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Databases .. what would we do without them?

October 24, 2008

In my daily life I use many, many databases. Not only do I use databases, I create them for other users to manipulate and fill with data. Among my many duties in my current job, one of my primary functions is in- house programmer and “IT Guy”. Over the past year I have developed and deployed a business management system (that I still work on daily) focused at helping us run our business in a much more efficient manner. Unfortunately I can’t show that to you because it is proprietary. However, there is another database that I use, and probably many of you use as well, and that is Facebook.

Facebook is a social networking website similar to MySpace and Linked In. At the site you can interact with friends, find old friends to reconnect with, and play games. It’s quite addicting! Behind the scenes there are several databases that store billions of billions of bytes of data. Most of this data is general information about yourself, where you are from, what are doing now, who are your friends, and communications between you and those friends.

The overall design of the database seems very good. It has a quick response time though some of this response time is dependent on the internet itself. Considering this database probably contains many, many tables it responds well. For example if I want to see all of my friends I can pull that up in a page. It can then tell me what friends I have in common with them and will let me drill down further into those people’s profiles to learn more about them. The site also keeps statistics on my game scores and compares them to my friends so we can compete to see who has the biggest brain or the fastest fingers. In some cases, it’s who plays more often.

I believe this site is designed very well. I base that on my own opinion as it reacts well; however this site is extremely popular and it would not be so if it were difficult or cumbersome to use. In comparison to it’s competition I feel it stands out, especially for my age group.

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A Brief Summary of RSS

October 4, 2008

RSS, Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, is a set of methods to help you stay up to date on changing news on the internet, easily. Essentially you use a piece of software called a reader, or sometimes called a feeder, that goes out to each site that you have subscribed to and it gathers up all the new news on that site. It then displays it in a format that allows you to quickly browse and review each piece of news.

The technology or concept of RSS first came about in 1999 by members of Netscape. The concept then slowly grew over the years and really started to become popular around 2005. With more and more websites offering an RSS feed, it’s popularity rose dramatically and companies like Google and Microsoft created software to read the RSS feeds. There are several formats(versions) of RSS available, 0.90-0.94, 1.0, and 2.0. 2.0 has become more popular and is more stable than the others. It is also probably the most widely used on the internet today.

Blogs are an excellent example of good uses for RSS. Many times bloggers are not as consistent with posting articles on a regular basis as say CNN is about posting new news. If you don’t use RSS to keep up with the blog, then you will have to go to each blog everyday to see if they posted anything new. With RSS, your reader would check it for you and you would see new news when you checked your reader instead of having to pull up each blog site. That’s a huge time savings just to keep up with everyone else.  

Some very popular websites that have RSS feeds include:

 Software options for using RSS:

Resources:

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VoIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol

September 28, 2008

VoIP, short for Voice Over Internet Protocol, is an alternative way to place phone calls using the Internet as opposed to a traditional phone line. The technology has slowly been gaining public acceptance over the past ten years. With widespread availability of broadband Internet connections opening the way for the amount of bandwidth needed to support VoIP, more and more people are gaining interest in the service. With the additional government requirement to offer the 911 emergency service as well, this technology will likely grow in use and in technological advancement in huge bounds over the next decade.

 There are many providers of this type of service that you can get for your home. Verizon has a product called VoiceWing. It has additional features such as a call log which displays all the incoming and outgoing calls you have made, an enhanced call forwarding that works on a schedule basis, an address book, simultaneous ring which will call up to 3 numbers at one time, and a do not disturb function that will turn off your ringer. Also, AT&T has a product available in some markets called U-Verse. This is an all encompassing package that includes internet access, VoIP phone service, and television service as well.

VoIP service is subject to the same issues as most internet access accounts, so you should be aware of those potential problems before entering into this new technology. Unlike traditional phone lines that stay active during a power outage, without a reliable and full uninterpretable power supply along the entire stream of use (to include you and your service provider), you could lose phone connectivity during a power outage. Also, users should be aware of latency and jitter which will affect the performance of every phone call. Bandwidth will also have an affect on performance. As the internet usage in general increases and larger files are in more widespread use, bandwidth will shrink and with it, performace could degrade. 

 I, even though I consider myself very tech savvy, have not yet embraced this technology. The primary reason for this is the need for redundant systems in life in my opinion. It is always good to have a backup plan even for the most simple things. The house my wife and I recently purchased is wired for FiOS which can deliver our internet, TV, and phone service if we so desire. We instead chose to break the services up in case on of them fails and that has proven to be a good choice for us. We use a traditional phone service through Verizon however our cable and internet are serviced through Comcast. On occasion, when it rains, our phone service goes out and this has not been fixable by Verizon. I would hate to imagine what would happen if we lost phone, TV, and internet all in one day. Would we survive? 

