localhost
127.0.0.1       ad.doubleclick.net
127.0.0.1       hitbox.com
127.0.0.1       ai.hitbox.com
127.0.0.1       googleads.g.doubleclick.net
127.0.0.1       ads.gigaom.com
127.0.0.1       ads.pheedo.com
[... and so on ...]

I guess I can push this “goodness” over to OpenDNS and reduce the pop-up crap that everyone will get at home. (click on image for a higher resolution version of the screen shot)

Content Filtering on OpenDNS
Content Filtering on OpenDNS

Multiple Networks!

Very cool! I can setup multiple networks as part of a single user profile. So, my phone and my home router could both end up being protected by my OpenDNS profile.

I wonder how that would work when I’m in a location that hands out a non-routable DHCP address; such as at a workplace. I guess the first person to register the public IP of the workplace will see traffic for everyone in the workplace with a per-PC OpenDNS setting that shares the same public IP address? Unclear, that may be awkward.

Enabling OpenDNS on a Per-PC basis.

In last nights post, I had questioned the rationale of enabling OpenDNS on a per-PC basis. I guess there is some value to this because OpenDNS provides me a way to influence the name resolution process. And, if I were to push content filtering onto OpenDNS, then I would like to get the same content filtering when I was not at home; e.g. at work, at Starbucks, …

I’m sure that over-anxious-parents-who-knew-a-thing-or-two-about-PC’s could load the “Dynamic IP” updater thing on a PC and change the DNS entries to point to OpenDNS before junior went away to college 🙂

So, I guess that per-PC OpenDNS settings may make some sense; it would be nice to have an easy way to enable this when required. I guess that is a fun project to work on one of these days when I’m at Starbucks.

Jeremiah says, “I do it on a per computer basis because I occasionally need to disable it. (Mac OS X makes this super quick with Locations)”. Jeremiah, please do tell why you occasionally need to disable it. Does something fail?

Other uses of OpenDNS

kuzux writes in response to my previous post that OpenDNS can be used to get around restrictive ISP’s. That is interesting because the ISP’s that have put these restrictions in place are likely only blocking name resolution and not connection and traffic. Further, the ISP’s could just as well find the IP addresses of the sites like OpenDNS and put a damper on the festivities. And, one does not have to look far to get the IP addresses of the OpenDNS servers 🙂

Two thoughts come to mind. First, if the authorities (in Turkey as Kuzux said) put the screws on OpenDNS, would they pour out the DNS lookup logs for specific IP addresses that they cared about (both source and destination). Second, a hypothetical country with huge manufacturing operations, a less stellar human rights record, and a huge number of take-out restaurants all over the US (that shall remain nameless), could take a dim view of a foreigner who had OpenDNS on his/her laptop and was able to access “blocked” content.

Other comments

Janitha Karunaratne writes in response to my previous post that, “Lot of times if it’s a locked down limited network, they will intercept all DNS traffic, so using OpenDNS won’t help (their own default DNS server will reply no matter which DNS server you try to reach)”. I guess I don’t understand how that could be. When a machine attempts a DNS lookup, it addresses the packet specifically to the DNS server that it is targeting. Are you suggesting that these “locked down limited networks” will intercept that packet, redirect it to the in-house DNS server and have it respond?

David Ulevitch (aka Founder and CTO of OpenDNS) writes, “Yeah, there are all kinds of reasons people use our service. Speed, safety, security, reliability… I do tests when I travel, and have even done it with GoGo on a VA flight and we consistently outperform”. Mr. Ulevitch, your product is wonderful and easy to use. Very cool. But, I wonder about this performance claim. When I am traveling, potentially sitting in an airport lounge, a hotel room, a coffee shop or in a train using GPRS based internet service with unknown bandwidth, is the DNS lookup a significant part of the response time to a page refresh, mail message download, (insert activity of your choice)?

My Point of View

It seems to work, it can’t hurt to use it at home (if my ISP has a problem with it, they can block traffic to the IP address). It doesn’t seem to be appreciably faster or slower than my ISP’s DNS. I’ll give it a shot for a while and see what the statistics say (when they get around to updating them).

