Friday Aug 10, 2007

Outsourcing vendor selection: email

For years, I've been running my own server where I host my personal site. It's migrated from a Cobalt Raq 3 to a ServInt VPS today, with many iterations in between. And I'm finally done. The hassels of self-administration now outweigh the benfit in my mind. The final straw occured last week when I ran out of space, and email started bouncing. And queing. Including bounce error messages. When I figured out what was finally going on, I had thousands and thousands of error emails. So now I'm on the outsourcing hunt. I've already moved my pictures to Smugmug. Next up, email.

I was expecting this to be the easiest part. I'd just use gmail. After 20 min, I realized one big problem! The POP interface for the iPhone is BAD. First, it doesn't sync deletes. Worse, it gives you ALL your messages, even if they are auto-taged and archived. I'm on a few high volume aliases, and DO NOT want to recieve every one of those messages on the phone with no bulk delete tools.

Yahoo's spam filtering was worthless. I'm getting so much spam I can't find my real email.

.Mac has added server side spam filtering, but it's worse than yahoo. And they have no server-side filter rules for mailing lists. Tons of spam AND all my alias traffic!

I could sign up for a webhoster, but that still keeps me in the business of some adminstration. Anyone out there have any good ideas?

Thursday Jul 26, 2007

It Lives!

After going through all these gyrations, my new iPhone is working. I think for the most part I got the run around. Short of it is that activations yesterday were broken, now they're working. 3 hours wasted. But I'm happish again.

And then I dropped it...

Apparently I'm having IT sagas. My MacBook Pro is now fixed and happy. And then two days ago, I dropped my iPhone. At first, all apeared well. I was on the phone at the time, and nothing happend, I talked away, and was relieved. Later that evening, I noticied that I had dented the case, making it impossible to press the power button. No biggie, it still worked just fine.

Yesterday morning, I went to unplug the phone, and saw my little phone stuck in an infinite reboot state. Apparently the pushed power button was making it unhappy:

With a dead iPhone, I promptly made an appointment at the Apple Store for that evening. In the meantime, I had a totally unusable phone. So I started to have fun. When I would see people I knew, I would throw the phone up in the air and let it crash down (clearly, I was already thinking I needed to buy a new phone). The look in people's face was PRICELESS. This could be great street art - stand on University Ave in Palo Alto, and have someone film passer-by's expressions as I "drop" the iphone very very hard. Amazingly, one of the drops fixed the button, though then the screen wouldn't work anymore.

That evening, I went into the Apple Store and got a new iPhone. And the fun started... Took it home, and activation wouldn't work. All i got was:

Called up AT&T, waited on hold for 15 min, was told to go to the AT&T store and get a new SIM. Raced over with 5 min to go before they closed, and then proceed to wait 30 min for the SLOW SLOW people in front of me. Get home, pop SIM in, same error. Call again, debacle insues with me hanging up by mistake when I meant to press speaker after waiting for 30 min. AMAZINGLY, AT&T rep I'm speaking with calls me back 15 min later on my wife's phone (part of my family plan) to tell me the progress he's made! Even though I hung up on him, he kept working the problem. THANK YOU AMAZING ATU&T rep. Too bad they couldn't fix it.

Finally get escalated again, to a guy who writes down word for word the error message, and tells me that iPhone activations are all wonkey, everyone is having issues, and they'll call me. I point out calling me will be hard without a phone, but give them my work number anyway. They can always leave VM.

It's now been about 18 hours since I first tried to activate my second iPhone, but I continue to have the same error. If I don't hear from AT&T tonight, I guess I'll have to play the phone tree game again...

Friday Jul 13, 2007

Just a tiny vent

Me and IT haven't gotten along so well this week. On Tuesday, as I was busy working away on my Macbook Pro, the HD starting making a "loud nasty sound" (as per the apple repair order). Suffice to say, the HD is dead, my data is gone, and Apple has my computer. Issues:
  1. Went online to reserve some time to get the computer fixed. >24 hours to the next appointment!
  2. Called apple support. Waited 10 min on hold, to find my options include:
    1. Reserve time at a genius bar
    2. Have apple ship me a box, then ship back my computer, wait > 1 week
    3. Go to a local authorized repair center - the closest of which is Micro Center
      1. Call micro center
      2. Have the phone ring in circles for ~ 5 min straight
      3. Give up on that choice
  3. Walked into Palo Alto Apple Store hoping
    1. Find they did actually have a reservation that day
    2. Grab it!
    3. Wait 30 min, don't buy anything!
    4. Give my computer to the awesome (seriously, she was great) "genius" (I hate that name, it's really arrogant - leave it to Steve) who turns it on and notes that it's making a "loud nasty sound".
    5. They don't have the HD in stock (160GB 5400RPM) and sadly though they're ordering me a new one, they can't repalce it with a 7200. Understandable, but a bummer.
    6. Genius calls around to all the local stores, where EVERY one of them makes her wait ~ 5 min to see if they have a HD in stock
    7. Stanford does!
    8. But it's on hold for someone else...
    9. Give up, have her take my machine, prepare my self for a 1 week wait without a laptop
  4. Check my backup, which I kind of knew had failed last time I ran it, but was out of time so was just going to run it again this week...

