Category Archives: Tech Stuff

Longhorn Delayed

Microsoft’s “next generation” operating system (Longhorn) has been pushed back again… this time to sometime in 2007. If memory serves me correctly, it’s now 3 1/2 years behind schedule, and truthfully, I would be surprised to see it before 2010 a this rate. 🙂

Virtual Girlfriend

When I was waiting for my lunch today, I was flipping through a magazine and saw a little blurb about this… I guess it’s a “game” for 3G cell phones. Basically a virtual girlfriend… But the thing I thought was hilarious (genius actually) was you need to buy her things to keep her happy. The catch? The things you buy her (which are virtual of course) cost real money. Why the hell didn’t I think of that? 🙂

//www.v-girl.com/

Write Code To Mimic Evolution In Nature

I had an idea this morning.. Why not write code to mimic evolution where needed?

For example a search engine… their algorithms are constantly being changed and updated to fight spam and whatever else comes along.

It wouldn’t work as well on a small scale, but if you have a large number of end users (like a search engine), I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

Have the system make hundreds or thousands of small random iterations of the existing algorithms (small enough that it doesn’t destroy the results). Then have it feed end users with a random version of the algorithm and keep track of how well it was received. You could say the deeper the user needed to look in the search results, or if they immediately needed to do a different search, then it wasn’t that good of an algorithm change. Then give the “good” changes more weight than the bad, and repeat the process.

It’s survival of the fittest, and becomes an semi-automated way to evolve their algorithms.

My First Yahoo API Use

Mucked around with the Yahoo API a little bit, and I must admit it’s pretty nice. I wish the Google API was as fast and had as much features.

My first useful thing I did with it was I added to the keyword tracker so it can track historical search engine rankings for Yahoo (I also added MSN while I was at it).

Turned out pretty cool… now you can see ranking changes for all three search engines over time on a single chart. Weeeeeee…. 🙂

Mac OS X Server Wish List

I’ve spent a few weeks now with the new Xserves (I’m going to put them physically into the data center tomorrow BTW).

For the most part, Mac OS X Server 10.3 is a very nice server platform (especially when you are using Xserves). But maybe someone at Apple will read my little wish list, so here goes…

  • Make a system-wide shutdown script option. There is a bug in MySQL that prevent the mysqld process from shutting down with the normal kill function, so you end up with corrupt databases on a reboot or shutdown. This could be prevented with a shutdown script that shutdown the mysqld process with mysqladmin.
  • Actually USE the shutdown scripts in /Library/StartupItems/ (this could also solve the mysqld problem).
  • Server Monitor application should be able to monitor the health of the disk RAID when using hardware RAID (not just software RAID). I wrote a cron job that runs every 5 minutes to do this, but still… it should be standard I think.
  • Something should notify me about high loads on the server. I wrote a cron job that runs every 5 minutes to do this as well, but still… it should also be standard I think.
  • IP Failover is nice, but if the backup machine doesn’t give back the primary IP fast enough when it comes back online, you end up with NEITHER server utilizing that IP address. I run a script to do some clean-up before it relinquishes the IP address, which can take a little bit. The primary machine thinks another machine as the IP, and stops checking to see if it will give it up at some point. I solved this by making a script that executes after the IP is relinquished, that essentially shuts off the Ethernet port on the master, then turns it back on. This one could be catastrophic if you just assume it took back it’s IP address.
  • Give me an API to the Server Admin application. Would be nice to get the nifty graphs and stuff for MySQL transactions for example.

Yahoo API

Today at the SES show, Yahoo announced they are following Google’s lead and allowing people to utilize an API for making automated queries without violating their terms of service.

In some ways it’s better than the Google API because it allows you to do more than just web search (you can search images, local, news, video and web). If nothing else, maybe it will be the incentive that Google needs to come out with a new version of their API (the Google API is “beta”, but has not been updated in over 2 years).

One thing I don’t like about the Yahoo API is it’s limited to 5,000 queries per day, per IP address. Google’s method of 1,000 queries per day, per person lets you build killer web apps (like the keyword tracker). But the IP address limitation does not make that practical with the Yahoo API. Either way, it’s really cool they have one now.

