Sunday Aug 30, 2009

Three dimensions of Virtualisation

Another piece of, what I hope is wisdom, coming from my last three months of customer conversations is that virtualisation has three dimensions.

We use virtualisation to make large systems small. I call this “Atomisation”. We can also use virtualisation technologies to make many components seem as one, this is of critical use for horizontally scalable services, and I call this “Aggregation”. The third dimension is “Longevity”. Maybe I should play around with “Age” as a word, so each dimension has a mnemonic starting with “A”, but by using a Type II hypervisor, one can protect old software against platform innovation and continue to run it until its business case changes or expires.

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How new is Cloud Computing?

I have spoken to several of Sun's customers over the last 3 months about Cloud Computing and have often used the following quote.

“When we build a distributed computing platform and run one application on it, we call this HPC, when we build a distributed computing platfrom and run many copies of one application on it, we call this Web 2.0, and when we build a distributed computing platform and run many applications on it, we call it Cloud Computing.”

Who said it? Me!

Its not quite true, but the difference between the platforms is not necessarily as great as some might like to make it seem. Web 2.0 platforms are rarely as economic as running many copies of one application but its a pretty small portfolio often supporting only one end-user application. I accept that elasticity and metering are important, unsolved, or not well solved problems in the cloud world but I think the quote is worth publishing here and repeating and offers insights into planning an evolving the next generation of IT platforms.

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Saturday Aug 29, 2009

Are blogs losing their infuence?

Richard Morgan sent me this article, "Are Blogs Losing Their Authority To The Statusphere?" dated March 10th 2009, which argues that while blog authority ranking according to Technorati remains fairly static, the scores of the various blogs are declining. Technorati uses an inlist scoring algorithm which may be part of the problem, but it would seem to me that micro-blogging is impacting the strength of the voice of blogs as a communications tool, which is what the article argued. In some way's not just micro-blogging, but the various places where people can and do record what they do and think. When I started this blog 5 years ago, I chose to restrain what I put here but other media have grown in popularity, and so people's ability to express themselves have grown. There is a diversification of publication sites which makes following people harder, although technorati only set out to capture blogs, not people, blogs seem no longer to be at the centre of how the internet records what people think. I know that I have been writing less frequently.

Internet messaging is built on a growing distributed architecture, consisting of

  • publication,

  • distribution,

  • aggregation and

  • consumption.

Different sites and technologies seek to perform and excel in different parts of the chain. The aggregation stage permits people to view people, if they permit it, or subject matter and most importantly control their own entry points to the mess that is today's content, by which I mean choose to follow people of look for specific expertise. I think that authors should seek to co-operate with this consumer control of the reading process. It should be noted that the behaviour of individuals and corporations will differ. In particular most media companies want to capture the reader/viewer but individuals have no need to copy this behaviour. I try to post content and let people find it; I hope I have developed a reputation for expertise in some subjects over my career.

By keeping the architecture in mind, one can try and avoid annoying your readers, who, if one has any, are likely to be your friends. Bad habits I see are people who syndicate their tweets into facebook, so I, and others, get to know about their breakfast twice, and I am not a fan of syndicating one's del.icio.us feed into blogs using the APIs. This latter habit annoys me because I don't see the blog as an aggregation tool, but a publishing tool, and so I expect original work, of some description in people's blogs. This can be even worse when people then publicise the blog, containing bookmarks using a micro blog. That's three clicks to read something written by someone other than the person who's views you've subscribed to, and if using a wireless device that's a real pain. NB This is also true if you subscribe to Digg feeds, you get to 'interesting' content via the Digg page, so three clicks, three tabs or windows to read content you want. Another offence which I wish I could deal with more easily is the microblogging incontinent. The only way I have discovered how to deal with those, is to unsubscribe.

One can, and I do aggregate my feeds into one place. I originally created a personal planet, which aggregates some of the feeds I create. I have tried to create an everything feed at http://friendfeed.com/davelevy, which also has a nice key of the feeds I contribute to. This means that my readers can construct a feed that interests them. I know that some friends are interested in the technology, but not the politics. I commit the offence of subscribing my friend feed to face book, but I consider Facebook to be mainly a consumer. I need to think about this. Its not great, but I don't syndicate my tweets directly to my face book statuses (sic), nor do I copy them back into friend feed. Manging my facebook feed is not easy and is compounded by Facebook's desire to perform all roles in the architecture while being 'open'. Its this open-ness which has enable site specialisation around, for instance, travel, books, restaurants and even at living social, iphone apps.

