Who wants some vitriol? Free samples here. How 'bout a little vitriol? Excuse me, can i have a side of vitriol? Its vitriol time. More vitriol, less filling. Come get some... vitriol. Gotta get me some vitriol. Mmm... vitriol. Your first Vitriol is free.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Beauty and Natural Splendor of Cycling in Oakland

This is the official "Bike Route" in Oakland. Yep. Broken down fences, stagnant water pools, abandoned buildings, interstate overpasses...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Halted / Haltek in NYT

Tina pointed me to this great story on Halted, where I had my gadget-geek transistor lust set affire as a teen:

A Haven for Spare Parts Lives On in Silicon Valley

Don't miss the audio slide show

Also, I just need to throw up some props to Weird Stuff as they are always true to their name.

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300 Miles Ridden: The Power of Self-Deception

The last two rides I went on I woke up tired and didn't feel like going, but I managed to trick myself into it by telling myself I'd "just go on a quick couple miler." Sunday I went totally bonkers and tricked myself in almost 24 miles of aimless wandering:

Next time I head down that way, I'm going to skip the sewage treatment plant...

Then this mornining Josh Waggy and I talked ourselves out on a "quick ride" to the beach in Alameda, and instead wandered are way up to Alameda Naval Base (about 15 miles):

We ended up messing around out at the Alameda Naval Base skatepark, wishing we were 15 years younger and with bikes more suited to the terrain:
alameda skate part with josh waggy (4)
alameda skate part with josh waggy (3)

It amazes me that this gorgeous skatepark is totally empty every time I've been there. Though I suppose skating 10 miles out to it over pretty shoddy, gravelly roads is no fun.

Today's deception put my total tracked rides up over 300 miles. Hopefully the one side of my brain that I'm tricking here will stay stupid and I can keep this pace up...


Monday, March 23, 2009

Is Salesforce.com 100x as efficient as Amazon?

The Efficient Cloud: All Of Salesforce Runs On Only 1,000 Servers

The raw numbers in this article are pretty interesting:

Salesforce talked about its own back-end infrastructure and revealed that all of Salesforce.com runs on only about 1,000 servers. And that is mirrored, so it is really only 500. Think about that for a minute. Salesforce has more than 55,000 enterprise customers, 1.5 million individual subscribers, 30 million lines of third-party code, and hundreds of terabytes of data all running on 1,000 machines. Amazon's Web Services, in comparison, runs on about 100,000 machines I am told by someone with knowledge of Amazon's server infrastructure.

But I'm a little confused about how he takes those and jumps to the conclusion he leads the story with, that salesforce is 100x as efficient as AWS:

But still, that is roughly a 100 to 1 efficiency advantage that Salesforce has over Amazon's cloud.

In order to make that calculation, it sounds like he's assuming that Salesforce does 1-to-1 the amount of actual work (processing, transfer, etc) as all of amazon's services do. Thats a pretty remarkable proposition to make, and to hinge your entire article on, without providing any numbers to back it up.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Asus: We Put Computers IN Computers

Meditations on Asus Fanboyism:

josh: i'm stoked on netbooks
tina: Yeah, I am coveting.

josh: it validates something i've been saying for years

josh: that companies need to use the economies of scale and mores law to bring down the entry point instead of just upping the power of the $2000 bracket

tina: My philosophy is that most people buy more computer than they need.

josh: we can have $40 laptops

josh: there no reason why not

josh: i'm a total asus fanboy now

josh: i need an asus shirt

josh: somehting super nerdy

josh: with a picture of a pc in a pc in a keyboard in a pc monitor

tina: "Asus: pushing the limits of logical computer design."

tina: I think there's basically someone who works there that is good with legos.

josh: "Asus: pushing PAST the limits of logical computer design."

tina: Taking all of the components and building strange stuff.

josh: "Asus: yeah, half our shit makes no sense"

josh: but they epidomize the idea of fuction over form

tina: "Asus: who says you can't have two monitors on one keyboard?"

josh: they just do enough to make it look passablely good

josh: but that's it

josh: you arn't going to pickup college girls with this laptop

josh: But it only costs you $200, and you get your shit done.

As quick rundown of some Asus products:

Gigantic wooden lapdesk and laptop in one

A pine scented laptop

A touchscreen computer in your keyboard

A touchscreen computer in your laptop trackpad

A bamboo computer

A touchscreen computer in your computer

Origami laptop concept

I love these guys... its like Willy Wonkas Computer Factory

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Google App Engine Meetup Notes

A couple nights ago I went to the Google App Engine (GAE) Meetup sponsored by the Silicon Valley Cloud Computing group and the SF Bay Area Google App Engine Developers group (Updated: Thanks for catching the omission Bill). I've been watching GAE since it launched almost a year ago because its a very cool idea in cloud computing, but not without a few issues that needed to be addressed. Luckily, the event was really impressive and lets just say I'm seriously into GAE now. It definitely rose to the top of my to-do list.