Check it out over here:

//developer.yahoo.net/

My Fake MySQL Cluster

Okay, so I have two new loaded (each has dual 2.3Ghz G5s, 8GB RAM, hardware RAID-5 w/ 1.2TB drive space, dual gigabit ethernet, etc.) Xserves thanks to those that donated, and I’ve been mucking around with them for a few days now.

One is going to be primarily a web server, and the other will be primarily a MySQL database server. Mac OS X Server makes IP fail-over really easy, so I setup rsync to keep a copy of the web site content on the MySQL server. If one server goes down (or maybe taken down for an upgrade), the other acquires it’s IP address and can continue to serve the requests. The tricky part is the MySQL database and keeping it in sync between the two machines in realtime.

The “ideal” option would be MySQL Cluster, but it requires your databases to be 100% memory resident, and that just didn’t appeal to me (too much memory and scary if someone decided to pull the plug on all the servers). Although I do know that MySQL is working on a disk based option for MySQL Cluster as well as asynchronous replication (that may turn out to be the same thing).

So instead what I did was setup both servers to be masters and both servers to be slaves to each other. This was in fact VERY easy. Add this to your /etc/my.cnf file on the servers (be sure to create a replication slave user named replicate):

Server 1
[mysqld]
log-bin
server-id = 1
master-host = 10.0.0.2
master-user = replicate
Server 2
[mysqld]
log-bin
server-id = 2
master-host = 10.0.0.1
master-user = replicate

So now I can send all SQL queries to the primary database server’s IP address. If that machine is down, the other server acquires it’s IP address. Once the server comes back online, it will automatically get back in sync.

The thing I didn’t like is a double master setup does not always execute the SQL statement in the same order, so there is a (slight) chance of the databases getting out of sync when the server comes back online and there is a lot of catching up to do. So what I did was setup a simple script to check every 5 seconds to see if the servers are in sync. Once they are in sync again, then it will relinquish the public IP address back to the rightful server (the MySQL servers talk on the private 10.0.0.x network which does not change).

My setup is for redundancy/fault tolerance, not load balancing. Although you could send SELECT statements to the slave db server without any problems (since there is nothing to replicate from that).

This will work for now, until MySQL finishes their native async replication. 🙂

Microsoft Announces Internet Explorer 7

Today Bill Gates announced that they are going to have a beta version of IE7 available by the summer. As an end-user, I could care less. IE sucks and probably will always suck from a security standpoint.

What I *do* like about this, is *maybe*, just MAYBE they will bring it into the realm of a modern browser so people can stop doing stupid/unnecessary things to make sites work with Internet Explorer.

If they add “real” CSS support and proper PNG support (they don’t support transparent PNG images), I’ll be happy. It will give webmasters more flexibility.

Personally, I’m so sick of Internet Explorer’s stupidity, my sites will start leaving IE users in the dust if Firefox keeps gaining market share. “Sorry, this site does not support Internet Explorer. Click here to upgrade to Firefox.”

Google Maps

I’ve been predicting it for over a year now… and today Google finally has released (at least in beta form) Google Maps. It’s a pretty awesome implementation too. It uses vector graphics for one… but a really neat thing is you can drag the map around to where ever you want rather than “click to center” like other systems.

It’s tied into Google local, so you can do cool queries like hotels near balboa park in san diego and the map shows them (with the info you would want).

Now, hopefully the rest of my predictions will come true with it. The ability to overlay the maps on satellite imaging (which seems like it might happen since Google acquired Keyhole last year. My other prediction was traffic data overlaid on the maps (Yahoo seems to have been listening to my wishes because they recently added it to Yahoo Maps).

iPods Take Over Microsoft

A high-level manager at Microsoft anonymously disclosed that 80% of Microsoft employees that have portable music players have iPods (which works out to about 20,000 iPods at Microsoft’s headquarters). Microsoft executives have gone as far as to issue memos “frowning” on the usage by Microsoft employees.