I suppose I am appealing for people to consider what tools they use to perform a specific role in the the personal content architecture. Don't over aggregate, if people are interested in your thoughts they'll find them. Don't shove it down their throats.

When I first considered writing this little essay, it seemed interesting to consider, “Is the status-sphere replacing blogs?”, others including Tim Bray have written about this since and argue Not. I hope that the evolution of easy micro-blogging, will free blogs to become deeper and more interesting. I know that I have produced less frequent blog article since I took up with Twitter, but I also considered my del.icio.us feed, to be a microblog of sorts. Another key development is that the use of sites like del.icio.us has turned in-list search ranking from a vote of web authors, where you needed the technology skills and resource to have a web page in order to influence the sort order, into a vote of web readers and authors. The ease of micro blog adoption means that an even large crowd should now be participating in the construction of in list search orders. I am unsure how url shortner's impact the search engines in-list calculations. They make it harder, I 'm sure, as does the fact there's more than one. Many argue that Twitter's best value is as a search engine and that it, and other micro-blogging systems won't replace blogs because there are too many subjects that can't be accurately discussed in 140, characters. Techcrunch published further thoughts on twitter, and it chances of supplanting the blogs, however it takes less time to tweet, rubbish gets lost easier, and twitter in particular is designed to be used by handheld devices. (I don't think I'd like to have written this on my new Nokia 5800, or even my ipodtouch.) It should be noted, that while its very easy to create a 140 character message, it should be easy to create a podcast or even a video, but its not. They are both difficult to create, especially if you don't just record a chat amongst friends but try and 'deliver/perform' a report. This is a skills issue. They wouldn't pay Steven Fry all that money to make audio books if it was easy.

One final thought is that communitarian aggregation is not well done at the moment. One of the strength's of Peter Reiser's approach, 'Community Equity', to knowledge management systems that at its heart is a personal rating engine. (See also http://socialadoption.com/ They don't yet have this as truly n-dimensional, which I think is needed, so you can rate your own content, rate other author's expertise, rate & describe their interest to you. I may play with a Google App or Zembly, to experiment with some of how to make some of this work. A very rich inter-personal network with sophisitcated popular and machine calculated relevance scoring is something that can add value. Content could flow through your colleagues votes moving closer and further away from your viewing window and your friends and colleagues advice and hints would influence or determine what you find. Google reader's share facility is quite close, but there's only one dimension, you can have friends, and they can recommend stuff for you to read. (I think more can be done.)

I hint that one of Technorati's problems is its reliance on in-list. Searching the Workplace Web, written by Fagin, Kumar and McCurley, which I commented on, on this blog in an article called, The Shape of Internet, write about a number of relevance and ordering tests that could be used and specifically argue that within the corporate intranet other sorts and relevance tests may be more appropriate to help solve a number of questions such as authority. They also argue that intranet URL naming is less search friendly and it is clear that the dissipation of people's voice and advice over multiple sites with different naming conventions, often using surrogates or numbers and URL shortners means that the internet is catching up on the early intranet in the chaos of name space. It may be time to review in-list and begin to weight votes for relevance and sort-order.

Are blogs losing their relevance, maybe, maybe not. Well written opinions by disinterested experts will always be valued. As the dross moves to the microblogs, this may liberate the blogs to re-establish themselves as clear voices of expertise. Some of what was observed Richard's post to me may be failures in Technorati, its initial insights are aged and its being out innovated.

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Thursday Aug 06, 2009

Little Big Adventure

I have been struggling to get VRDP from Virtual Box working on my home network, of which more maybe later, but I took a break to install one of the greatest games ever on the home machines with the help of my younger son. We finally found a copy of Little Big Adventure that'll run on modern machines. This is hosted at LBA HQ. It runs native but recommends running under DosBox. So that is what I did...

