Today is a good day to code

MySpace.com Switches From ColdFusion to Blue Dragon

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: ColdFusion, Microsoft, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

MySpace.com Switches From ColdFusion to Blue Dragon

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperWhen MySpace decided to stop using ColdFusion recently, many ColdFusion developers felt somewhat betrayed by the change. Many even suggested that it wasn't the best engineered solution. By that they were hinting that by using fusebox, no one has said which version, and ColdFusion 4.5 / 5 they weren't working with the best that Macromedia had to offer.

New Atlanta claims in their press release that using the exact same code, MySpace was able to reduce their CPU usage by 50% under heavy load. They also claim that this result could not be duplicated with ColdFusion MX. I believe both of these claims. Most ColdFusion developers are loathe to admit it, but Microsoft has a pretty good thing going with C# right now. The ASP.net framework is decent, it performs extremely well in every test I have seen, so I am not suprised that by using ADO.net and ASP.net they were seeing gains like this. The biggest problem with any scripting or programming language comes down to the drivers when using an external resource. Web development is no different. When your database connection pool reaches it's limit, it just can't create any more connections and requests get queued. There is no way around this except to get better database drivers. I have seen JDBC fail miserably time and time again, especially with SQL Server 2000 in this area. One of the biggest causes of that 100% CPU utilization seems to be in the JDBC driver when the database doesn't respond in a timely fashion. I don't know what causes it, but it happens when I am working with a complicated dataset. It isn't even that the memory usage is too high and the server is thrashing, the CPU just goes to max and starts refusing connections. The only solution to this is to kill and restart the JRun instance. After that it behaves well again until it crashes.

In all fariness to Java / J2EE, I have only experienced these issues while working with ColdFusion Enterprise on Windows based systems, this doesn't seem to happen on Linux, at least in my experience. Since MySpace was so heavily invested in both ColdFusion and Windows hardware, I guess they had no choice but to use New Atlanta's Blue Dragon. Still, what most programmers have to realize is that at the end of the day, it is the tool that delivers the best that will be used. No matter what we feel about Microsoft, ASP.net is fast and stable in it's newest iteration. One of the advantages to ASP.net is that it automatically fixes it's memory leaks. This is something that Macromedia desperately needs to build into JRun. ColdFusion is sometimes slow and is often buggy when dealing with some of it's advanced features. Experienced CF developers know how to deal with most of this so it doesn't come into play very often, and I'd bet that with higher quality Microsoft SQL Server JDBC drivers, and the application of good design patterns and reusable CFCs they could have gotten better results out of the CFMX server. But as the CEO of New Atlanta said in his blog, to rewrite all the code to take advantage of components, invocation, and var typed variables is beside the point. They made the decision that would best serve their business. If their code was reusable or not is immaterial after the fact.

Still, I find ColdFusion's performance to be reasonable. I wouldn't call JSP / ColdFusion a speed demon any day, with light load, PHP blows it away with 10 users on it, but once you scale that up to 100,000 users concurrently, then Java starts to shine. Since Microsoft shamelessly copied Java with C# and improved on it, it is no suprise that ASP.net performs as well as it does since it has native OS support in Windows Server. No one uses ColdFusion because it is the fastest from the execution standpoint, they use it because it is the fastest language to develop in.

Another interesting point would be if Microsoft were to acquire New Atlanta in order to integrate ColdFusion support directly into IIS. This would give Macromedia / Adobe some competition and force them to fix some of the issues they have let languish in CF. It wouldn't be too suprising a move since they are seriously evaluating building PHP support directly into IIS. I'll bet that it wasn't even that tough for New Atlanta to port their J2EE version of ColdFusion over to ASP.net due to it's support for C# and Microsoft's Java source to C# source conversion tools. It, of course required some optimization, I'm sure, but I'll bet it is smokin'. Maybe I'll download it and try it.