Dave Fester, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Digial Media division sent the following:

“I sure hope Microsoft employees are not buying iPods. We have great alternatives. Check out //experiencemore.”

Now Microsoft employees have started to swap the white headphones with after-market black ones to try and “hide” their iPod usage.

The anonymous source at Microsoft had the following to add:

“These guys are really quite scared. It shows how their backs are against the wall… Even though it’s Microsoft, no one is interested in what we have to offer, even our own employees.”

Kind of funny if you ask me. 🙂 If you can’t win, beg your employees to use your products… Microsoft has enough employees that maybe if they all bought what Microsoft had to offer, it could yield twice their current sales. heh

Project Lightspeed – 25Mbit DSL

This news is 2 months old, but it’s the first I heard about it. SBC Communications (my local provider here in San Diego), decided to ramp up ADSL2+ deployment, and are going to deploy about 50,000 miles of fiber to everyone’s CO. Then use ADSL2+ technology to bring 25Mbit connectivity to the home (new homes will get fiber right to the home). This will allow neat things like HDTV on demand (goodbye cable and satellite), phone and of course Internet connectivity on a single pair of copper.

They are going to start trails this summer, with commercial deployment at the end of this year. By the end of 2007, more than half of all SBC customers will have access to it.

Hopefully San Diego should be one of the first cities, since we have way too much fiber in the ground as it is.

9 + 15% = 35?

Apple put out a minor speed-bump on their G5 Xserve machines (they went from 2.0 Ghz to 2.3 Ghz and nothing else in the system or architecture changed).

The dual 2.0 Xserve could yield 9 gigaflops of raw processing power (which is really fast to begin with). The dual 2.3 Ghz Xserve yields 35 gigaflops of power.

Can someone please explain to me how a 15% increase in CPU speed gives you 4 times more processing power? Seems a little odd if you ask me.

CES Show Brings New Car Audio Stuff

I was waiting for this year’s CES show to see what is available for a car stereo/navigation system for my new car.

It looks like there are some cool new things this year…

Realtime Traffic Map

Alpine and Pioneer have navigation systems that overlay realtime traffic data on your navigation map (data includes traffic speeds, accidents, etc.) and can automatically re-route you for the fastest path though it all. The traffic feeds come from satellite via XM Radio’s NavTraffic system. This is something I wanted, in fact I blogged about it a few months ago.

Alpine Finally Updates Navigation System

It’s finally touch screen compatible. As you can see here, their current navigation system requires a remote. Was totally stupid if you ask me.

Eclipse Updates Their Navigation System

I really like the form-factor of the Eclipse decks because it’s a double-DIN unit (the others are single DIN with a motorized monitor that pops out). It has a built-in 30GB hard drive with the navigation data taking 10GB of space. Which means you get 20GB to store your music. Unfortunately they don’t support XM radio, have an iPod interface or support the realtime traffic data.

Pioneer Gets iPod Adapter

Pioneer’s rumored iPod adapter arrived. Now Alpine and Pioneer both have one. It would be cool if they supported the ability to display cover art on the main deck.

Now, there are two things I want to know…

1. Why in the hell doesn’t Alpine or Pioneer come out with a double-DIN sized deck?

2. Why doesn’t anyone come out with a bluetooth phone control unit?

Have Had The RAZR V3 For Awhile Now

Okay, I take back my one complaint about the RAZR from this post. The contact manager does not require an entry for every phone number, it just works like that by default. You can change the settings to display by Primary Contact instead.

I also noticed something else cool… when I’m using the phone as an Internet gateway (also see other post), you can still send/receive voice calls just fine, and it doesn’t stop/pause your Internet connectivity. That’s neat.

Motorola RAZR V3 + Bluetooth + Powerbook = Bad Ass

I picked up a new cell phone that I had a little blurb about over here. It’s a pretty awesome phone from a design standpoint, in fact my only complaint with anything about it is the address book, which requires a new entry for each phone number they have.