LBA V1 running on the Alienware under DosBox

I now have two programs that run under DosBox and so place my command files in the Windows shortcut as -c arguments. For more see my bliki articles DosBox and Lba & dosbox. The downloaded archive contains a .iso but I have not worked out how to fool DosBox into thinking the .iso is a CD, but its probably possible so one wouldn't need the CD to be loaded into the cd reader, but unless you sort this out, you'll need to burn a CD.

Long time readers may remember that I put LBA2 on the machine a while ago.

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Thursday Jul 30, 2009

Using Cygwin to manage script Virtual Box tasks

The Virtual Box GUI doesn't do everything one needs and so I have been experimenting with using cygwin, a free to use bash shell library. Having installed CYGWIN the first thing to do is add the Virtual Box program folder to the PATH, in my case,

    export PATH=/cygdrive/c/Program\\ Files/Sun/xVM\\ VirtualBox:${PATH}

I want this placed in the .bashrc so its always invoked, and thus need to test if is already in the path. I use this code,

    type -p VBoxManage.exe > /dev/null
    case $? in
    0)   # Its already there
         : ;;
    1)   # Add Path
         export PATH=/cygdrive/c/Program\\ Files/Sun/xVM\\ VirtualBox:${PATH} ;;
    esac

Now I need to associate a script file type with an execution program. I have tried to use the distributed batch file and binary and neiter of these work, so I have copied cygwin.bat to bash.bat and amended it so that it reads as follows

    @echo off

    :: Dave Levy (c) 2009         Is this GPL?
    :: bash.bat                   Version 1.0

    :: Wrapper to run \*sh scripts from windows explorer/desktop

    c:\\ksh\\bin\\bash --login %\*

I have deleted the -i flag from the bash line, I have made the bash program call absolute, %\* is the DOS batch command file syntax equivilant to $\* i.e. all the command line arguments, so the command line invokes bash.exe in login mode to force the execution of .bash_profile and .bashrc and appends all the other command line parameters including the script file name. :: is a neater comment delimiter than REM. I have associated my batch file with the file type .ksh as the open method using explorer.

Much of CYGWIN is distributed under the GPL and I am unclear if the batch file is included, If so, its GPL since I created the file by copying it.

keywords: howto invoke cygwin scripts from the windows desktop, write a dos batch file to invoke shell

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Tuesday Jul 28, 2009

Twitter grows on me

I have been unable to resist twitter and so have become regularly in breach of my original manifesto. I still make posts which imply my location and that I am not likely to be online for a period but have become involved in conversations and more recently I have been trying to build karma on lazytweet. As a result I have removed the twitter widget, which displayed my most recent tweet from this blog, and replaced it with a twitter button, which takes you to my twitter page.

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Thursday Jul 16, 2009

And Google's Android

In case you havn't heard, Google have ported their mobile phone OS, android to x86, and made a live- cd version and so it can run inside Virtual Box. It looks like this..

Android in VB Screenshot

Since the hardware to make calls isn't available the functionality's a bit limited :)

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Another Virtual Box screenshot, this time Windows 7

This is what Windows 7 beta looks like running inside a Virtual Box.

W7 in VB Screenshot

I have downloaded objectdock and opened a sticky window. Its not very quick, but my first suspicion is that its a bit short of memory. That's the problem with using a 32 bit host.

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Sunday Jul 12, 2009

The personal is the professional, using Google calendar

I have been using Google calendar and the Sun calendar for a while now, and ideally like to read them through one viewer. Today I had to upgrade one of the laptop's I use to connect to Google calendar. The best viewer I have found is Thunderbird via the Lightning add-on. This also needs a second add on, the Provider for Google Calendar. I had to reinstall these earlier today and found this blog post entitled How to integrate Google calendar into Thunderbird very helpful. The other tricky bit is how to find out the login credentials and while one should be able to remember one's Google login and password,the URL of the calendar is a bit trickier. (You need to use the web interface and examine the calendar settings, which the article above describes.)