New Atlanta
New Atlanta CEO's blog
House of Fusion MySpace Conversion Discussion


Reaching into the Cradle for Programmers

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Google, Microsoft, Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Reaching into the Cradle for Programmers

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperOne of the biggest issues facing America, other than Katrina of course, is that we will lose our cometitive edge in programming, especially in the face of offshoring and the like. One of the ways in which to combat this eventuality as I have commented on earlier in my blog is to add value to our programmers. One thing to look at is what makes up a good programmer, or not good but rather an effective programmer.

Effective programmers may not be the best at all the technical tricks in programming, but they can take a set of good specs, some user feedback, or a problem and churn out a piece of software that solves that problem. The ability to do this comes not from college, or advanced courses in algorithms using C++. This ability is established at a much earlier age. Probably somewhere between ages 3 and 5. Most of the people that I consider to be good programmers started writing code at around age 10, and have a strong artistic bent. Usually around the same time as they start writing code, they begin to take things apart to see how they work, to quote a friend. These traits should be sought out in elementary school, and should be encouraged through high-school. Many would say that this takes the self-determination out of a child's path to adulthood. I would argue that it helps them find their path, many of these kids would want to be programmers, if they knew what it was to be a programmer. Most of them are strong problem solvers, even if they aren't that good in math.

For the most part, the extreme emphasis schools put on learning math to be a good programmer is ludicrous. Obviously if you are developing new encoding codecs or security algorithms you have to be good at math, but that is only one kind of software development. There are many other aspects of software problem solving that don't involve that kind of math. Also, people can continue to learn math outside of school, even though most don't.

A good way to start your child down the path is to keep them assembling blocks of logic to solve a problem. There are many games, especially video games, that enforce this type of thinking. To maintain our lead, we have to enhance our kids' creativity and their interest in software development. There is still plenty of work to be done, just look at most web sites, web applications, and operating systems. They are hardly ideal. This is why Google and Microsoft are coming under so much criticism from their recruiters. They focus mostly on the education, but that hardly makes one a good programmer and therfore are often turning their nose up at creative individuals who could make an immediate impact. Developers take many strange and divergent paths to get where they are, it takes a good recruiter to understand those paths to hire good programmers when they find them.


Another Possible Twist on Intel Mac

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Microsoft, Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Another Possible Twist on Intel Mac

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperAgain, I am engaging in idle speculation on the heels of the underwhelming Apple media event, as well as Steve Jobs pulling out of the keynote. Many people have begun to wonder why indeed Apple is not sticking with the PowerPC architecture. It isn't clear whether or not IBM can make a 3 GHz G5 part, or whether they can get a chip's power requirements low enough to deliver a G5 PowerBook. In fact, it is pretty clear that a dual-core 2.5 GHz part would be at least as powerful as a similar part from Intel. Now, I must preface this by saying that I don't truly believe this one myself, but I am, as I often do, pondering the possibilities.

Let's say that in a bizarre parallel universe, Apple after releasing the multi-button, multi-function mighty mouse that is fully compatible with computers running Windows, decides that they can make more money out of building iPods and computer hardware than they can in releasing software. They have realized that what makes their products compelling is their design, and not in actuality their operating system.

The result of this revelation. Apple decides to produce all of their iLife applications as well as GarageBand for the PC. They will continue to sell Macs of all types and iPods, but they decide to phase out OS X in favor of pre-installing Microsoft's Vista. Since most of their profit comes from hardware, to the shareholders this seems like a good move. It would also explain why the Mighty Mouse is designed to work so well with PCs, and why Apple has been so explicit about not doing anything to prevent users from running Windows on their Macintoshes.

