All posts by systemout

Finally Picked Up An iPhone

Most of my friends were surprised I took as long as I did to get an iPhone but I finally pulled the trigger.  Well, it was more Myleene that did, but I went along for the ride.  I was willing to wait a week for the hype to die down but she had us stand in line for one on the Saturday of launch weekend (more on that later).  I had been reluctant to get any phone with a data up until now because, quite frankly, they sucked at what you got for what they cost.  See any of the first Treos or other Windows mobile phones as an example of this.

The first iPhone was the first phone I considered getting with a data plan because it was truly useful in my eyes (or at least how I woudl use it).  But alas, when it came out I still had 7 or so months on my Verizon contract plus I really didn’t like the idea of having to commit both 2 years AND $500-600 plus the cost of the plan for a first generation product.  By the time my contract was up I already saw rumblings of the new iPhone that was being rumored so I decided to wait….and wait…..and wait.

The process of buying the phone was relatively easy except for the fact that the Walnut Creek Apple store was completely underestimating how long their lines were.  By 1/2.  Seriously…they bordered on incompetent in this area.  They told us the line was about 90 minutes long when we called…it took more than 4 hours.  And this wasn’t a one time thing.  We called the day before and they said it was about 2 hours and it was the same length that night as it was on Saturday.  Someone in line had known someone that was in the back of that line the nigh before and they said it took 4 hours to get into the store.

The process of activating was pretty straight forward.  They brought out the phones, did the accessories, AppleCare, and MobileMe pitch.  Then the guy collected our personal information.  By the way, the guy who took us through the process turned out to be pretty hilarious especially considering he had done an 18 hour shift the day before.  During the approval process our account got snagged for review.  I was expecting this because we have fraud alerts on our accounts through LifeLock.  Apple called us on our numbers listed on the fraud alert, asked a LOT of questions to verify we were who we said we were (bravo Apple!) and then approved us.

Next up was activation which means just plugging into a laptop at the front desk.  We were able to access the Internet and make calls right away but not receive them.  We expected this a little because we ported numbers from Verizon.  The next day we still weren’t receiving calls so we made a call to AT&T and it turned out something got screwed up on their end so they completed the porting process while we were on the phone and then we were fully up and running.

Favorite apps so far?  The built-in Maps, the built-in E-mail (when paired with work and the VPN connectivity), Enigmo, Yelp, Pandora, Bloomberg, and Safari since it works great with Google and Meebo.  Tap tap is running a close second.  And how can I forget iTunes?  It rocks.  I’ve already ripped some of my DVDs into iPhone format and moved over some movies that I downloaded from iTunes for watching on BART during my commute.  Dr. Horrible and his Sing-Along Blog is hilarious so far.  Check it out!

I’ll discuss more about how I’m using it in another post.  Needless to say I’m quite pleased.  There are a few gotchas and things that could still be improved but almost all are things that are software related which means they’re fixable.  Just as long as Apple decides they’re a priority to fix/improve.

Hudson As A Service On Vista

I thought I’d setup a new continuous integration server at home tonight and had heard good things about Hudson lately so I gave it a try.  I downloaded the war and ran it as directed and got it configured pretty quickly to pull my source from my hosted subversion repository.  The build ran fine, my unit tests ran fine, it published my javadoc into the workspace and all was good in the world.  Then I tried to install it as a service on my system which just happens to run Vista (please, no comments regarding Vista).  Crap!  (well, I had worse thoughts but this is a relatively family friendly blog)

According to the docs it should work.  I am running as a user with administrator privileges and so forth.  Apparently creating a service in Vista requires you start the process as administrator (i.e. root).  That requires you to open up explorer, right click on the install batch service and click “run as administrator”.

You’re not done yet.  Then you have to go in and change the user you want the service to run as in the service configuration in the services control panel module.  It will then grant the user run as a service privileges and it will actually allow you to now start it as a service.

I also recommend changing the port it runs on by default since most of you probably run your JBoss or Tomcat instances on 8080 when you’re developing.