And then, on top of that, as I'm using my SunRay, I get a notice that I need to change my password. Seems that Sun has a 6 month password policy. So despite the fact that my password is 8 letters randomly generated (D1n%F,6P - and no, I don't have the same password at multiple sites, so typing this won't do you any good) that I have NEVER typed in the clear, that I have NEVER written down, I now need to change it. So I do. And the systems now have me locked out. Call the resolution center, who informs me it takes 24 hours EXACTLY to change passwords. So I can't find out if I'm an idiot and misremembered my password (which is likely frankly) for 5 more hours. In the meantime, I have NO computer (I'm at home still), no email, no backup, no files, so basically, no work. Sigh. Thank god my email (when I get access to it) is IMAP, and all 10,000 messages are on the server.

So the point, besides ranting? IT is HARD. Business expectations in IT are WAY harder than consumer. Even a insanely great company doesn't have it nailed (1 week for a HD replacement!?) Little things add up to huge costs. There's a need for the basics in systems management in all our lives. Tools still aren't perfect.

Sunday Jul 01, 2007

Lemmings and iPhones

I'm a lemming, and bought an iPhone on Friday. And I'm a fairly happy lemming. I'll leave the stories for later; for now, some notes of interest about the thing:

  • It reports all crashes back to Mr. Steve. Check out /Library/Logs/Crash Reporter/Mobile Device/YOUR iPHONE NAME/
  • Email is not a primary focus for this thing.
  • Unlock screen shows SMS and missed calls. Doesn't show any indication of email
  • Needs a unified mail inbox, or better way to switch. Four taps is annoying
  • Works great with my Ice-Link in the car. iPhone gave a standard error message about "not made to work" but I hit no, and all worked great. Music was playing, Olivia was able to use the other features of the phone no problem at the saem time. CAn't browse music on the iPhone while playing. Best part - how it handles incoming calls! Music fades down, and ring is played through car speakers. Answer normally. Speakerphone didn't seem to work. Ideal setup for a BT headset.
Finally, I've now crashed it twice. No power button or battery to pull kind of freaks me out. In fact, my iPhone was just sitting dead and blank for he past 2 min, then by itself the screen just turned on and now all seems well. Watchdog - don't fail me!

Friday Jun 15, 2007

Sun Connection Inventory Channel launch wrap up

Thanks to everyone who made our Sun Connection Inventory Channel launch go over so well. The team really pulled together, and I'm extremely pleased with the end result.

During the hectic weeks leading up to our release, Michael Coté took the time to sit down and listen to our pitch around Sun Connection Inventory Channel. He's posted a very cool video interview/demo. Go check it out, and let me know what you think!

The Sun team has put together some amazing resources as well that should cover any questions:

We received some good coverage across the web. Original articles can be found at:

Sunday Jun 03, 2007

Fedora 7

Installed Fedora 7 today. Notes and observations:

I don't know why, but it took over an hour and 30 minutes to install on my MacBook Pro in VMWare Fusion Beta 3. Fedora Core 6 took under 20 min.

They have added an interesting hardware reporting tool - Smolt. The client runs on first login (two screenshots here. All sorts of interesting statistics, including right now VMware is the #2 HW platform they've seen installed @ 6.6%. Another one, it looks like they've had 10,000 updates in the past 2 days. Those are some interesting usage numbers.

The X server seems to have built in support for VMware of some kind. I get the nice transparent mouse control thing where you can just move the mouse out of the VM and the host gets control back again.

Nice add/remove software controls. Cote seems to be infecting the world with his big fonts. My god, the pacakge manager fonts are big. BROWSE! Still not as slick as the ubuntu synaptic manager. Polish isn't there, still a little overwhelming. Project Indiana take note. :)

Thursday May 24, 2007

I have what?

I don't know what the weather is like where you live, but yesterday was one of those days that makes my soul happy. Got home, took the dog for a walk to the grocery store, picked up some dinner, ate outside, and all is good.

When the weather turns nice like this, thoughts seem to go to "spring cleaning". I have no idea why, maybe opening the windows, airing the house drives some need to air our psyche as embodied by our closets. My closet is... interesting. I seem to have 1000 hangers. Some have clothing on it. Some are empty and sad. Some are on the floor. Some of the clothing is so old it deserves a more dignified retirement than a crumpled ball. Some has been missing for months. Nothing is folded and organized like I wanted anymore after a few months of use.