Now, why this would be a very bad move. On my very long drive back from Las Vegas, I was listening to the TWiT podcast. They brought up the fact that CP/M was a lot like Apple way back in the day. They had the leading operating system for PCs and they locked it into their hardware. Eventually IBM decided to get into the game with an operating system that would run on any intel based hardware, regardless of the vendor. Soon, Microsoft wrote an operating system that was superior to the one that IBM made, but was company agnostic, it didn't care who's hardware it was running on as long as it made the system requirements. After a while, all anyone said about CP/M was “CP/M who?” Apple's current strategy of lock-in is similar to CP/M's. This strategy obviously didn't work for CP/M, and isn't working for Apple. Without the iPod Apple's computer division isn't doing all that well. If they licensed their OS, they could do at least as well as Microsoft. But they would have to drop their hardware line. What they could be thinking about is that they could be like Dell and sell hardware with the OS preloaded. They could then focus on their hardware margin. But here's where this would destroy Apple. The problem is knock-offs. Whatever they came up with, they would have something like a one week lead on the design, before it was reverse engineered and sold on the market here for hunderds of dollars less. Right now, even though there are cases that look very similar to the G5, no-one, even Microsoft, has been able to reverse engineer the operating system to any truly successful level. Just a few thoughts….


IE7 Using CURI to Handle URI Objects

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Microsoft, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

IE7 Using CURI to Handle URI Objects

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperWhen some people think of the issues plaguing much of Microsoft's software, they often think that it is the result of lazy coding. Sometimes that is the reason there are issues, other times it could be the deadlines the team had to meet, or it could be that no one actually thought that the potential bug could be a real issue. One of the issues that web developers have had to work around since IE 5 came out was the 2KB limit on URL strings. Another issue was that hackers had the ability to send a malformed URL string to IE to fool it into thinking that their site was a trusted site. Then they could wreak havoc on your computer by sending IE awful Active X commands to trash your system.

IE 7 so far doesn't look like it has a bunch of sexy features, but under the hood Microsoft is really working hard on this release. From the partial standards compliance to running IE under a reduced permissions sandbox if you will, they are really working hard to try to get people to trust the internet again. If that wasn't enough, Microsoft is building tools into IE to detect if a site is on a list of “bad” sites that Microsoft will keep. But one of the coolest enhancements to me is the CURI object. Basically it is a struct that allows a programmer to handle it as such. Since it is not a string, it is possible to validate the CGI variables apart from the rest of the URI. If someone were to try to slip a malformed URI down the pipe, the validation of that CGI string would fail as would the attack. In IE 5 and later, the CGI string was handled as a string and passed around the code. String variables give the developer limited abilities to validate parts over other parts. There are many sub-string functions and libraries out there, many are built into the development languages, but they cost the developer in performance. Was Microsoft lazy, who can say, but it seems as though they are working hard to make IE 7 everything that 6 should have been.

Microsoft's IE Blog


The MSN Bot

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Microsoft, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

The MSN Bot

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperA few days ago, I noticed that the MSN bot had been hitting my RSS feed more than any sane bot should. The MSN search team at Microsoft have said that they are experimenting with the web droid. Some publishers are complaining about this because it seems that in some cases this is causing their bandwidth to average over the amount guaranteed in their hosting agreements.

While having to pay more for hosting can be a real pain, MSN's propensity to recognize RSS feeds and keep checking them for updates is a good feature, seeing as some bloggers post all the time, and blog readers want up to date information. Services that use the rpc-ping system, like Technorati typically do a very good job of crawling to get the latest blogs, only when there is an update. Perhaps Microsoft could implement this sort of function into MSN search, although it might be difficult with only 5.5% of the market to get people to actually use it.

Jeremy Zawdony – Dear MSN Bot


Possible Apple and Google iTunes Deal

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Possible Apple and Google iTunes Deal

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperI am really ambivalent on the possibility of a deal between Google and Apple to help the search company figure out how to deploy a music solution similar to Yahoo's launch. Google hasn't been making software for Macintoshes. I am still waiting for Google to release Google Earth for the Mac. It shouldn't be that hard, since they already have a direct 3d implementation. I could see if it were, perhaps using Direct X, or using Active X controls to display it in the browser, but this is a standalone program. Does Google really care about the Apple users out there? On the flip side, there is a really strong business case for the deal.