OpenDNS is certainly an easy to use, non-disruptive service and is worth giving a shot. If you use the free version of OpenDNS (ie don’t create an account, just point to their name servers), there is little possible downside; if you get on a Virgin Atlantic flight, you may need to disable it. But, if you use the registered site, just remember that OpenDNS is collecting a treasure trove of information about where you go, what you do, and they have your email address, IP address (hence a pretty good idea of where you live). They already target advertising to you on the default landing page for bad lookups. I’m not suggesting that you will get spammed up the wazoo but just bear in mind that you have yet another place where a wealth of information about you is getting quietly stored away for later use.

But, it is a cool idea. Give it a shot.

OpenDNS and paid wireless services.

Why would anyone ever want to use OpenDNS? I just don’t get it? But, there must be a good reason that I’m totally missing.

I stumbled on this post, not sure how.

http://thegongshow.tumblr.com/post/176629519/virgin-america-inflight-wireless

I didn’t know about OpenDNS but it seems like a strange idea; after all, why would someone not use the DNS server that came with their DHCP lease? Seems like a fairly simple idea, over-ride the DNS servers and force the choice to be to use the DNS servers that OpenDNS provides, but why would anyone care to do this on a PC by PC basis? That seems just totally illogical!

And the problem that the author of the blog (above) mentioned is fairly straightforward. PC comes on the Virgin Wireless network, attempts to go to a web page, sends out a connection request for a page (assume that it is from a cache of IP addresses) and receives a HTML redirect to a named page (asking one to cough up money). The HTML redirect mentions the page by name and that name is not cached and results in a DNS lookup which goes to OpenDNS. Those servers (hardcoded into the network configuration) are not accessible because the user has not yet coughed up said money. Conversely, If the initial lookup was not from a cached IP address then the DNS lookup (which would have been sent to OpenDNS) would have not made it very far (OpenDNS’s server is not reachable till you cough up money). One way or the other, the page asking the user to cough up cache would not have showed up.

So, could one really do this OpenDNS thing behind a pay-for-internet-service? Not unless you can add preferred DNS servers to network configuration without a reboot. (the reboot will get the cycle of DHCP request going again, and on the high volume WiFi access services, DHCP request will automatically expire the previous lease).

But, to the more basic issue, why ever would someone enable this on a PC-by-PC basis? I can totally understand a system administrator using this at an enterprise level; potentially using the OpenDNS server instead of the ones that the ISP provided. Sure beats me! And there sure can’t be enough money in showing advertisements on the redirect page for missing URL’s (or there must be a lot of people who fat-finger URL’s a lot more than I do).

And, the functionality of being able to watch my OpenDNS traffic on a dashboard, I just don’t get it. Definitely something to think more about … They sure seem to be a successful operation so there must clearly be some value to the service they offer, to someone.

Making life interesting

I generally don’t like chain letters and SPAM but once in a while I get a real masterpiece. Below is one that I received yesterday …

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. Well, for example, the other day the wife and I went into town and went into a shop. We were only in there for about 5 minutes.

When we came out, there was a cop writing out a parking ticket. We went up to him and I said, “Come on man, how about giving a senior citizen a break?”

He ignored us and continued writing the ticket. I called him a Dumb ass. He glared at me and started writing another ticket for having worn tires. So Mary called him a shit head. He finished the second ticket and put it on the windshield with the first.

Then he started writing a third ticket. This went on for about 20 minutes.

The more we abused him, the more tickets he wrote.

Just then our bus arrived and we got on it and went home.

We try to have a little fun each day now that we`re retired.

It`s important at our age.

Priceless!

I’ve lost my cookies!