The day after I got it, I was traveling to San Francisco (which is where I’m writing this from). And just for fun, I decided to see if I could get it to act as an Internet gateway for my Macintosh Powerbook wirelessly via Bluetooth. Low and behold, it works! And without even needing to install anything. It just works like magic. 🙂

For those of you that also have a RAZR V3 (or are thinking about getting one), this is the info you need to make it work with Cingular as a Internet gateway for your Mac via Bluetooth:

  • Download these modem scripts, unzip them and drop them into “/Library/Modem Scripts”.
  • Detect the phone with the Bluetooth Setup Assistant
  • When it asks you for the Internet settings, this is what you want:
APN/Telephone Number: WAP.CINGULAR
Account Name: [email protected]
Password: CINGULAR1
Modem: Motorola GPRS CID1 +CGQREQ
  • In the network control panel, go to the Bluetooth setup. Under the PPP Options tab, turn off Send PPP echo packets, Use TCP header compression. Under the Bluetooth Modem tab, turn off Enable error correction and compression in modem and Wait for dial tone before dialing.

Now you should be able to connect to the Internet via your Bluetooth port. Weeeeee… 🙂

Use Gmail To Spam Filter A Different Email Address

I get way too much spam. To the tune of 2,000+ each day. It’s always fun to wake up and sift through 800 emails to find 3 that aren’t spam. I do some client-side spam filtering, but it’s still annoying to have to actually download the emails (especially when traveling and you have a slow Internet connection).

Gmail is by far the best web-based email system I’ve used (it’s fast, clean, etc.), but it’s not practical to use for business (since the domain is always gmail.com). Recently I noticed that Gmail allows you to access your email via POP3 (via SSL, which is really nice!). So I played around with it a little bit, and realized that stuff that gets stuck in the spam folder are not downloaded with you grab your emails via POP3. So then I was thinking, why not just forward my normal email to my gmail account, access it via POP3 like normal and then just have that account on my client setup with my real email address.

Guess what? It works brilliantly. Now I’m not flooded with spam, I don’t have to download spam for client-side filtering and when I send email, it still comes from digitalpoint.com.

The one thing that would make it even better (and make me use it from the web more) would be the ability to set the From address to my non-Gmail address. Currently you can set the Reply-To address to anything you want, but the From is always gmail.com. If that was possible, I would use Gmail’s SMTP server (it’s also SSL enabled) and I would use the web interface for Gmail more.

Bluetooth Phone Control In A Car

You know what I wish someone would do? Come out with a way to control a Bluetooth phone hands free while in your car. The 2004 Acura TL can do it right out the factory. Seems strange that after-market manufacturers like Alpine wouldn’t jump on the opportunity. Not only would it be a hot item, but Alpine systems are modular, so they could come out with a Bluetooth module for $80 or $100 or something and it would work with any Ai-NET compatible deck.

That’s what they did with their iPod controller… it’s just a “magic box” that hides away somewhere, and works with any Apline stereo (that supports Ai-NET).

Just seems like an opportunity for someone to do it, because they would sell a TON of them.

Xbox Media Center

Had a little longer to play with the Xbox Media Center from my previous post, and this thing just gets cooler and cooler the more I dive into it.

  • It has Mplayer built into it so it basically can play any audio/video format without problems including streaming content
  • Audio visualization (like WinAMP)
  • Organizes music, pictures, video, programs, etc.
  • Shows the weather from cities you predefine (pulls from weather.com)
  • Plays Internet radio
  • Supports numerous network shares for media (Windows/SMB, iTunes, etc.)
  • Plays movie trailers (picks them up from Apple’s movie trailer website)
  • Supports Python scripting language, so anything it DOESN’T do, you can make it do

Did I mention that this thing is bad ass? Oh yeah, I did.

TiVo With Ethernet

I was checking out some of the TiVo stuff, and me first thought is why do these things have phone jacks to dial out instead of Ethernet ports? Phone lines are so “old school”. 🙂

I hear everyone talk about TiVo competitors, but I don’t know of any specifically. If someone knows of something similar to TiVo that uses the Internet to get programming data (rather than a phone line), please leave a comment telling me what it is.