Resources

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Mojave – It isn’t just the desert anymore

September 21, 2008
Mojave Experiment

Mojave Experiment

The Mojave Experiment was conducted by Microsoft as an attempt to combat the negative feelings generated in the press (or more possibly accurate, in the real world) towards their newest operating system, Windows Vista. As the next generation in the long lasting Microsoft operating system, Vista stumbled greatly out of the gate putting it immediately behind the eight ball of desire. In the experiment Microsoft interviewed 140 Windows XP users that had little to no knowledge of Vista. Of those interviewed 94% rated the system as an 8.5 out of 10.

To me, this experiment screams support for the need of quality assurance in all levels of manufacturing, including software. The simple fact that a company, of any size, has to release a propaganda campaign to improve the image of it’s own product reveals major short comings in its management not just its product. How does a product with so many defects get released to the public? How did management lose so much sight of what the general public wanted and/or needed?  How did they let this happen? Was it the desire to beat the competition? Was it the desire to release what they felt was a better product? How does a company continue to flourish and prosper when they release software time and time again that has a bug list larger than the feature list? Or is Microsoft nothing more than one of the easiest targets of ridicule on the planet. The production of an operating system is no easy matter. The production of a bug free one, is impossible.

However, I feel that as most experiments do, and how so often the press in general does, the real facts are being skewed in favor of the desired results of the experiment. Of the 89% of the people that listed being satisfied with Vista, only 43% were very satisfied. During the experiment the participants were not able to interact on their own with the operating system nor were they asked to install a new piece of hardware. Many of these activities are where the major issues exist within Vista. At it’s early release many drivers that user’s wanted were not available, rendering their equipment either unusable or downgraded in performance. To some degree this has to be expected. With a new operating system and the new major shifts made to improve security this is bound to happen. Windows NT was a much, much more stable and secure operating system than Windows 3.1, ME, 95, and 98, but far fewer things ran or ran on NT making it not right for everyone (or for very many at all really). Did that make it a bad operating system? In my opinion no, it made it a good jumping point for XP which to me has been the most solid of all the OS’s put out by Microsoft.

Vista is taking a beating and Microsoft is just doing what it can to keep it alive long enough to fix it. Get people used to it. Then get them hooked on it. Is it the greatest things since sliced bread? No, not it any terms. Does it have some new interface gadgets that look neat, yes. Is it worth the upgrade, in my opinion no, but try for yourself. Do not love off the bad press thrown everywhere. Give the product a chance for yourself.   

Resources

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High Cost vs Low Cost

September 13, 2008

Cost is often one of the first and only things users examine when buying a new PC. However, what is really important is the match up of the PC to the user. If the user and PC are not paired up correctly, many frustrations will follow. Let us take a look at two PC’s (focusing on Intel based PC’s only) offered on TigerDirect.com today.

On the high end, we have the CybertronPC Armor ARMV2QX965BK Gaming PCfor $5999.99. This PC highlights a huge amount of power starting with it’s processor, an Intel Core 2 Extreme which has 4 processors and runs at 3.0 Ghz. It is stacked with 8GB of RAM (DDR II 800mhz) and has dual 74GB hard drives backed up by an additional 500GB hard drive. A 20x DVDRW drive comes in handy for backups and fast reading of DVD’s. For video, this PC will knock your socks off using it’s three NVIDIA 1GB video cards chained together to act as one large source. This PC also provides many additional ports to add on and expand to include eight USB, two 1394a (Firewire), and 6 internal slots for more equipment.

On the lower end, we have the Lenovo IdeaCentre K210 Intel Desktop PCselling for $299.99. The processor of this PC is the Intel Celeron Dual Core running at 1.60 Ghz. Backed by 2GB of RAM (DDR II @ 667mhz) and one 320GB hard drive, this PC has plenty of storage space for any application put on it. This PC also includes a DVDRW to read and write DVD’s but no speed is indicated on the website. The video options on this PC are limited by its on board graphics accelerator that shares up to 256mb of RAM.

The high end PC is intended much more for the intense gamer. Someone who wants to play the latest and greatest video games with no slouching in performance, no video frame drops, and little hassle when the next round of technology opens up. With this PC they will accomplish that hands down. The low end PC is intended and should be purchased by the average home user that generally writes a few documents, sends email, and browses the web. Any more activity than that and this PC will probably be returned for being too slow.

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Welcome!

August 29, 2008

Welcome to my Blog. This site will grow as more pages are added and I find time to write them. The topics will vary so be prepared.