A place for SGML and XML application developers.

August 5, 2008

Partly to Mostly Cloudy

Filed under: Rants/Musings,Software — cangione @ 9:19 pm

I’m moving further into the cloud. The internet cloud. Wikipedia is defining Cloud computing as a style of computer “where IT-related capabilities are provided as a service”.

I started with Google Docs. Storing my checkbook register (an excel spreadsheet), some Power Point presentations and some PDF white papers I always find myself looking for. I want access to these documents quickly and easily from any and all computers I might happen to have available to me even if only for a few minutes.

My move further into the cloud happened when I had to decide if I was going to put additional Network storage on my home network or lease secure disk space somewhere in the cloud. We’re at 2 terabytes and climbing at home already. Some of the disks have been spinning for a few years so I wouldn’t trust critical or archive data to them. Truly archiving data means having it mirrored on at least two different disks if not on a DVD as well.

I decided to roll with the Amazon S3 service instead of buying more disk that I have to maintain. Amazon S3 is a simple web service that can be used to securely retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web. Amazon does not provide a front end to the S3 web service. It is intentionally built with a minimal feature set.

For a front end to the S3 service I decided to use Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk supports Linux, Max, and Windows (including Vista) platforms as well as USB sticks. It makes the Amazon S3 service appear as a network drive on your machine where you can drag and drop or copy files.

One of my major complaints with approaches like this in the past has been that passing lots of info or large files over the network takes time and can be process intensive depending on your OS (this is really the kindest way I could put this without saying Windows slows to a crawl). Jungle disk has solved this. It caches the files local on your machine and slowly feeds the bits to the S3 service as CPU and bandwidth are available (configurable). To the end user it makes the copy to the Network drive look instantaneous. The software also comes with a backup routine where you can backup selected folders. The software is 20 bucks with life time upgrades.

You pay for the Amazon S3 service monthly. The rates are reasonable. Storage is $0.15 per GB-Month of storage used. You also pay a small data transfer fee for incoming and outgoing data transfer. Amazon provides a fee calculator to figure out your approximate costs. If you think about what hard disk space costs to install and mirror (for a true archive) as well as administer, the fees keep looking better and better! I’m willing to pay for good service and zero headaches!

So what’s left on my Network Storage at home? VMware images. Lots and lots of VMware images. Large files that are I/O and bandwidth intensive are not the type of thing I’m looking to store out in the cloud… least not yet. Next thing on my list to explore is Amazon EC2. The topic of a future post I’m sure.


July 30, 2008

Goodbye Old Friend

Filed under: Rants/Musings,Software,XML — cangione @ 6:46 pm

The Arbortext crew in Ann Arbor is getting a new workspace. As I write this, many hardworking and dedicated employees at 1000 Victors Way are packing up their offices and preparing to move down the street to a new building.

Victors Way — what a noble address! I first came to the four-story building 11 years ago as a potential customer. It was the middle of the December, and I was meeting with a sales rep and some lead engineers to show them a proposal featuring Arbortext. I remember Ivan, my sales rep, later telling me that everyone was eager to meet someone willing to come to Ann Arbor in December!

1000 Victors Way

I came back to Victors Way the following year for the Annual Users Group Conference (AUGI) held in Ann Arbor. What a fun and memorable event! Arbortext made sure that just about anyone a customer might want to speak with was at the conference. I remember watching the trepidation on the faces of some engineers as they walked across the street, their eyes full of dread and looks that said, “Oh no! I have to talk to a customer!”

But that kind of openness and innovation is what gave Arbortext the reputation it maintains today — fiercely dedicated to standards and open at all levels of the organization, from the CEO to the engineer that built a feature.

Eventually, I joined Arbortext as a consultant, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In addition to an amazing career, I’ve gained a wonderful extended family. When I came in for my job interview, it took my interviewers 20 minutes to get me to the conference room because we kept running into people I knew along the way!

Ever since I became part of the Arbortext team, returning to Ann Arbor (no matter what the season) has always felt like coming home. I see friends that I stay in touch with but don’t get to visit with in person very often. I make sure to stop by every office, no matter what floor, and chat with people that I’m genuinely happy to see.

One of my earliest major assignments at Arbortext involved creating one of the first linkbases in existence. At that time, the XLink standard was brand new. During those early days, I often found myself standing outside in the middle of the night next to one of the walkway lamps that light the entranceway. I’d look up at the ARBORTEXT sign on the building while I smoked like a chimney and prayed that the application would actually work! Eventually it did work, but only after some pain and suffering.

The four floors of 1000 Victors Way represent more than a decade of my life. Although the facilities in the new building are far superior for the Ann Arbor crew of today, I will always look back at the Victors Way building with fondness, and I will stop by when I’m in town. The Ann Arbor crew and Arbortext customers should be proud of what was accomplished within those walls, and I hope they are as excited as I am about what will come out of the new facility.