If Google were to feature songs in the iTunes music store it would be possible for them to expand their iPod penetration even further than the amazing levels it has reached. Believe it or not, the numbers say that the once rabid iPod acquisition rate has begun to plateau, and profitibility of the devices has been diluted by the proliferation of the iPod Shuffle. Still, the problem is that most of the people I know who live in the middle and south-east of the country don't really understand the iPod, podcasting, napster, or anything. Many of them still frequent CD stores. The iPod is mainstream in America's big cities, but it is still fringe on main street America. Google has managed to penetrate much of that market, to a much higher level than the iPod, and Google is a trusted name, much the way Westinghouse was in the fifties and sixties. For Apple to tie itself to Google's image can only be a good thing.

Google, however should take care. Any such deal is going to further Microsoft's already boiling ire. They aren't ready for all-out war with Microsoft at this time, no matter how rich they are. Google is still very dependent upon Microsoft's technology as they have the OS market. When the Google OS comes out…. Sporting a thin client Linux system with a slick interface and applications delivered over the web, then Google will be ready. While they are probably working on something like this behind the scenes, they are wisely not parading it in front of Microsoft. Still, as paranoid as Microsoft is, Google should not tie itself too much to the rival Apple, although it would be better for customers, me in particular as a Mac user, it may not be wise to wake a sleeping giant by shouting in their ear.


Whirlwinds of Code and Forming Design Patterns

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: ColdFusion, Microsoft, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Whirlwinds of Code and Forming Design Patterns

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperOne of the biggest issues with understanding object oriented programming is getting over its associated terminology. Most developers whether they realize it or not have formed design patterns, and use them all the time. If an established developer were to look at their code, they would often see that their application was broken down into data access and storage components, display components, and the logic that allows them to successfully communicate. When asked to bring a system from one application to another, they can usually do it with little to no modification. This is the idea behind design patterns.

In an interview yesterday I realized that I had better take a more aggressive look at design patterns. Understanding the terminology may be tough, but it is an excellent way to communicate an application's business needs, especially using UML, as well as getting down to the lowest level of describing the objects that will comprise your frameworks. I have always tried to get a firm handle on design patterns, but they have largely eluded me. I have understood simple systems like breaking your code into well defined model-view-controller layers, and using messaging to communicate between layers, but I have never really been able to understand the more advanced concepts. In the interview I noticed that I was designing with some object oriented concepts by using Fusebox, even if I didn't know what to call them, but ignoring some of the more specific ones.

Programming is often like the game Dark Cloud for the PlayStation 2. For those who haven't played the game, it is a role playing game in which the player travels around their world trying to re-assemble their world, which was scattered by an evil genie. The player is provided a weapon which is pretty weak to start with, and by travelling around the world, they can gain objects which make their weapon stronger. When they get enough objects, they can merge their objects permanently into the weapon, increasing its effectiveness. They then begin the process anew, adding objects to the newly enhanced weapon until they can merge it again. When you have better weaponry, the player can gain pieces of their world more quickly and can assemble more complex worlds in shorter time. It is like this with programming. Often I feel as though code is whirling around me and once I have that “aha!” moment it merges and becomes something solid for me that enables me to take the next step. Building large applications has caused me to develop different frameworks or APIs for me to use. For example, most of my applications require search, so I have developed a pretty thorough search framework, made up of components, that can be moved with little modification. I wouldn't have known that it was that, but it is.

