News for the ‘Technology’ Category

Pocketanalyzer een hobbyproject

Information Chaos

Wie herkent dit?

“Je komt een pagina op het web tegen waarvan je denkt die zou ik eigenlijk moeten bewaren. Op een goed moment ontdek je een dienst zoals pocket of iets dergelijks. Fijn! Dan kan ik gewoon in mijn RSS lezer of op mijn telefoon in Wonderreader of op mijn tablet in Flipboard of Zite op een knop rammen en dan staan al die pagina’s netjes onder elkaar om op een later moment te lezen…..

Maar dat moment later komt nooit. Want er is een reden dat je niet meteen die pagina leest en dat is namelijk dat je eigenlijk te veel informatie langs ziet komen en te weinig tijd hebt om er wat mee te doen. ”

Op dit moment ben ik Makers aan het lezen van de altijd inspirerende Chris Anderson (de schrijver van de Long Tail). Dit boek is lang niet zo baanbrekend als de Long Tail maar een ding krijg je er wel van. Namelijk zin om iets te maken. Gewoon een projectje om een beetje te hobbyen. Daarvoor heb je echter wel een probleem nodig om op te lossen. Vanaf nu is het bovenstaande probleem mijn hobby project.

Ik denk dat het toch nuttig is dat je regelmatig op die read it later knop drukt maar niet om die artikelen ook daadwerkelijk later te lezen. Er is iets in het artikel wat je op dat moment ziet  wat je interessant vind. Dat kan van alles zijn. Vaak komt het natuurlijk omdat het onderwerp van het artikel je op de een of andere manier triggert. Wat ik in dit hobbyprojectje wil bouwen is een website die alle artikelen pakt (vanaf een bepaald moment) die je gereaditlatert hebt en daar een soort trend analyse op los laat. Om te beginnen had ik gedacht een word cloud zodat je ziet of een bepaald woord meer of minder voorkomt. Vervolgens dacht ik zelf het instellen van het tijdsinterval zodat je van een bepaalde periode een word cloud kan maken. Misschien iets met de bron van de artikelen het tijdstip. Je kan volgens mij best leuke trends hieruit halen.

Het idee is dat als je gedurende de week vrolijk op de read it later knop drukt en je aan het einde van de week even door je pocket analyzer heen wandelt je trends opvallen die je gedurende de week niet bewust maar wel onbewust gemerkt hebt.

Goed ik ga aan de slag. Als het je een handig project lijkt ben ik benieuwd naar wat jij zou willen weten van de artikelen die je bewaart in pocket of instapaper?


Om dit voor elkaar te krijgen heb ik toegang nodig tot de Article API van pocket. Momenteel is deze API in maintenance. Als het goed is zijn ze mid januari klaar en krijg ik toegang.

Posted: December 14th, 2012
Categories: Technology
Comments: No Comments.

To build a tool or not to..

This week a colleague send our team a mail with a system he build on Sharepoint for us to share knowledge, skills and favors within our team. The tool looked like a lot of work he really thought it through. You can connect the tool to Outlook so you can see all the new requests automatically or connect it to your RSS reader if that is the way you gather information.

It is to bad this tool will never be used.

This is an example of over tooling. I’ve seen this so often. There is an idea about sharing information and the first thing that is done is build a tool for it. The problem with this tool is that it isn’t there to make a going process easier but to start a process and this will never work. If you want to start a process in a team start that process with whatever means that are already used by the team of people and create behavior. If this behavior is there and people are complaining that the process is cumbersome because there is no tool for it. Only. Then and only then you should build a tool. Until that is the case use your energy on getting the behavior going.

Posted: January 17th, 2012
Categories: Private, Technology
Comments: No Comments.

The photo problem or technology vs policy

In the old days my mother used to take pictures until her roll was full. Then she would take the filled roll to the photo shop where they printed the pictures. Once per year she took all photos and created one or more albums out of them. Those albums are chronical and physical artifacts that contain the images of her life.
Easy peasy the only thing was a fire or flood that could wipe them out which luckily never happened (knock on wood).

Enter digital photography. Basically the same principle applied. My mother takes pictures until her sd card is full. In stead of going to the shop she could put the pictures on her (single) pc. She stopped creating albums and we create a backup every once in a while which mitigates the risk of fire and floods.

Life was pretty simple so far. Then multiple PC’s started to appear. Where before all photo’s were on the same machine now the pictures are scattered between them because sometimes it is more convenient to import your pictures on your laptop and sometimes it’s convenient to import them on your PC.

Can you guess the next complicator? … Exactly more camera’s and camera’s in phones.

By this time the whole photo issue comes down to policy and all the technology in the world cannot bring this all together.

1. Always use the same convention when importing photos.
2. Copy the photos to the same location.
3. Think about automatic backup strategy
4. How can you access your photos from anywhere in the world (I use and am really happy with Carbonite)

It would be really cool if a platform takes over this hassle. The caveat, it must be multiplatform and it must be easy to add new sources of pictures and new storage locations. All known platforms lacks at least one of the above.

If you know of such a platform please let me know.

Posted: January 4th, 2012
Categories: Private, Technology
Comments: No Comments.

Why every service should be like Kindle

I always read on my Kindle device before I go to sleep. The next day I commute to work using public transportation. When I open Kindle on my mobile phone it asks me if I want to continue where I left off before I dozed of. When I return home I usually catch up on industry world news on my iPad. After I’ve done that I often times open the iPad Kindle app and I can continue reading where I stopped when I arrived at the station.

I really love the way I get a continuous experience regardless of the device I use. Why are there so many services that don’t do this.