Overall I think Hudson is great so far but this is just a little gotcha you should be aware of when running it as a service on Vista.

A Dumb Careers Page

I saw a posting on Valleywag today about Bright Idea, an “innovation management” company. I honestly have no idea what that means but I went to their site to check it out and clicked on the careers page to see what they use to build their platform since your engineering jobs – and yes, everyone is hiring engineers – will list what stack you are using so you don’t get a crapload of unfit resumes.

Here’s the page:

So what’s wrong you ask? Click on any of the jobs postings. Go ahead. That’s right, they are mailto: links. There are no details about any of the jobs, what the duties are, what the requirements are, etc. On their end they either get a lot of useless resumes and/or get crappy resumes because the good folks aren’t going to submit their resume to a job posting that has NO details. On the applicant’s end they might need to go through a useless phone screen or interview to find out the job’s responsibilities don’t line up with their expectation to the job posting’s title.

Or are they just too lazy to come up with job descriptions?

Back From Mexico

I know it’s been a while since I posted so this will be the first of many about our recent trip to Disneyland and the Mexican Riviera. Some of you that know me will be shocked but I literally did not even log into the work VPN since I left on vacation. It was tempting at times but I knew I’d felt compelled to answer e-mails and that’s not exactly a vacation if I did that. I also went the 7 days of the cruise without checking the Internet at all. On the last night I relented and used up my sister-in-law’s satellite minutes in the Internet center and caught up on my g-mail. Only 255 e-mail threads in 7 days. Whew.

A quick overview of the trip:

If you’re going to Disneyland, just pony up and pay for hotels at Disneyland. It’s easier. Staybridge was nice but using and trying to schedule things based on the shuttle system there is a definite let down after staying at Paradise Pier (next to the Disneyland hotel) the first time we went.

It’s cold the first two days of a Mexican Riviera cruise. Seriously. You don’t expect 60 degree weather and 60 degree water (which they use to fill up the ship pools) when you’re on your way from LA to Mexico. Who would have thought?

Mexico = LOTS of street vendors.

Zip Line Canopy Tours at Chico’s Paradise = LOTS of fun.

If you take a cruise tour to Mexico avoid the cruise ship ports if at all possible. The street vendors really come out of the woodwork there. Either just take the cruise ship tours or plan ahead to do something away from where the cruise ship dumps you.

7 days on ship = 3 lbs gained.

Ukrainian waiters named Stanislav are amazing dancers. Who would have known?

The dolphin encounter in Puerto Vallarta was pretty cool. Allie was totally fearless with them and let one of them kiss her and then shake her hands with its fins. The facilities at Cabo are pretty sweet, though. I would do it there next time probably.

I will probably not go back to the Mexican Riviera anytime soon unless I am going with folks that know how to avoid all the street vendors. I was going to scream if I had to say no gracias to another person offering me a water taxi to the beaches.

Seeing old world Mexico was actually the most interesting to me.

Seeing Home Depots and Wal-Marts in both Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta was a little strange to be honest. The fact they looked nicer than the ones by my house were even stranger.

Seeing my daughter go up on stage and dance with the Mariachi band was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Carnival’s going out of their way to tell you that only one of their ships in the fleet (and not ours) has their kick-ass waterworks attraction is shitty. Shame on you Carnival.

Things are not dirt cheap in Mexico. I knew that going in but seriously, don’t go there expecting bargains.

Interesting fact I learned: Mexico exports oil but imports gas. They have no refineries. Hence, their gas is expensive.

Carnival claims to like the environment by trying to get you to re-use towels (which I do anyways) but then they go out of their way to print every friggin’ photo in the world in the hopes that you’ll buy them. Why don’t they just have a system where they scan your ship card (your ID while on the ship) and assign the photos to them and let you look at your photos via computer kiosk and then just order whatever size you want them in? On top of that they could do a deal with ShutterFly or some other online vendor so you could order them after the cruise was over if you missed one. Then they’d only print what people actually bought and not every friggin’ photo. Seriously. Yeah, I believe you Carnival that you care about the environment.
*wink wink* The accountants at Carnival realized photos are their biggest profit center so they have gone overboard on photos. It was just stupid crazy overboard.