Today, or last night rather, I had one of those “aha!” moments, the moments we all write software for. I was finally able to put names to some of what I was doing. Now that I am beginning to understand, I can see why it would be hard for experienced object oriented developers to explain to procedural developers how to do OO design. You just begin to think differently. I can see about ten areas in which I can improve my search API / framework to make it more portable. The hardest part is finding the dragon, slaying it is easy. In other words, associating design patterns to what you are doing is hard, once you can put names to faces so to speak, the rest is simple. For a while I could never understand why people were so excited about Microsoft enabling the use of C# in SQL Server 2005. But now I can see, you can create an entire data access framework all on the database server, abstracting the underlying database and its queries from the application. It would be possible, in a web application, to completely separate the model from the controller and view layers. This has huge benefits in code maintenance because you could have any number of applications using the data access framework through web services.

What really dragged it together for me was why Java was so tough. I realized that it was tough because my mostly procedural mind was trying to write a program thinking about what each class should do instead of things like what does this class know about itself, what is it's purpose. How do the methods inside it work to help it achieve its purpose. In short I was trying to write a simple program, instead of thinking about a toolset to help me achieve my goal. With Java, you have to diagram, you have to chart or you will just get lost. Even objective-c makes more sense, with over-riding the init method for objects. These things didn't make sense before, but now I am getting it. I still have a long way to go, but I think I'll start working with Mach II, even if there is a performance hit. That is a little more OO than Fusebox, but Fusebox is a great foundation for it.

All that being said, there are still some instances where you can go too far with data encapsulization. For example if you had a table that had contact information in it. You wouldn't want to return each row, create a struct out of it, then set an iterator method to go through each struct, then each element of the structs, at least not in ColdFusion. Iterating over a query is something that the built-in elements of ColdFusion do fairly well anyway so building frameworks to disassemble a query object, then re-assemble it as a bunch of structs is probably an un-necessary layer of complexity for most applications. So like anything else, discretion is required. Now I'm ready to tackle the UML book and hopefully figure out how to use that nifty ID3 tag reader framework for Objective-C that I downloaded a while back and couldn't quite figure out how to use. I've got Macintosh applications that need to be developed.

Here are a few of the sites that helped me get to the “aha!” moment.
Macromedia exerpt from 'Design Patterns'
ColdFusion object factories, the Composition CFC
Introduction to the Mach-II framework


The Microsoft Trinity

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, Google, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

The Microsoft Trinity

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperThis maneuver makes sense in the business world, but it has yet to be seen if Microsoft can truly let these vast entities they have created within the company function independently enough to behave like companies. I think that Microsoft didn't go far enough with the reorganization. It may have been better if they had broken the company up further.

The MSN group should remain on its own, however it should have the full backing and cooperation of the other units. They should focus on adding more web functionality to their applications, like automatic backups for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to a virtual drive so that you could work on things on the road and away from your personal computer.

What Microsoft has done may improve their ability to react to Google, but that is the operative word, “react.” They will not gain a greater ability to innovate. Their organization won't allow it. They are too tied to their established business cash cow. What will happen however is that Google will see this as throwing down the gauntlet, and they will accellerate their pace for world domination.

In a nutshell, here's how I see things shaping up. Google will launch their nationwide Wi-Fi service that will be free, mostly secure, high-speed internet for everyone. This will be followed by a huge surge in advertising revenue, anticipating the expansion of their market. Microsoft will launch something that is vaguely the same, several months to a year later. Then Apple will release Mac Mini's with Intel CPUs first. This will prompt many PC users to buy a mini just so that they can get their hands on OS X for intel, which will by some amazing feat be cracked at launch to run on any PC. This will do two things for Apple. The first is that it will undermine sales of Windows Vista, second it will increase their Mac sales numbers because they will be moving product. Google will follow with more business oriented applications based entirely on the web, using their desktop application as a vehicle. They will start building widgets for the macintosh that mirror those available through the dashboard. This dual-attack on Microsoft will prove to be too much. Microsoft will remain around, constantly behind Google and Apple and will end up like Sun supplying products to the top 1% of the market while enjoying none of the fame of Google and Apple. Apple will be back where it should have been all along; as the dominant computer manufacturer. Microsoft will remain a close second, but they will continue to slip away until they perform another reorganization.