I'd argue that IT labs/datacenters/whatever are like my closet. I started my career as a sysadmin, and nothing brought me more joy than the perfectly organized new racks with pretty color coded cabling. (yes, that is as sad as it sounds). But after just a few months (days?), everything looked, well, like the image on the left. . And if the cabling looked that bad, you can only imagine what the machines themselves must have been like. We had NO idea what was running, what wasn't. We didn't know what OS we had, what software was running. What machines had died and been removed, nothing. Like my sad closet.

It would have been great if we had an easy automated way to discover what we had. Barcode scanners be-gone! Zap! to the stupid paper sheet taped to each rack for tracking. And beyond just finding what we have, discovery has hundreds more uses. Programs can use it to discover other copies, do smart things like maybe cluster or auto-configure, or any one of a million other things. Maybe even figure out how to clean up my closet?

We here thought this would be a fun problem to try and solve. So starting Real Soon Now (TM), we'll be embedding discoverability into all of our products. Want to know what you have? Easy! Want to do something really clever? Done. If you're curious to find out more about the technology, you can read the faq on service tags. Steve has a more serious look at service tags, and the value of discovery as well, well worth a read ASAP. Look for more information on how we're using this technology soon! And in the meantime, clean up your datacenter, AND your closet.

Wednesday May 23, 2007

Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you

It turns out, business is hard. One of the hardest things is knowing who to be worried about. Due to so many external worries, most companies decide to limit the internal competition. "Don't cannibalize our own sales", or "don't release a product that undercuts this other product."

This doesn't work. We're in tech. Tech is an innovation driven industry. As Clayton Christensen points out in "The Innovator's Dilemma", if you wait till the innovative opportunity is large enough it's too late. Will Herman over at 2-speed has a great blog post on this today: Cannibalize yourself.

We should all be looking for ways to put ourselves out of business, every single day. Play both sides of the innovators dilemma - cannibalize yourself on the low end with new innovative products, and use the freed up resources to focus on the high end as well. If you don't, someone else will.

Friday May 18, 2007

Google updates analytics

Looks like google updated their analytics program. Very web 2.0 now and pretty. Great usability, amazing features, free, I love it. But why can't I group or bucket my data? I have very peaky traffic, and would love to see data by week, instead of by day. grrr.

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Monday May 14, 2007

Keeping up with the Jonses

I don't know if I'm "special" in a shortbus kind of way, or if most tech people are like this, but I'm obsessed with keeping up to date on the latest versions of my software. Clearly with the success of sites like MacUpdate and VersionTracker I'm not entirely alone.

But keeping up always has it's costs. Today, thanks to the truly awesome Sparkle module that all the cool mac kids are using these days, Adium prompted me to download and install an update. Easy peasy, and I'm running 1.0.3. Which crashes. And crashes. And crashes again. And crashes. Waste 20 min online, find there's a bug, and downgrade. But ick.

I'm also running these days, and using a Nike Plus which I love (look for a post on it shortly). Yesterday, after a nice 5K run, I plug it in and iTunes offers to upgrade the device. Of course, I say yes. And somehow it loses my 5K run. It's on some screens on Nike's site, but not others. Grrr.

Finally Steve pointed to an interesting blog from Illuminata: on outdated virtual appliances. The beauty and attraction of a virtual appliance is the "just works" aspect. But what happens when "just works" means also up-to-date. As the above examples show, it's a real challenge. But frankly it's a challenge that is eminitly resolvable. One way: provide tools to easily roll the appliance, and have the project maintainer keep their own appliance (thanks rPath!) Another might be to provide auto-updating functionality as part of the core appliance platform, along the lines of what Sun Connection offers. Or maybe we just need sparkle for appliances. Regardless, this is going to be fun!

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Thursday May 03, 2007

What is Sun Connection?

One of the products in my team is Sun Connection. It's a great patching tool, with a ton of happy customers. Now, if you're like me you can read a thousand pages, see a ton of slides, but until you play or see the product, it's all meaningless. So without further ado, a great 10 min demo on Sun Connection

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Monday Apr 23, 2007

Participation report

Charlene Li @ Forrester has just posted a new report and blog entry on "Social Technographics". The chart below may be worth the price of admission.

Wednesday Apr 18, 2007

Manage those contacts

It turns out there are a lot of people in the world.

Duh. Anyway, it also turns out that info about those people is important, and being able to share it with coworkers even more so. Web 2.0 gods 37signals put out an amazing contact manager a month ago. Highrise is really the perfect solution for some of the things one of the small teams I'm working in tries to do - share some contacts, info on who they are, where we met them, and how we might engage in the future.

I love the fact that it isn't the ultimate solution - no outlook plugins, no "live in your contact manager" philosophy like ACT, just a nice and focused approach to contacts.

Happy now Ken?

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Tuesday Apr 17, 2007

Timezone issues with ecto and roller

Any sun and mac people know the answer to this? When I post in Ecto to my Sun blog, the blog entry shows up as pending for exactly 7 hours in the future. Clearly a timezone issue, but I sure can't find where to fix this. For those reading this at 4:40am PST - see!

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