Motorola RAZR V3

This is one cool cell phone. It’s a flip phone that when closed is less than 1/2″ thick.

As far as I can tell, it’s only going to work with Cingular service though, and I don’t like Cingular, so I won’t be getting one. But either way, it’s amazing what they can pack into such a small design (quad-band [whatever that means], USB port, MP3 ring tones, camera [with zoom], MPEG-4 support, bluetooth, etc.)

They should make one for Verizon, and then I would switch to Verizon.

Oh, and it’s going to be $700 when it comes out next month. I’ve seen some “unlocked” ones on eBay for a little more as well.

60GB iPod With Photo Functionality and Video

Rumors are running rampant these days about a new 60GB iPod that Apple will be releasing in the next 30-60 days (it’s claimed to already be in production).

New things it has/can do:

  • 60GB hard drive (40GB was the previous largest)

  • Higher resolution color LCD screen

  • iPhoto synchronization for storing photos (I wonder if this means there is a Windows version of iPhoto coming soon like iTunes)?

  • Audio/video out (display your pictures on a TV for example)

  • $100 more than the previous high-end iPod

If this turns out to be true, I’m getting one, I have the original 1st generation 5GB iPod that could use an upgrade.

Xbox Mod Chip

I have an Xbox that I bought 3 years ago (pretty much when they first came out), that I use about once every 6 months. While at a friends house, he showed me his Xbox that was modded so he could copy games and stuff.

While I wasn’t really interested in the copying of games, some of the other things you can do looked interesting enough that I decided to see if I could do something like that without ruining my Xbox.

First up… for $59, I got an Xecuter 3 mod chip which comes with everything you need (except a soldering iron and solder).

I got mine from Mod Chip Man.

Much to my amazement, I soldered everything in correctly to the Xbox motherboard on my first try without ruining the board (it’s been 13 years since I’ve soldered anything).

Then I installed a replacement dashboard… For this I went with EvolutionX (also free).

I haven’t installed much stuff on the Xbox yet, but I did install Xbox Media Center… and all I can say is this one program alone is going to make me actually use my Xbox. It lets you manage your CDs and MP3s, etc. from your Xbox. It has network/Internet connectivity so it can also give you the latest news via RSS feeds, the weather for whatever cities you want and my favorite part… It can mount network volumes from other machines or access iTunes play lists via the network. All I can say is WOW. I would have done this years ago if I knew about it.

Windows Could Benefit From Mac Networking

While sitting in the airport yesterday, I wanted to transfer a 800MB file from my laptop (a Titanium Powerbook) to my girlfriend’s iBook. Her computer is newer than mine, so she was running 54Mbit wireless, while mine was 11Mbit. So I setup a private computer-to-computer network (no biggie).

But here’s the part I thought was cool… it was going to take like 15 minutes to transfer the file because we were limited to the 11Mbit and I didn’t want to wait that long. I had an ethernet cable with me, so I plugged it into both computers just to see if Macs could automatically switch a normal Ethernet cable to a cross-over cable (I figured it was a long shot).

Low and behold, not only did the laptop internally switch it to a crossover cable, but the file copy that was going on automatically switched to the Ethernet cable the second it was plugged in. By the time I could check to see if the computers could see each other via Ethernet, the original file copy that was going on via Airport was all of a sudden done. Either way, pretty slick that it switched a file copy to a different (faster) port automatically mid-copy.

Pioneer iPod Adapter

It looks like Pioneer might be following Alpine’s lead and making an iPod adapter for their car stereos. I couldn’t find any info about it anywhere, but if you look close at the AVIC-N1 specs on Pioneer’s website, it has a little note saying it’s “iPod Adapter Ready”. Hmmm… interesting.