Some days ago I read an article (a link is on the Breadcrumbs tab on the right of my blog about Super Cookies). I didn’t think to check my machine for these super cookies and did not pay close attention to the lines that said:

GNU-Linux: ~/.macromedia

Sure enough …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null | wc -l
141
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Hmmm …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ rm `find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null `
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null | wc -l
0
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Much better. And my flash player still works. Let’s go look at some video …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ find . -name *.sol 2>/dev/null
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/macromedia.com/support/flashplayer/sys/settings.sol
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/macromedia.com/support/flashplayer/sys/#s.ytimg.com/settings.sol
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/#SharedObjects/CZRS8QS7/s.ytimg.com/soundData.sol
./.macromedia/Flash_Player/#SharedObjects/CZRS8QS7/s.ytimg.com/videostats.sol
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Time to fix this sucker …

amrith@amrith-laptop:~$ tail -n 1 .bashrc
rm -f `find ./.macromedia -name *.sol 2>/dev/null`
amrith@amrith-laptop:~$

Look Ma! NoSQL!

More musings on NoSQL and a blog I read “NoSQL: If Only It Was That Easy”

There has definitely been more chatter about NoSQL in the Boston area lately. I hear there is a group forming around NoSQL ( I will post more details when I get them ). There were some NoSQL folks at the recent Cloud Camp which I was not able to attend (damn!).

My views on NoSQL are unchanged from an earlier post on the subject. I think there are some genuine issues about database scaling that are being addressed through a variety of avenues (packages, tools, …). But, in the end, the reason that SQL has survived for so long is because it is a descriptive language that is reasonably portable. That is also the reason why, in the data warehousing space, you have each vendor going off and doing some non-SQL extension in a totally non-portable way. And they are all going to, IMHO, have to reconcile their differences before the features get wide mainstream adoption.

This morning I read a well researched blog post by BJ Clark by way of Hacker News. (If you don’t use HN, you should definitely give it a try).

I strongly recommend that if you are interested in NoSQL, you read the conclusion section carefully. I have annotated the conclusion section below.

“NoSQL is a great tool, but it’s certainly not going to be your competitive edge, it’s not going to make your app hot, and most of all, your users won’t give a shit about any of this.

What am I going to build my next app on? Probably Postgres.

Will I use NoSQL? Maybe. [I would not, but that may just be my bias]

I might keep everything in flat files. [Yikes! If I had to do this, I’d consider something like MySQL CSV first]


If I need reporting, I won’t be using any NoSQL.

If I need ACIDity, I won’t use NoSQL.

If I need transactions, I’ll use Postgres.

…”

NoSQL is a great stepping stone, what comes next will be really exciting technology. If what we need is a database that scales, let’s go make ourselves a database that scales. Base it on MySQL, PostgreSQL, … but please make it SQL based. Extend SQL if you have to. I really do like to be able to coexist with the rich ecosystem of visualization tools, reporting tools, dashboards, … you get the picture.


On over-engineered solutions

The human desire to over-engineer solutions

On a recent trip, I had way too much time on my hands and was ambling around the usual overpriced shops in the airport terminal. There I saw a 40th anniversary “special edition” of the Space Pen. For $799.99 (plus taxes) you could get one of these pens, and some other memorabilia to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. If you aren’t familiar with the Space Pen, you can look at learn more at the web site of the Fisher Space Pen Co.

Fisher Space Pen
Fisher Space Pen

For $800 you could get AG7-40LE – Astronaut Space Pen 40th Year Moon Landing Celebration Commemorative Pen & Box.

Part of this pen actually circled the moon!

Salient features of this revolutionary device:

  • it writes upside down
  • it writes in any language (so the Russians bought some of these :))
  • it draws pictures
  • it writes in zero gravity
  • it writes under water
  • it writes on greasy surfaces
  • it fixes broken switches on lunar modules

If you want to know about the history of this device, you can also look at NASA’s web page here. On the web page of the Fisher Space Pen Co, you can also see the promotion of the  AG7-40 – Astronaut Space Pen 40th Year Moon Landing Celebration Engraving.

While in the airport, I saw a couple of security officers rolling around on the Segway Personal Transporter. Did you know that for approximately $10,000 you could get yourself a Segway PT i2 Ferrari Limited Edition? I have no idea how much the airport paid for them but the Segway i2 is available on Amazon for about $6,000. It did strike me as silly, till I noticed three officers (a lot more athletic) riding through the terminal on Trek bicycles. That seemed a lot more reasonable. I have a bicycle like that, and it costs maybe 10% of a Segway.