I can’t wait to reflect on what happens during the next decade.

-Charles Angione

May 14, 2008

SVCHost.exe 100 Percent CPU Utilization – Debug Techniques

Filed under: Software — cangione @ 1:00 am

I’ve been trying to figure out why my desktop has slowed to a crawl this past week. Everything was taking way to long and mouse movements were choppy. After staring at the task manager process tab  for awhile it appeared that something running inside svchost.exe was misbehaving. If I ended the process outright I lost audio and all sorts of other important things.

For the uninitiated, the SVCHOST (stands for “Service Host”) processes host services for the Microsoft OS.  The services are DLL programs that do something useful. People more commonly refer to them as “drivers”, the things we install  to make some peripheral work well and play nice with others.  Multiple instances of SVCHOST may be running at any one time and multiple services may be grouped together in one SVCHOST process which makes finding the one stinking service that is not being a good citizen a pain.

Couple of techniques I picked up while suffering through this last night:

Identify svchost.exe processes using tasklist command (hard way)

1. First, go ahead and click on Start and then Run and type in CMD and click OK

2. Type the following in to the command window and press Enter

tasklist /svc /fi “imagename eq svchost.exe

You should get an output that looks something like this:


You’ll notice in this example  that PID 508 has a bunch of processes running in it. Now for the tricky task of figuring out which one is not playing nice.  Right-click on My Computer, choose Manage. Now choose Computer Management and then choose Services and Applications. Finally choose Services.

Now try and match the cryptic Windows service name with the easily readable names in the services tab. Stop the services individually until you CPU meter calms down.

Use Process Explorer (easy way)

There is a much better way to do this. Use Process Explorer. Process Explorer is a tool Microsoft acquired from SysInternals a few years ago.

Process Explorer

What’s cool about Process Explorer is that it allows you to dig into any Process and Stop /Start process without having to match up Services with Display Names. One by one you turn off the Services and see which one calms down the CPU meter. Once you’ve discovered your problem child, the final step is to go into the Services manager and change the service to start manually if you don’t need it or a fix is not readily available. First aid for computers. Stop the CPU bleeding first.

Services Manager

My problem child was the HID Input Service which I don’t need in my day to day life but which I will try and make behave sometime in the future.

Info for this post came from a bunch of Google search research. I just decided to aggregate it all into one place. May you never need to use the knowledge contained here.

C. Angione

April 21, 2008

Social Networking and the Opt-in vs. Opt-out approach

Filed under: Rants/Musings — cangione @ 11:21 pm

Social Network sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo and Facebook need to figure this out quick! It’s late and I’m pissed. Without explicitly throwing up a dialog in my face and asking me what I want, the default setting for blasting whatever the hell I’m doing  to the world should be Opt-out! Microsoft figured this out years ago. It is really annoying, but no one can claim they didn’t ask if I’m really really sure I want to nuke a particular file! If I select all the defaults you provide me, whatever I’m doing should Opt-out of whatever magic updates you want to provide to the world.  It’s a cop-out to have the Opt-in checkbox  checked by default and assume that I actually saw it! You will find most times I’m OK with the known universe knowing what I’m doing! I’m willing to Opt-in every freakin time I want said universe to know my actions.

What brought on this rant…..I’m sending an e-card to someone. WHY THE HELL DOES A SOCIAL NETWORK SITE THINK I WANT THE CONTENTS OF A CARD THAT I EXPLICITLY ADDRESSED TO A SINGLE FREAKIN PERSON BE BROADCAST TO THE ENTIRE FRAPPIN WORLD? It gets better…… This is a new behavior since the site in question decided it was a social networking site instead of being a contact aggregation site.

April 9, 2008

Trademarks and the R within the circle.

Filed under: Rants/Musings — cangione @ 2:38 am

I was working on a document today where I wanted to include Trademarks (what can I say?) but didn’t understand the difference between using the TM symbol and the R within a circle. So after some research:

A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.  In short, a trademark is a brand name.

The federal registration symbol, the R enclosed within a circle, may be used once the mark is actually registered in the USPTO. Even though an application is pending, the registration symbol may not be used before the mark has actually become registered.

When you want to figure out if something has actually become registered try using the
Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). (Don’t government search engines get cute names?)

Other sites of interest while doing my research:

March 17, 2008

The Word ‘Just’

Filed under: Rants/Musings — cangione @ 8:56 pm

‘Just’ is a four letter word that has no place on development projects.  That’s right, I advocate an all out ban on the word! No exceptions.

When trying to estimate the amount of work it will take to complete something, using the word ‘just’ as a bridge makes it easier to estimate things optimistically.   A.H. Weiler once said “Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself“. I would add the word ‘just’ is that man’s best friend

I actually make a game out of banning the word on my projects or during conversations where I’m trying to get to the bottom of something . It is amazing to me how the conversation changes when descriptions  like “Then the file is just downloaded to the desktop.” are not allowed. In this example, either the file is downloaded to the desktop or we are using the word ‘just’ to gloss over the fact that 5 other things need to happen to the file on the way to the desktop!