Carnival’s kid care program, Camp Carnival, is actually quite good.  I was pretty impressed with it.  The fact that Allie couldn’t wait to go there was also a plus in my book.  The 90 minute formal dinners were too long for her and the kids program has a kids dinner so she wanted to eat there most nights.  They’ll take the kids until 10pm with no extra fees other than what you paid for the cruise and then only $6/hour after that.  They seemed to have plenty of counselors for the number of kids I saw and they give you a pager or cell phone if they need to get in touch with you.  Thumbs up.

Google App Engine Is Available

Google announced their App Engine initiative today.  It’s a web application building environment that provides the runtime, the application framework, the database and the storage space.  The first version supports Python and comes with enough storage, CPU and data transfer for most initial applications.

I signed up and got my beta account tonight.  They’re giving out 10,000 accounts during the beta.  I got going on the tutorial and got to the next to last section where they talk about static files and mapping them with the application description and boom! it breaks.  I mean, I take exactly what the tutorial shows about mapping in external stylesheets and it won’t load the application descriptor any longer.  I traced into some of the code in their appserver Python code and there seems to be a problem with how they’re mapping the file paths with regular expressions.  I’m not a Python guru so I’ll let them figure it out (plus I’m tired) but it’s not like I’m on an exotic system (Thinkpad running XP with Python 2.5.2) and I already saw a few others in the user group talking about this same issue.

I was able to get around it by mapping the css files directly using a static_files descriptor vs. a static_dir descriptor so I can keep going at least.

Overall the environment seems pretty cool to begin with.  Creating tables in the BigTable store via Python seems pretty damn easy.  Scaling should be pretty easy as well unless you do stupid things.  Also, being able to tie in directly to the Google user accounts makes things very very easy as well.

I think a lot of folks will gravitate towards this to try it out but I do wonder how many will really build apps on this system since its same advantages are also its biggest disadvantage.  You’re tied to the Google platform now.  Sure, you got going fast but now how do you scale your app/company when you need more control?  Yes, the app will scale but we all know that once you get to a certain size you end up with more than just a web application.  Then again, you could probably host some of your application on your own servers and then just connect to the Google servers/data store via REST or other web service APIs.

Amazon’s offering, while not as integrated, seems to offer more ultimate flexibility that you can grow with and then not being tied into using them for everything down the road.  You can build whatever environment you want on their EC2 platform, use S3 however you want and also build on SimpleDB or just deploy MySQL on EC2 instances for your database access.

Each platform will appeal to people for different reasons.  I think I would gravitate towards Google just for its ease of use (so far) and ability to get an application launched quickly but if my app got popular I’d really have to start figuring out how much it will cost to scale on Google once they get out of beta and see if I can live with the constraints it puts on me.  I’ll know more when they start to disclose more concrete details about their future plans for App Engine.

Yokway Coming Soon

Some of my friends, Stephan and Cyril, from my days at Vignette (Epicentric before the acquisition) have been building this site, Yokway, and they sent me an invite today. I gave it a try and it’s pretty cool. Louis Gray posted about it a while back and has a really great write up. The basic idea is that you trust your friends a lot more and are probably more interested in what they have to say other than people like, say, Robert Scoble.

When someone posts that you have subscribed to you see it in your feed along with their comments about the link. You also see comments and ratings by other people that have subscribed to their link. It will be interesting to see how this works if you subscribe to someone that is very popular and the comments get huge. The way the interface is now it’s hard to see if it has tools to help deal with that. Scrolling through 100 comments on a post would start to get a little daunting.

Along with seeing the link you can also add it to your “memory” which seems to be the same as starring something in Google-speak.

Overall I think it’s pretty slick and is an interesting take on social bookmarking and knowledge sharing. It’s very mature looking for a closed beta. I’m looking forward to it when they get more users behind it. I’ll let you know when it’s open for public use.