I got thinking about the rampant over-engineering that was all around me, and happened upon this web page, when I did a search for Segway!

How to render the Segway Human Transporter Obsolete by Maddox.

Who would have thought of this, just add a third wheel and you could have a vehicle just as revolutionary? I thought about it some more and figured that the third wheel in Maddox’s picture is probably not the best choice; maybe it should be a wheel more like the track-ball of a mouse. That would have no resistance to turning and the contraption could do an effortless zero radius turn if required. The ball could be spring loaded and the whole thing could be on an arm that had some form of shock absorbing mechanism.

And, if we were to have done that, we would not have seen this. Bush Fails Segway Test! As an interesting aside, did you know that the high tech heart stent used for people who have bypass surgery was also invented by Dean Kamen?

We have a million ways to solve most problems. Why then do we over-engineer solutions to the point where the solution introduces more problems?

Keep it simple! There are less things that can break later.

Oh, and about that broken switch in the lunar module. Buzz Aldrin has killed that wonderful urban legend by saying he used a felt tip pen.

Buzz Aldrin still has the felt-tipped pen he used as a makeshift switch needed to fire up the engines that lifted him and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong off the moon and started their safe return to Earth nearly 40 years ago.

“The pen and the circuit breaker (switch) are in my possession because we do get a few memorabilia to kind of symbolize things that happened,” Aldrin told reporters Friday.

If Buzz Aldrin used a felt tipped pen, why do we need a Space Pen? And what exactly are we celebrating by buying a $800 pen that can’t even fix a broken switch. A pencil can write upside down (and also write in any language :)). Why do we need Segway Human Transporters in an airport when most security officers should be able to walk or ride a bicycle. Why do we build complex software products and make them bloated, unusable, incomprehensible and expensive?

That’s simple, we’re paying a homage to our overpowering desire to over-engineer solutions.

How to render the Segway Human Transporter obsolet

Wondering about “Shared Nothing”

Is “Shared Nothing” the best architecture for a database? Is Stonebraker’s assertion of 1986 still valid? Were Norman et al., correct in 1996 when they made a case for a hybrid system? Have recent developments changed the dynamics?

Over the past several months, I have been wondering about the Shared Nothing architecture that seems to be very common in parallel and massively parallel systems (specifically for databases) these days. With the advent of technologies like cheap servers and fast interconnects, there has been a considerable amount of literature that point to an an apparent “consensus” that Shared Nothing is the preferred architecture for parallel databases. One such example is Stonebraker’s 1986 paper (Michael Stonebraker. The case for shared nothing. Database Engineering, 9:4–9, 1986). A reference to this apparent “consensus” can be found in a paper by Dewitt and Gray (Dewitt, Gray Parallel database systems: the future of high performance database systems 1992).

A consensus on parallel and distributed database system architecture has emerged. This architecture is based on a shared-nothing hardware design [STON86] in which processors communicate with one another only by sending messages via an interconnection network.

But two decades or so later, is this still the case, is “Shared Nothing” really the way to go? Are there other, better options that one should consider?

As long ago as 1996, Norman, Zurek and Thanisch (Norman, Zurek and Thanisch. Much ado about shared nothing 1996) made a compelling argument for hybrid systems. But even that was over a decade ago. And the last decade has seen some rather interesting changes. Is the argument proposed in 1996 by Norman et al., still valid? (Updated 2009-08-02: A related article in Computergram in 1995 can be read at http://www.cbronline.com/news/shared_nothing_parallel_database_architecture)

With the advent of clouds and virtualization, doesn’t one need to seriously consider the shared nothing architecture again? Is a shared disk architecture in a cloud even a worthwhile conversation to have? I was reading the other day about shared nothing cluster storage. What? That seems like an contradiction, doesn’t it?