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Thursday Jul 02, 2009

You'd think I know where I am when at home

Been mucking around with the ipodtouch having rescued it from the family for the last week. I have been subject to the "can't find your location" feature while at home. Google points me at Skyhook Wireless' site at GetSatisfaction and I discover that like Plazes, it uses a database solution, in this case run by Skyhook, who explain how it works on their site. This means that you need to be connected to the net to discover your location, but since that's true of the map application, its not too onerous a constraint.

For a 'touch, I need to find out my router's MAC address, which is harder than I'd like; it doesn't seem to display in the control panel. I was pointed at NetStumbler, but it has to run on an operating system it supports with wireless. NB this seems to exclude Vista 64 and obviously in retrospect my desktops, so on my third install I finally discover the address and use it to update SkyHook's database. I need my Longtitude and Latitude for this, which I have never bothered to record, so I used http://www.streetmap.co.uk to get this because its easy.

I had to wait ten days, but its working now.

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And now I have a Centos VM

The reson for upgrading my Virtual BOx config is to install a Red Hat Centos image. I chose 4.7 because this seems jolly popular within the hosting community and I need a new host for my web servers. Two pieces of advice

  1. Download the x86 DVD image, I couldn't see how to use the multiple disk images with Virtual Box.
  2. It installs an SMP and uniprocessor version and grub is configured to start the SMP version as default. This thread, entitled CentOS 4.7 guest won't start, suggests that one should configure PAE/NX=on for the SMP image. This is not the default. Anyway works for me.

Now I need a manual to help through all those little differences between it and Ubuntu. Is been a couple of years since I played with Red Hat's Linux.

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Virtual Box 2.2.4 & Windows XP

And with one might bound he was free..................

I downloaded Virtual Box 2.2.4 a couple of days ago, but when I tried to install it on my XP SP/3, the install process failed and rolled back. This trouble ticket, #3701 details how to fix the windows registry which was damaged at v2.2.0.

Thanks to those who helped me find it.

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Wednesday Jun 24, 2009

Syncing Google Calendar with the ipodtouch

Milton Stephenson was boasting on Facebook about connecting his Google Calendar to his ipodtouch and I thought "Ooh, I want one of those.". Its not that hard. I had downloaded V3.0 of the appliance operating system a couple of days ago. First, use the ipodtouch's settings application and open the Mail, Contacts and Calendars tab, then select 'Add Account...'

The settings I used were,

  1. Server = www.google.com
  2. User Name = my username, which is not a gmail address
  3. Password = my password
the caldav credentials screen

and it wrote the description and ssl parameters for me. I was advised that m.google.com works as a server parameter, but not for me. Maybe its the non gmail user thing again. This article called Google calendar speaks caldav to the iphone at http://justanotheriphoneblog.com/ was very helpful, and implies that V3 of the operating system is required. So I now have Google Mail available nomadically on the touch.

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Monday Jun 22, 2009

When WiFi's no good

I installed Joikuspot on my new Nokia E71 and this works quite well as a portable gateway. It uses the E71's wireless chip to turn the phone into an internet gateway for wifi devices. Some services were restricted by my network provider in Greece, but definately an additional way to connect my 'touch and laptop to the internet when on the road. This was pointed out to me by Sean Harris.

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Keeping in touch

Like most 'touch users, I am looking for a "keep in touch application". I was pointed at Zensify, a personal network aggregator. Its not quite one network, but gathers the posts from your correspondents in several networks and ceates a feed and tag cloud for you.

a screenshot of Zensify feed screen    a screenshot of Zensify tag cloud screen

I have just subscribed to several really prolific feeds on Twitter, and while I have also pointed my Google Reader at them, I have not yet subscribed to my twitter public timeline using Zensify. I use Facebook instead. I have come to the conclusion that Facebook is not only useful for keeping in touch with real friends but it can turn colleagues into friends, and here it is a way of keeping in touch with people.

I had come to the conclusion, that one should use these tools either as an aggregator or as a publication tool or as an end-point. I had made my twitter feed a publication tool, friendfeed as my aggregator and facebook as an endpoint. Unfortunately since we can't agree on what tool and what purpose, its a not very useful model. One really needs to consider one's readership and also assume they can find your stuff. It's not necessary to make everything an aggregator. By keeping a purpose in mind, one also makes it easier for people to find your referenced content. They don't have to trawl through several pages in your web space.

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