As we come up on two years…

Posted December 17, 2009 by Ben Power
Categories: Uncategorized

Next month will be the two-year anniversary of the beginning of this blog.  It’s been a good run.  We have consistent hits on some of our most popular posts, with total hits in five figures.  Mark set the record for most hits in one day, landing us on the list of fastest-growing blogs, and I had a paid article offer from The Daily Yonder.  Yet, for both of us, it’s time to take a break from publishing in this particular venue.

The upside is, we’ve accomplished the goals of this particular blog, which were 1) to chronicle a journey through the information technology world, and 2) to provide  resources to help accomplish the tasks fellow travelers encounter.  As of now, there are several topics we have covered that are visited quite frequently (see the links above), along with two years’ worth of collected news, opinion, and fixes.

I’ll now be turning my focus toward completing my capstone project in software development, followed by a transition into the software development field.  Mark is busy with graduate studies in computer science and other independent software projects.  On top of those things, we both have family and work…

So if you’ve been following long-term, thank you – we’ve enjoyed it, and we hope you have too.

You can still find us on the Web:

Mark: http://www.marknlynn.com/mark_Rosedale

Ben: http://www.bfpower.net (currently parked as of December 09 – should be up by January)

The Power of Twitter

Posted November 20, 2009 by mrosedale
Categories: Culture/Technology, tips and tricks

Tags: , ,

this post is also posted on my personal blog. You can view it here as well.

Recently I keep hearing the same story over and over about twitter. The headline reads 40% of twitter is pointless babble. Now of course there are a variety of reasons the headline is misleading. First and foremost is the method the study used to determine pointless babble. Of course there is always a random tweet out there, even I occasionally engage in what is clearly pointless babble, but in a lot of cases what you or I may think is pointless babble may be of great value to someone else. I know in Facebook (FB) land I don’t mind random posts about what someone is doing, after all I do have a true friendship with most of those people. Another problem with the headline is the subtext. Essentially they are trying to say that twitter is pointless. Here is where I would like to show you the power of twitter. I’ll show you how I’ve used it in some very powerful ways.

It started last year (2008) when I was working on a project for work. I was trying to interface a router with my Comcast internet. Sounds easy, but for some reason my router wasn’t working. In frustration I tweeted about it and in my tweet in included Comcast. Not long afterward I got a popup from a Comcast representative asking me what the problem was. At first I was a little weirded out, but after we went through a few steps together I found it quite helpful. I didn’t ask for Comcast to contact me, but they did and they were quite helpful, probably more so than if I had called. It was at this moment I realized just how powerful twitter can be. I probably posted the same “tweet” on FB, but certainly didn’t get an answer through FB from a Comcast rep. The nature of FB is closed, which is in some ways a very good thing, but in this instance even though I have 3x as many friends on FB I still wouldn’t have gotten a Comcast rep. I’m just not friends with any.

More recently I needed to book a bus between Boston and NYC. I was booking for a Tuesday departure and Tuesday return. As such I needed a late bus. The one company I wanted to with, Bolt Bus, didn’t go late enough. I searched online, but I really wasn’t turning anything up. So I tweeted. Another difference between my FB friends and Twitter friends is that more of them are local or tailored to my profession. I figured if I tweeted there were plenty of Boston followers that would help me out. I got this response in little time at all. Not only did Megabus work out, but I got the round trip tickets for $2.50. In the process the official Megabus twitter account also contacted me.

Later that week I started having problems with this very website. Again out of frustration I twittered about it. One of my followers was kind enough to take the time and help me through the problem.

Probably the most fascinating story is the one that happened recently. My wife got in a minor accident with an MBTA bus. From the sound of it she cleared the red light, but there wasn’t enough space for the bus to make the turn. The end result was that the bus hit our car. When my wife confronted the bus driver he had already let out all of the riders leaving no witnesses. To make matters worse the bus driver already made up a story to try to make my wife the guilty one. I tweeted about the situation and got this in response. Which eventually led to an actual witness. Fortunately, it looks like everything is going to be taken care of without such a witness, but it is nice to know I can contact one if I needed to.

This *is* the power of twitter. Sure there are times when I get random tweets, but for the most part I ignore them. And of course there are plenty of people not worth following, but that is why I don’t follow them. But when it comes to getting things done or answering questions that Google doesn’t suffice for twitter is there and is quite powerful. These are just my personal examples, there are plenty more. Examples like breaking the news about Michael Jackson, or following real life opposition in Iran. None of this is pointless babble. It has real worth, and despite what anyone may think of twitter it is what you make it. If all you want is pointless babble have at it, but you can make twitter much much more.