Some interesting questions to ponder:

  1. In the current state of technology, are the characterizations “Shared Everything”, “Shared Memory”, “Shared Disk” and “Shared Nothing” still sufficient? Do we need additional categories?
  2. Is Shared Nothing the best way to go (As advocated by Stonebraker in 1986) or is a hybrid system the best way to go (as advocated by Norman et al., in 1996) for a high performance database?
  3. What one or two significant technology changes could cause a significant impact to the proposed solution?

I’ve been pondering this question for some time now and can’t quite seem to decide which way to lean. But, I’m convinced that the answer to #1 is that we need additional categories based on advances in virtualization. But, I am uncertain about the choice between a Hybrid System and a Shared Nothing system. The inevitable result of advancements in virtualization and clouds and such technologies seem to indicate that Shared Nothing is the way to go. But, Norman and others make a compelling case.

What do you think?

Michael Stonebraker. The case for shared nothing. Database Engineering, 9:4–9, 1986

IE+Microsoft ROCKS. Ubuntu+Firefox BLOWS

I’m running Ubuntu 9.0.4 and it appears that to upgrade to Firefox 3.5 requires a PhD. Could I borrow yours?

Kevin Purdy has the following “One line install”

That’s not a true install; he just unpacks the tar-ball into the current directory.

Web Upd8 has the following steps

But, now I get daily updates?

What’s with this garbage? Complain as much as you want but Microsoft Software Updates will give you the latest Internet Explorer easily.

Could someone please make this easy?

It’s just numbers people!

I hadn’t read Justin Swanhart’s post (Why is everybody so steamed about a benchmark anyway?) from June 24th till just a short while ago. You can see it at here. Justin is right, it’s just numbers.

He did remind me of a statement from a short while ago by another well known philosopher.

It's a budget

I could not embed the script provided by quotesdaddy.com into this post. I have used their material in the past, they have a great selection of statements that will live on in history. Check them out at http://www.quotesdaddy.com/ 🙂

Head for the hills, here comes more jargon: Anti-Databases and NoSQL

We all know what SQL is, get ready to learn about NoSQL. There was a meet-up last month in San Francisco to discuss it and some details are available at this link. The call for the “inaugural get-together of the burgeoning NoSQL community” drew 150 people and if you are so inclined, you can subscribe to the email list here.

I’m no expert at NoSQL but the major gripe seems to be schema restriction and what Jon Travis calls “twisting your object” data to fit an RDBMS.

NoSQL appears to be a newly coined collective pronoun for a lot of technologies you have heard about before. They include Hadoop, BigTable, HBase, Hypertable, and CouchDB, and maybe some that you have not heard of before like Voldemort, Cassandra, and MongoDb.

But, then there is this thing called NoSQL. The first line on that web page reads

NoSQL is a fast, portable, relational database management system without arbitrary limits, (other than memory and processor speed) that runs under, and interacts with, the UNIX 1 Operating System.

Now, I’m confused. Is this the NoSQL that was referenced in the non-conference at non-san-francisco last non-month?

My Point of View

From what I’ve seen so far, NoSQL seems to be a case of disruption at the “low end”. By “low end”, I refer to circumstances where the data model is simple and in those cases I can see the point that SQL imposes a very severe overhead. The same can be said in the case of a model that is relatively simple but refers to “objects” that don’t relate to a relational model (like a document). But, while this appears to be “low end” disruption right now, there is a real reason to believe that over time, NoSQL will grow into more complex models.

But, the big benefit of SQL is that it is declarative programming language that gave implementations the flexibility of implementing the program flow in a manner that matched the physical representation of the data. Witness the fact that the same basic SQL language has produced a myriad of representations and architectures ranging from shared nothing to shared disk, SMP to MPP, row oriented to column oriented, with cost based and rules based optimizers etc., etc.,

There is (thus far) a concern about the relative complexity of the NoSQL offerings when compared with the currently available SQL offerings. I’m sure that folks are giving this considerable attention and what comes next may be a very interesting piece of technology.



Learning from Joost

A lot of interesting articles have emerged in the wake of the recent happenings at Joost.