Airline Power Adapter Plug

Since I’m going to be on an 18 hour trip (3 flights) to Moscow next week, I checked to see if there was an off chance that the airline had power plugs in their seats (most airlines do in first class, but I’m not flying first class). And guess what? They DO! And as far as I could find, the airline (US Airways) is the only airline that does have power outlets in the coach cabin. All you need is a normal Empower 15V plug (which I already have). So that will be nice to actually kill time playing a video game, watching 8 movies or whatever else. Yay for US Air!

Now I just need to get an adapter so I can plug the AC power cord into the european sockets, and I’ll be set.

Image Functions In PHP

The image functions aren’t really anything new for me, I’ve done some things (like graphing functions) with the PHP image functions, but I mucked around with some advanced functions (alpha blending of multiple layers and scaling the output). And all I have to say is the PHP imaging functions are awesome (of course most of the credit is because of the GD lib).

But as an example, I made something that can render what any 2005 Hummer would look like (colors, options, etc.) dynamically. It also can dynamically generate thumbnails which ended up being a lot smoother than I thought it would. It’s like modern day paper dolls.

SUV SUT
Base Package:
Color:
Colored Grille
Chrome Brush Guard
Up-Level Chrome
Show As Thumbnail

BTW, this is what mine looks like:

After-Market Car Audio Shortcomings

My perfect system would be this:

  • Double DIN touch-screen controller

  • Video out (to drive monitors in rear headrests)

  • Navigation system that can be controlled from the touch-screen
It doesn’t seem like a terribly tall order, but I don’t think I have any options. Some stuff is close, but nothing is “complete”.

Can’t someone combine all the good stuff into one system? 🙂

Live Traffic Maps In Vehicles Coming Soon

I did a little research about Europe’s ability for vehicles to see traffic and accident conditions in their car automatically (for example overlaid on a GPS map), and I’m a little more educated about it now. It’s called TMC (Traffic Message Channel), and most European countries support it now. It transmits info to receivers via FM transmission towers.

To make a long story short, we are going to be getting it in the United States very soon and will go live hopefully sometime in 2005 via existing FM transmitters. Not only that, but NAVTEQ is coming out with a system called XM NavTraffic, which will let vehicles get traffic data via XM satellite feeds if they are out of range of an existing FM transmitter.

All I can say is, cool. Almost makes me want to wait to buy a car, although I’m sure there will be lots of after-market systems to support it in existing cars.

Displaying Surrounding Traffic In A Vehicle Navigation System

There are websites that can show live freeway speeds, accidents, etc. for US cities.

While doing some investigating into different navigation systems for a vehicle, I noticed something really neat that only European models have. They are able to display traffic and accidents on the navigation map magically (and reroute you to your destination to avoid traffic). So without doing any actual investigation into it, I’m assuming that traffic conditions for a surrounding area are floating around the airwaves for anyone to pick up with the proper hardware.

Now what I want to know is why in the hell don’t we have something cool like that? 🙂

Xbox In A Car

While it would be for no real reason, other than just to see if it could be done, I think I ruled out putting an Xbox in a Hummer 2. There just isn’t enough room to put it anywhere without loosing functional space.

Actually, now that I think about it, I guess it could serve some useful purposes:

  • Something to do when I’m waiting in the car for something (parked of course).

  • Mod the Xbox so you can put a bigger hard drive in it, and put a few hundred DVDs I own on the hard drive so people could watch a movie in the car without actually needing to physically bring the DVD.

Still the problem of no room though. Might be able to gut it and build a ultra-low profile case with just the motherboard and hard drive (drop the case, the power supply and the DVD-ROM), and pop in a smaller DC native power supply (really no point in getting an inverter to convert 12V DC -> 120V AC just so the power supply can turn it back into DC.

Hmmm… {thinking}

Alpine Touch Screen Compatible Navigation

I poked around a little bit, and found out Alpine has a touch-screen compatible navigation system after all (NVE-N099P), which is the one piece missing from the setup I want. The only problem is that it’s only available in Europe and comes with road maps of Europe. I can’t find any dimension specs for it, but from the picture, it looks like it has a much lower profile than the old units, which would be really nice.

While this does me no good, maybe it’s a sign that they will be bringing it to the US market soon.