When you use the word ‘just’  enough on a project,  it can make three years worth of work seem like something that can be accomplished in 3 months!  Kurt Alder said “Tradition is what you resort to when you don’t have the time or the money to do it right“. The quote works equally well with the word ‘just’ instead of ‘tradition’

Don’t fall into the ‘just’ trap!

February 12, 2008

PlayerPal worth a look

Filed under: Software — cangione @ 2:59 pm

I use multiple machines in the course of my day. My Linux box, my laptop or my home tower. My home tower is the one that is connected to a really nice set of Yamaha speakers and where I keep my iTunes library. I’ve been looking for a way to control iTunes from whichever computer I happen to be using at a particular moment. 

I’ve been looking for this kind of control not only to flip through songs, but pause music when phone calls come in etc. The one thing that all my machines have in common is that they are all running Firefox. PlayerPal lets all of my machines connect to my home tower and act as a web remote for iTunes (or Windows Media Player if you’re so inclined… I’m not). So one of my permanent tabs in Firefox on all my machines is set to PlayerPal.


Really geeky I know, but since my Smart Phone can connect to my wireless network, I can even use that as a portable remote control as I walk around my house!

-Charles Angione

February 6, 2008

Virtual Appliances

Filed under: Software — cangione @ 12:48 pm

I’m a big fan of vmware and run the majority of my development and test environments off of two physical machines with lots of memory and disk space. I usually create what I call base images of say Ubuntu or Fedora with all the  updates and then make copies of the virtual machines for specific uses. This approach has been great but I’ve still got to the actual work of taking a base image and making  say a subversion server…. Till now.

vmare has introduced the Virtual Appliance Marketplace  where you can now find specifically configured machines all ready for download! Want a Fedora 8 image? One is available. Want a small Linux image? Try the “Damn Small Linux Virtual Machine“. Want a machine that is specifically configured as a subversion server? They have one of those too.  I might even give Sun Solaris 10 a spin (I’ve never been able to configure Solaris in vmware right but now that I don’t have too…) The machines run in vmware workstation, player and server.

To the geeks that like setting up operating systems, I salute you!

-Charles  Angione

December 12, 2007

High Praise for 1421 – The Year China Discovered America

Filed under: Books — cangione @ 4:26 pm

Just got done reading Gavin Menzies book 1421 The Year China Discovered America. Gavin was in the Royal Navy and sailed the world from 1959 to 1970 as part of the Royal Navy. The exhaustively researched conclusions in the book have the potential to re-write the history of who discovered America, Australia, New Zealand and Central America!

The contention is that between 1421 and 1423 great Chinese treasure fleets sailed the worlds oceans. When the fleets returned home, they returned to find China changed forever. On may 9th 1421 lightning struck the Forbidden City and the resulting fire convinced the emperor that the gods demanded change. The resulting turmoil set China on an inward course. Too ensure that no more epic voyages took place, not only were the shipyards put out of commission but the plans and the accounts of the completed voyages were deliberately destroyed.

What did survive of Chinese cartography from the voyages effectively lead the Portuguese to the east. The descriptions of maps, charts and currents really bring this story to life like only a sailor could tell it. It also explains why other historians would have had a hard time following the chain of evidence about the 1421 voyages that Gavin did. I highly recommend this book. You will definitely question the history of Dias, Columbus, Magellan and Cook learned in school.

-Charles Angione

November 28, 2007

The Wrong Side of the Road

Filed under: Rants/Musings — cangione @ 5:23 pm

Salt Lake City Airport  is in the middle of a large project to reorganize the airport parking situation. Instead of two lots they have consolidated long term parking into a single large lot with new shelters while you are waiting for the bus. The new shelters are beautiful in comparison to the old airy steel ones they used to have. The only problem is that they are situated on the wrong side of the road! So when the bus comes you have to walk across the road in front of the bus to board.

Rumor has it that the reason the shelters are on the wrong side of the road is because the company designing the new parking lot didn’t bother to consult with the bus drivers and planned to have the bus start from the far side of the lot…..So before dropping off a single passenger in the lot, the bus had to drive 1/4 of a mile to enter the lot…… In practice the route didn’t exactly work out very well. I don’t think it even made a week. So now the buses enter the lot from the “wrong end”  but start dropping off and picking up passengers very quickly at the various stops.

Am I the only one that thinks some studies and modeling could have been done to have avoided this situation?  So as I stand at the nice new bus shelters on my way to a consulting engagement and before crossing the road to catch the bus, I always remind myself to make sure that I talk with the various end users of a system I’m designing! I hope this approach will ensure that none of my creations end up on the wrong side of the road!

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