One post that caught my attention and deserves reading, and re-reading, and then reading one more time just to be sure is Ed Sim’s post, where he writes

raising too much money can be a curse and not a blessing

A lot to learn from in all of these articles.

Risks of mind controlled vehicles

Some risks of mind controlled vehicles are described.

It is now official, Toyota has announced that they are developing a mind controlled wheel chair. Unless Toyota is planning to take the world by storm by putting large numbers of motorized wheelchairs on the roads, I suspect this technology will soon make its way into their other products, maybe cars?

Of course, this will have some risks

  1. Cars may inherit drivers personality (ouch, there are some people who shouldn’t be allowed to drive)
  2. Cars with hungry drivers will make unpredictable turns into drive through lanes
  3. Car could inadvertently eject annoying back seat drivers
  4. Mortality rates for cheating husbands may go up (see http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/1965115/detail.html, http://www.click2houston.com/news/1576669/detail.html, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/840828/posts and a thousand other such posts)
  5. It would be really hard to administer a driving test! Would the ability to think be a requirement for drivers?

Can you think of other risks? I didn’t think I would come to this conclusion but I kind of like the way things are right now where my car has a mind of its own.

What’s next in tech? Boston, June 25th 2009

Recap of “What’s next in Tech”, Boston, June 25th 2009

What’s next in tech: Exploring the Growth Opportunities of 2009 and Beyond, June 25th 2009.

Scott Kirsner moderated two panels during the event; the first with three Veture Capitalists and the second with five entrepreneurs.

The first panel consisted of:

– Michael Greeley, General Partner, Flybridge Capital Partners

– Bijan Sabet, General Partner, Spark Capital

– Neil Sequiera, Managing Director, General Catalyst Partners

The second panel consisted of:

– Mike Dornbrook, COO, Harmonix Music Systems (makers of “Rock Band”)

– Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot Corp. and founder of The Droid Works

– Brian Halligan, social media expert and CEO of HubSpot

– Tim Healy, CEO of EnerNOC

– Ellen Rubin, Founder & VP/Product of CloudSwitch

Those who asked questions got a copy of Dan Bricklin’s book, Bricklin on Technology. There was also a DVD of some other book (I don’t know what it was) that was being given away.

Show of hands at the beginning was that 100% of the people were optimistic about the recovery and the future. Nice discussion though after leaving the session, I don’t get the feeling that anyone addressed the question “What’s next in tech” head on. Most of the conversation was about what has happened in tech and a lot of discussion about Twitter and Facebook. There were a lot of questions to the panel from the audience about what their companies were doing to help young entrepreneurs.And for an audience that was supposed to contain people interested in “what’s next”, no one wanted the DVD of the book, everyone wanted the paper copies. Hmm …

There has been a lot of interesting discussion about the topic and the event. One that caught my eye was Larry Cheng’s blog.

How many outstanding Shares in a start-up

Finding the number of outstanding shares in a start-up.

This question has come up quite often, most recently when I was having lunch with some co-workers last week.

While evaluating an offer at a start-up have you wondered whether your 10,000 shares was a significant chunk of money or a drop in the ocean?

Have you ever wondered how many shares are outstanding in a start-up you heard about?

This is a non-issue for a public company, the number of outstanding shares is a matter of public record. But not all start-up’s want to share this information with you.

I can’t say this for every state in the union but in MA, you can get a pretty good idea by looking at the Annual Report that every organization is required to file. It won’t be current information, the best you can do is get the most recent annual information and that means you can’t know anything about a very new company, but it is information that I would have liked to have had on some occasions in the past.

The link to search the Corporate Database is http://corp.sec.state.ma.us/corp/corpsearch/corpsearchinput.asp

Enter the name of the company and scroll to the bottom where you see a box that allows you to choose “Annual Reports”. Click that and you can read a recent Annual Report which will have the information you need.

If you find that this doesn’t work or is incomplete, please post your comments here. I’m sure others will appreciate the information.

And if you have information about other states, that is most welcome.