As the first speaker, Mike Repass put it, other cloud services like EC2 offer "Scalable Infrastructure as a Service", whereas GAE offers a "Scalable Platform as a Service". In other words, if you code your app top GAE, you have to do zero (I mean it, zero) sysadmin work to setup, maintain and scale your site. Further, because it shards out your data automatically across google's BigTable "database" that they use for all their products, and the platform handles spinning up app instances for you behind the scenes, if you get your app working for 1 million users, it will work for 11 million users with little to no changes. Incredible.

Whats also incredibly exciting about GAE is that they are really following a Blogger type model with it. They are giving away the service totally for free up to approximately 5 million page views per month. This is an insanely huge amount of traffic to give away for free. I would seriously suggest anyone who has designs in mind for small one off web app projects, drop everything and at least give GAE a shot.

I'm a really big fan of Amazon's offerings (AWS), in particular S3, EC2 and SQS, and I use them every day for my day job. At first these services seem to overlap, but I think they are pretty orthogonal to each other. GAE's purpose is to target the heart of the bellcurve of the needs of the spectrum of web apps out there, no more, no less. This means that out of the box, you have to considerably change the way you think about developing your application, but its probably something you should be doing anyhow if you plan to be able to scale your app in the future.

One of the big things you lose in GAE is access to a shell on the machine you are running on. This means you can't do traditional sysadmin things like CRON jobs to automate scheduled tasks (send out a newsletter, sync data to an external service, etc). Also, you can't exec outside processes to do some of your work. For instance, at my day job we are building a backend service on EC2, S3 and SQS that autoscales to do massive bulk conversion of video (and soon other) content. What is all boils down to in the end is a very fancy wrapper around FFMPEG which does the actual conversions. This is out of reach for GAE, so our company will be using both AWS and GAE for the foreseeable future.

I went to the meeting with finding the answers to a couple problems I envision with the service, and they have pretty much address all of them to my liking. I'll be taking the plunge and doing a test implementation of a project for work with it now, very exiting.

On a personal note, I had a nice moment of "fanboy dream come true". I've been pretty obsessed with Python for the last few years since I started working with it professionally at Outspark.com. I work with a whole pile of different languages all the time, but still after all these years, every time I wish I was working in Python. At this event I had been hoping that I would get a chance to talk directly to some of the GAE engineers about my problems with the product, and wouldn't you know it, right before the first talk starts Guido Van Rossum (the creator of Python) sits right next to me. He was really friendly and excited to talk to anyone who had questions about Python or GAE, so I had the rare opportunity to pose my concerns with their product directly from the source. Awesome.

My concerns were:

Vendor lockin. if you code to GAE, how can you break your app out of their system and run it on a competitors system if for some reason GAE's terms, price or other features just aren't cutting it for you. The Django wrappers I discuss here pretty much handle that for me. I'm going to go one further and see if I can write a Amazon SimpleDB backend for one of them to really let you port over to a similar service without too much pain. Not sure this is realistic yet, just an idea.

Importing massive amounts of data. Since you pay per transaction, and for data transferred and stored, the thought of trying to import my 10 million record events database was a bit scary. Of course the GAE guys thought of this and have written a bulk importer which will take a giant CSV file and split it into chunks, transfer it to GAE and import it into your datastore, all automated. I'll post back my experiences with it later. Guido also mentioned that there would be a much improved feature "soon".

Refactoring your data. So lets say you've gotten your 15 millions records happily into the Google datastore, but suddenly business requirements change and you need to significantly refactor the way your data is structured. Now, this is a hard situation in any database system, but the thought of only having external API access to do this amount of work is daunting. Looks like GAE will have something called "workflows" in a not to distant release that should allow this sort of bulk work to be done in a sane fashion. Guido suggested a really nice short term solution, which is to version every record in your datastore, then make any objects which deal with that data aware of how to update a record, and have them update each record before making use of them. This way the datastore will magically heal itself up to the latest revision over time.

This is pretty symbolic of how you just have to think a little bit differently about attacking problems in something like GAE. A similar approach was demo'd by Gee from Rotzy in order to get around the lack of any facility to do schedule, batch processing with GAE. In short, Rotzy has a task que, and any requests that are simply serving static content (like the profile pictures on a comment page) first check the task queue to do a little bit of batch work, then serve there content and die. A Pretty damned inventive solution.

(Photo of Mike Repass on rotzy, and yes that my green shoulder in the foreground ;)

A couple questions I still have lingering:

One suggested way to share one data source with 3 frontend user app's was to have 1 backend app that does the data hording, give it a REST api and have the 3 frontend apps fetch their data over that API. This was suggested by someone giving a talk that night... but isn't that a violation of the TOS? Wouldn't that be how you can "shard" your app across several instances to get over their free quota limits?

Currently there are two overlapping projects to let you develop to Django running on GAE (Google App Engine Helper for Django and App Engine Patch). The biggest distinction is that Helper actually wraps up the GAE data store api's in a Django compatible way, whereas Patch claims that that is impossible, and so doesn't even bother. It would be interesting to see some deeper comparisons of the two.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

I cannot concieve of 3 things that belong together less

A Watermelon, a beach, and a cat:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interview with Hans Christoph Steiner, ReWare

My brother: