Summer of Love Preview

summeroflove-header.gifThis summer is going to be filled with a lot of travel. I’m taking the summer off after leaving my current role, before I get going on a new thing. Tammy has given it a name, the Summer of Love. We’ve even got a wiki setup to build out our itinerary.

I’ve been asked by a number of people where we are going on our West Coast tour. The cities are listed on the wiki, and you could do a Google Earth Preview of the Summer of Love, but how about a video tour!

If you have suggestions of things that we should do in one of those places, send us a note or edit the wiki directly.

The music in the video is Windfall by Son Volt. One of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite bands. Notably, it is also the traditional first song to begin a road trip with.

Flashback: BigCharts on CNBC

Flashback to February 4, 1998! Here are a couple of videos that I stumbled upon on my machine recently. These are an extraordinary walk down memory lane for me, back to the early days of starting BigCharts.com.

We were still very early in the development BigCharts. There were only a dozen or so people in the company. I was sitting at my desk talking to our ISP about getting some more bandwidth. At the time we had a single T1 with a now trivial 1.5 Mbps of bandwidth, about what my cable modem at home does, and only used about a quarter of that. In those days I always had a TV with CNBC on in my office and this came on the screen with no warning.

I sat in my chair stunned in silence, and then hung up on the person I was talking to. At the time we served BigCharts off of a single Sparc 20 clone. The site ran with a clunky combination of Perl and CGI work sitting behind a very early version of Apache. With that clip on CNBC an avalanche of people started to come to the site. To be fair, back then that probably meant a couple of thousand. I really don’t know how many it was since we didn’t even have log analytics back then. Small numbers in 1998. I tried to get onto the server via console and it wouldn’t respond. The load average had spiked so high that I couldn’t get enough CPU to even get a prompt. We ended up pulling the ethernet cable to kill the traffic just to get onto the machine.

February 4th was a Wednesday. This was the first week that my friend Chris had joined BigCharts. We immediately got everyone together and I sat on the Sparc and figured out what, if anything, we could do. We realized our load average was up over 100 because we were forking Perl processes everywhere. Remember, this was old CGI stuff, no mod_perl here. So on his third day at work I started handing Chris Perl programs that he translated into C and gave me an executable for. As we replaced each piece the next one fell down, and we repeated the translation process.

After a couple of hours traffic subsided and we had converted enough things to native executables that we were okay. So the next day this video segment aired.

I love this bit. It is so quaint. I love how Bill Griffeth gives us a total pass on the site going down. It’s just taken as a given, when a lot of people go to a website, the server goes down. Few things highlight so starkly for me how the web has matured over the last decade.

Anyway, obviously with a mere 24 hour gap and being a startup with no real money we had the same issue. A ton of people pointed their browsers at us, the server got overloaded and we had a challenging couple of hours. If I remember right we just let the system ride through it on the second day since we’d already optimized as much as we could in that window.

Shortly after this we started a total revamp of our code. The final stage was a migration to Windows and distributing on multiple servers. But right away we started to push a lot of things that we were doing in CGI/Perl down into Javascript functions on the browser. If only the concept of a CDN existed back then that would have helped us a lot too.

Ahh… good times.

PS – Final comment. The “viewer” that sent the note into CNBC was our CEO and Founder, Philip Hotchkiss!

Airbags Kaput, What Would You Do?

A couple of weeks ago my aging 1999 Audi A6 Avant decided to start flickering a little red light at me. Kind of like the car was winking at me. A couple of days later, it decided to just blast the light at me. You can see it in the image here, it’s the “Air Bag” light. Sadly, that doesn’t mean your air bags are great. It means they are totally broken, kaput.

Airbag Light

I took it into the shop for other work and got an estimate to fix this air bag situation. Turns out the controller card fails a checksum validation. I had the exact same thing happen with my ABS controller card too and had to replace that. The air bag controller card weighed in at $1,200 to replace. Ouch!

On one hand, this is safety and you shouldn’t cut corners. $1,200 is a small price to pay if the air bags keep you safe. On the other hand, $1,200 is a boat load of money to pour into an older car and I wear my seat belts all the time.

What would you do?

New York Taxis Get Computers

I seem to be on a string of complaints about screens being placed everywhere (annoying ads and zip codes). I admit that being the gadget geek I am, I’m surprised by how offensive I find these intrusions to be. This one I’m a bit divided on though. It seems that the majority of New York taxis have gotten these screens installed that give you the weather, news, location and map information and other stuff.

NY Taxi

I find these things incredibly annoying. You get into the cab and immediately start having this thing blast at you. It’s rude. You should have to press it to activate it. Thankfully you can turn it off and I do that with vigor whenever I get into the cab.

However, there is a great value add here since you can now charge the cab fare on your credit card. This is absolutely great. I love not having to figure out the tip and just swipe the card. In fact, on the last business trip to New York this function saved me from expensing $133.01 in cash. Great! Now if they just quit making you sign the receipts!

Zip Code Insult for Gas

I’ve already written about how annoying it is to be bombarded with advertisements while buying gas. Now they’ve gone even further. I went to buy gas the other day and got this great screen demanding my zip code.

I Just Want My Gas!

Now, this is lame for so many reasons. First, the implementation is so poor that it accepted six zeros as a valid zip code. Six zeroes. Yeah. Secondly, this is a real cheat since you don’t know if the zip code is for credit authorization or marketing purposes. Since it took six zeroes I assume it’s for marketing purposes.

Companies need to start respecting our privacy at least the slightest, tiniest bit. We need to vote with our dollars and avoid these scams, or mess them up with invalid data — like six zeroes.

FriendFeed Duplication via Mashing

I’ve been working with financial news for years now and there is a really common problem in financial news, deduplication. The issue is when several news outlets will cover the same story or even redistribute another sources story, creating duplicates that readers find annoying. As the web becomes more mashable, I saw the first sign of this same problem on FriendFeed today.

One of the people I follow had both Twitter and Tumblr feeding into his FriendFeed. But, he also had Twitter feeding Tumblr. In flowed the dups!

FriendFeed-Duplication.gif

He removed the Twitter to Tumblr feed to stop this, but it was a glimpse of a feature that FriendFeed is going to need to consider. In this instance, deduplication would be pretty easy since the content is exactly the same.

Publisher Party at Hearst Tower

I got a fun opportunity to attend a really nice event hosted by True Ventures, Automattic, Sphere, New York Times and Hearst Interactive at the Hearst Tower. It was a collection of who’s who in the publishing/media sector and some great companies with some innovative web stuff. Big thanks to Raanan over at Automattic for thinking of me. Two fanboy moments of chatting with Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress and Lindsay Campbell formerly of Wall Strip and now at MobLogic.tv.

Jason Calacanis Interviewing Toni Schneider of WordPress on his mobile phone.
Jason Calacanis Mobile Interview

Matt Mullenweg
Matt from WordPress

The Crowd Listening to a Short Background on the Event
Hearst Intro

FriendFeed is Pretty Cool

friendfeed-logo.pngIn September 2007 I came up with the idea of using a Yahoo! Pipe to create the Thingelstad Superfeed. The basic idea was to provide one feed that you could get all my “stuff” with. It seems it was a good idea, since a couple of companies are now doing exactly this. I setup a profile on FriendFeed to play with and I have to admit that I was more impressed than I expected.

FriendFeed replicates a lot of social networking concepts, but to use it as a basic way to consolidate information on friends it works really well. It makes adding additional feeds really simple, and has built in hooks to many of the most popular websites out there.Check it out, you may find it pretty cool, and feel free to add me as a friend.

Pragmatic Studio: Rails Studio Graduate!

rails-alumni-button.pngI graduated! Or, well, at least I got the certificate!

I finally took the plunge this week and took Rails Studio after thinking about it many times. I blogged a day-by-day account — day 1, day 2, day 3. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve coded anything significant and I’m hoping to get a bit closer to it in some projects coming up. This class was my plunge into Rails.

While I’ve been away from the keys for a while, I’ve been very familiar with a number of frameworks and have personally seen teams struggle and thrive in different frameworks. I’ve really taken note of the “weight” of a framework and the effect it has on a programming team. Something that I think is far too often ignored. We focus on scale, “enterprise readiness” (another topic to post about) and forget that at the end of the day a bunch of developers have to live inside this thing — and it needs to be nice and hopefully fun.

Now that the class is over, some thoughts.

Continue reading