Chrome OS goes open source

Posted November 20, 2009 by Ben Power
Categories: Culture/Technology, open source

Tags: , , , , , ,

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/releasing-chromium-os-open-source.html

When the technology became available for personal computers on a desktop, there was a significant paradigm shift in the way operating systems worked.  And ever since the notebook has come into the mainstream, notebook operating systems (largely) have been desktop operating systems crammed into a smaller can.  Yes, mobile phones came along with their own OSes, but it’s about time operating systems had a significant shift in the way mobile computing happens.

That said, I’m not entirely sure Chrome OS is it.  But I’m interested to see where it goes.  I like their security model (as long as we can trust the application host?).  And for a group that has milked their customers for personal information for so long, I’m hesitant to think they should be the ones providing apps for you to, say, manage your finances on.  Sorry, call me a conspiracy theorist.  I’m actually not, because I don’t have a theory.  I’m just distrustful.

Bottom line: Chrome OS looks very promising.  If it is to OSes what Chrome is to browsers (as I type this post in a Chrome window) it might just be the catalyst that gets me to finally buy a netbook.

L.A. to go to cloud-based email

Posted October 28, 2009 by Ben Power
Categories: Culture/Technology, IT

Tags: , , , , ,

The city of Los Angeles is moving their email (for 30,000 employees) to Google.  This will be a good viability test for the system.  I know they’re mainly concerned about security, but I think it will also be a good test of uptime and customer service.

I think it will be a good practice run for Google.  If they can support this many users with business-level security and uptime needs, it will be a good starting point for selling the same service to other government organizations.

It should be noted, before we get too excited, that this is EMAIL.  Not file servers, not thin client desktops linked to a cloud-based array, just email.  It’s a fitting place for L.A. to start, since cloud-based email has been around for a long time already.  We’ll see if they migrate more areas over to cloud-based solutions as time goes on.

Here’s the L.A. Times article.

GeoCities and musing on growing up digital

Posted October 26, 2009 by Ben Power
Categories: Culture/Technology, Web Development

Tags: , , , , ,

RIP GeoCities (1995-2009)

We will miss your animated GIFs, your annoying <MARQUEE> tags (or <BLINK> if you used that other browser). Seriously, I shouldn’t care – I hosted my site on Angelfire -but the memories of hand-coded sites (or un-user-friendly site wizards) from the teenage years are making me feel so nostalgic. It was a good run, GeoCities. Thanks for helping the Web through its adolescence.

And last night, I watched live as Bono, The Edge, and the other two guys rocked Pasadena and the world watched on YouTube.  IMO, the blog community, in addition to YouTube and MySpace (which are both arguably just blogs 2.0 anyhow) were direct descendants of the 1990s trend toward a personal presence on the Web for those who don’t want to toil over code.  The fact I grasp how to edit the URL of this post (which I just did) started with the 90s and personal Web sites.

GeoCities (and the other wannabe GeoCities sites) really did bring the Web a long way by making it possible for nontechnical people to easily post content to the Web.  And while the Web was perhaps a teenager at the time, for me (and lots of others who were teenagers in the 90s) it helped US through our adolescence.

I was a late bloomer, and I caught on around 1998.  I got a giant tome on HTML from the public library, and started reading and coding.  Before long, I was lost in the world of <BR> and <A HREF>, where I searched long and hard for websites with free horizontal-bar JPEGs and JavaScript snippets to add a scrolling status bar.  It was my first experience in speaking a language a machine could understand, and it significantly influenced my development as a technologist.

My site only contained some personal views and a very long list of music-related jokes (Why do violinists put rags on their shoulder?  So they don’t drool on themselves!!!  Yes, that one was on there).  It was not impressive, but it WAS to me because I had my own world where I was the WEBMASTER, and the WEB was still just a little bit mysterious. =)  These days, it’s a glut of information, smut, and third-rate instantiations of Godwin’s Law (and parodies of such instantiations, and parodies of the parodies).  Still mystery, but more like the Badlands are mysterious, rather than the first-girlfriend mystery I felt back then.  Or maybe the Web WAS actually lame back then, and it was really just adolescence being mysterious.

So we will miss thee, GeoCities of yore.  Thank you for the precedent you set of free personal web pages for everyone.  We hope you understand how deeply you affected a generation.