That is the future. Put it in your pocket right next to your iPod nano!


Ridiculous Microsoft Hatred

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Microsoft, Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »

Ridiculous Microsoft Hatred

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperEither the people who are asking for Microsoft to scrap Windows Vista are super-elite programmers who are completely beyond reproach, or they have never written a stitch of code in their life. How could anyone ask a software company to guarantee that their software will not contain any bad code? All developers, no matter what type of code you are writing, know that code is buggy. There is no way to completely debug something as complex and backward compatiable as a Microsoft operating system.

To come to Microsoft's defense is strange for me, but one has to realize that they did a bang-up job in getting Service Pack 2 out for Windows XP when they found a problem. They managed to fix the most egregious holes without completely breaking the operating system. They spent more money in that one free upgrade than many software companies spend in research and development in an entire year. I'm sure they are working overtime to make sure that Vista is as safe and stable as an operating system can be. Especially when your users try to install ten year old software, and buy equipment from obscure overseas vendors who have no quality control for their drivers or hardware, and then complain about their computers being unstable.

I won't be buying Vista because I'm not a windows user, but if I do actually switch back, I'll want Vista because it will be the best Microsoft can offer. It sounds like some people just hate Microsoft because they exist.


What Does Google Want With Weak AOL?

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Companies, Google, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

What Does Google Want With Weak AOL?

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperI'm sorry, but Google buying AOL would be a huge waste of money. First off AOL has nothing that Google doesn't have, and buying it to compete with Microsoft would be stupid. The analysts still don't get it, Google isn't afraid of Microsoft, or anyone for that matter, nor should they be. They are the 500lb gorilla of search. You could take MSN search, multiply it by two, add AOL search, then add the traffic of all the other search engines sans Yahoo and it wouldn't add up to half of Google's search traffic.

The reason Time Warner is of course considering selling AOL to Microsoft is because it is lame. There are only two good things that have come out of AOL in the last decade. The first is AIM, the second is Winamp which does indeed whip the llama's ass. Still, the success of Winamp has not lead to a decent music service, and AIM has not lead to anything except a great platform with an annoying client. They just launched an email service for non-AOL members a little over 6 months ago. They are cash rich and bloated.

For that matter, two sagging fat companies like Microsoft and AOL does not a Google killer make. Why can't they see this? If they read more Sun Tsu – The Art of War, which should still be required reading for any executive in corporate America. Everyone needs to write off broad-based search. Google has won, there is no catching them. Instead they should focus on what they do that Google doesn't in an effort to contain them to search. By trying to follow them in whatever they do, they are following their plan. That is one of the over-riding concepts to the Art of War, if your enemy is larger and more powerful than you are, you have to annoy them into making a mistake. Having them follow you all over creation will weaken them, and allow you to destroy them at home. In this instance Microsoft will follow Google on everything they try to do, while taking their focus more and more off their operating system only for Google to release the Goffice and the GoogleOS. Effectively destroying Microsoft. What Microsoft should do is focus on making Office more available on the web, meaning web based Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for enterprises. They should be focusing on making Vista more than Windows XP service pack 3, it should be robust and provide new and amazing features.

AOL should focus on getting its large base of rural customers onto broadband even if it means losing money. That is the only way to push in the TV over IP that the TimeWarner partnership was supposed to bring. The fact that the majority of their users are on dial-up should signal a problem for them, in addition to the growing impatience of their parent corporation. If they weren't so fat, they would wake up and realize they need to do something right now other than looking for another sugar daddy to keep them providing the same stale services they have been serving up for the past decade.

Other than Yahoo, no one has been able to change their business model to fit Google. Obviously both of them have been reading the abovementioned book. They are playing each other perfectly. Watch that space as the battle between Yahoo and Google will be the future of computing. Short of a miracle of clarity, which Microsoft is capable of, they are going to go the way of IBM. Rich, but not important to the cutting edge of information technology.