My experience with Active@ Boot Disk

Posted October 19, 2009 by Ben Power
Categories: IT, Product Reviews, tips and tricks

Tags: , ,

Our office recently needed to do some data recovery.  We usually don’t have to, since all saved data is supposed to go onto a network share.  But there’s always the user who thinks they know better and keeps 3 GB of data on their desktop (not just the desktop computer, but the Windows desktop).  And of course, this would also be the user whose hard disk dies.  My sense of responsibility got the better of my schadenfreude, so I started trying to retrieve the data.

Occasionally, I’ve been able to retrieve data by fiddling with things until I can temporarily access the data.  Didn’t work this time.  Enter Active@ Boot Disk.  I’ve used the demo DOS-based version of their software before, and I wasn’t particularly impressed.  But we decided to spring for the Windows-based version, and I’m glad we did.  It’s intuitive, effective, and I will consequently spend much less time recovering files in the future.  Check it out if you have a chance.

Some of the particular things that impressed me about the Win version are:

- ability to map a network drive, then save recovered files to it
- use Remote Desktop to control another computer
-  reset Windows passwords (I already have a freeware tool that does this, but it’s nice to have)
- registry editor
- web browser, mail sender, FTP and Telnet clients
- disk wipe tools
- partition tools
- imaging tool
- hex editor to read data directly from the disk (I don’t know if I’ll ever use that, but hey…)

So you get the idea – it’s got a lot to offer.  If you’re needing a preinstall environment, especially for doing file recovery, check it out.

Only thing I wish it had – ability to integrate malware scanners into the PE.  Oh well, can’t have everything.  And at $80 US, it’s a great value.

The future of IT is Big

Posted October 13, 2009 by mrosedale
Categories: IT, java, Linux, open source, programming, Web Development, windows

The New York Times is running an interesting piece about the ever growing glut of data. The article details IBM and Google’s concern over the data glut and if new and upcoming students trained to handle the explosion of data. It is quite a fascinating piece.

At the heart of this criticism is data. Researchers and workers in fields as diverse as bio-technology, astronomy and computer science will soon find themselves overwhelmed with information. Better telescopes and genome sequencers are as much to blame for this data glut as are faster computers and bigger hard drives.

Please click through and read the whole article. It is very good and very true. This topic should be at the forefront of any person who works in the Computer/Technology field. First there is the problem of how to store this much data. Currently I work for a small publisher (O’Reilly media). It is easy to think that a small publisher probably doesn’t have huge storage needs. But so far since I’ve started working here (1 full year going on my second) we just ordered our second storage shelf, this time for almost 14TB. The new shelf has yet to be installed, but the other day my IT coworker was talking to management in a meeting. Our last shelf was around 1TB, but lasted less than a year. He said at almost 14TB this should last us a long time, but then added, “But we say this every time.” It is so true, especially with storage so cheap and drives so big. It reminds me of my first computer in the mid 90′s with 10GB of storage. I told my parents I’d never needed a bigger hard drive. Then I went away for my freshmen year of college and filled it right up with stupid pictures and movie files.

When I worked for the University of Illinois Engineering department the problems were worse. One research group that I worked for had 1 professor and maybe 5 students (including undergrad). They were relatively new so there was no infrastructure or file server and there really wasn’t much money for it anyway. One day I went to the Professor’s office. He must have had at least 30 hard drives each at least 500GB if not 1TB. Those were just the hard drives he had his students carried around a handful themselves. Another research group, with decades of history, started a scanning project. They would scan hundreds of slides at once each producing around 1MB of data. We installed a file array starting off at 4TB, but was expandable to 14. Unfortunately I left and am not sure what they have or need now. My point is that data storage is a huge problem. And is growing extremely fast. The article mentioned facebook’s 1Petabyte of photos, I’m guilty of quite a few of those, but that is just mentioning one company, many more could have been mentioned. Finally there is even personal space. Since I got my new camera I myself am looking at more storage for home. I am looking for personal NAS boxes. So I see the basic point. The future of IT is data and what to do with it.

Computer scientists and, for that matter, any scientists need to pay special attention. Not only do we need a way to store a lot of this data, but probably more importantly we need to do something with it. A lot of this will rest on programmers, but it isn’t limited to them. When I worked at the U of I the students worked on a cluster I built for them. They would code in C tweaking their algorithm to save every last processor cycle. These students weren’t in Computer Science. This summer I took a course at Boston University. One of my classmates was clearly not a computer person. I asked her why she took the course. She was a statistician and was heading to Grad School for statistics. The school asked her to take programming courses so she could analyze data sets. And of course then there are the Computer Scientists, and our future depends upon analyzing such data.

The future is big data; lots of it. And it is no longer just Google and IBM analyzing and storing it. Now even the smallest of research groups or a little publisher can generating mounds of information. Time to start paying very close attention.


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