  • Why doesn’t Twitter (or tweetdeck) sync the furthest read tweet so I have to scroll through my timeline when I move from my phone to my laptop.
  • Why doesn’t Spotify load the queue I was listening on my phone when I start Spotify on my desktop (I know they know when I switch between the desktop app and my mobile device)?
  • Why does Zite keep showing me stuff I’ve already seen?
  • Why doesn’t Facebook keep track what items I have and haven’t read?

Some services do get it.

  • Exchange syncs my read and unread mails between phone, pc, tablet, web and more.
  • ….
  • ….
  • I honestly can’t think of a third one.

I’m calling on everyone who is planning to build a service to keep multiple devices in mind when architecting it.

P.S. Don’t you love my new theme? Minimalism is the new new black.

Posted: January 3rd, 2012
Categories: Technology
Comments: No Comments.

Workload Patterns for cloud computing

Yesterday I was talking to one of our partners about cloud computing in general and more specific about Windows Azure . During the discussion I told them how I look at the workloads that are specifically suitable for running on a cloud platform. After I finished explaining and finally shut up the partner said: “That is a great way to look at applications or workloads and weather or not it makes sense to move them to the cloud! Do you have this in a whitepaper?”.

Eventually I found this blogpost  it is also from a Microsoft employee. In my opinion this post is essential when you are thinking about cloud computing and what workloads make sense to migrate partly or entirely to the cloud.

This will be the first draft of that document. I’ll be working with the partner to draft this into a formal whitepaper. If you have an opinion about this please leave a comment or send me a mail so I can incorporate it in the document. So here we go!

Before we can talk about workloads ideally suited for cloud computing we need to define cloud computing. Right now there are a lot of definitions of cloud computing flying around and everybody tries to define cloud computing in such a way that it fits their business model.

If you talk to VMWare cloud computing is virtualization, for Cisco it is all about the network, Google will tell you search is cloud computing and Microsoft is talking about software plus services to emphasize that all cloud computing is driven by software.

We want to say something about cloud computing in general so we want a source that is more or less independent. I personally think that the cloud computing definition of Gartner is a great one.

“Gartner defines cloud computing as a style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies.”*

Cloud computing is a deployment model that has certain advantages in elasticity, connectivity and business model. Other deployment models are on-premise installation or outsource/hosted model. The following workload patterns have the greatest benefits of these cloud platform characteristics.

On and Off

Applications or workloads that have a relatively short period of activity and after they have produced a result can be switched of.

Batch processing, data crunching or calculations are typical activities of applications of this pattern. A real life example is a company called Riskmetrics.

This company runs Monte Carlo simulations for its customers. In stead of running these simulations in their own datacenter where the hardware is idle when they are not running a simulation they have build their application on a cloud platform. If there is work they start as many machines they need to perform the work in the time they have. They run the calculations and then switch them off again. They are only paying for these machines when they are actually doing work.

The obvious advantage for workloads with this pattern is that you don’t have to pay for hardware when it is sitting around idle. The other advantage is that you can scale a lot bigger than you would be able to in your own datacenter.

Bursting Predictable and Unpredictable

When you are running a successful web retail operation you probably have your peak demand during the holiday season. After a couple of years you will have a fairly good idea how much bigger the demand will be during this period than during the rest of the year. This can be up to 800% higher than any other day of the year.

What do you scale your infrastructure to? Of course to this peak demand because this is when the money is made. The downside of this is that the rest of the year 80% of your infrastructure is sitting idle taking up resources because this infrastructure has to be maintained.

This scenario is ideal for a cloud solution. We call it predictable bursting because you know when the peak demand will be. Come end of November the number of nodes running your infrastructure is increased to the required levels and mid January it is scaled down again. The resources required to maintain this infrastructure can now be used to build new features or add value to the platform.

The other bursting scenario is called unpredictable bursting. In these cases you don’t know when the peak demand will be. An example is a news site. They never know when the plane crash or terrorist attack will be. They do know that if that happens they require a lot more capacity.
A cloud platform allows you to scale your infrastructure when such an event happens.


Growing Fast or Scale cheap, Fail cheap

This is the scenario of the tech startup. Imagine a service that allows you in a very short message (say 140 characters) that allows people to know what they are doing or thinking. Suddenly your service becomes a great hit and the infrastructure you

are running it oncan’t cope. You are not able to scale your infrastructure to the demand and the service breaks when it is being most used.
The problem is that you never know if your service will be such a success. If the boys and girls at Twitter would have scaled for the demand that they are seeing now they would have never launched and their initial investment would be incredible high. So you want a platform that is able to scale fast and cheap but does not have the initial investment you would have if you were going to buy hardware.

This is exactly what a cloud platform  can provide. You can scale your infrastructure very close to the actual load that is being used on the platform. If the application has been architected right this will keep the fail whale away without breaking the bank.

Connected applications

Another workload pattern I think has great benefits from running in the cloud are connected applications. The obvious reason is one of the characteristics Gartner attributes to cloud computing. “deliverd using internet technologies”. In other words most cloud platforms are located on the internet and are therefore easy to connect to from any other application or device that is connected to the internet.

There is a common knowledge in IT infrastructure which says:” If two systems need to communicate through organizational or network bounderies add a third system both can communicate to.” As an Example I would like to use Windows Live Messenger or Skype (whichever you prefer the pattern is the same). There are two clients running on a desktop. One running behind a corporate firewall and the other is running in a home network behind the home gateway. Think of the tasks you would have to achieve to setup a network connection between those two clients to exchange data (files, voice, video). The easier one is publishing an endpoint in the home gateway router and publishing it to the client. Now imagine the call to the corporate IT department: “Would you be so kind to open up the firewall to TCP port XYZ on my client?” So what do applications like Windows Live Messenger and Skype do? They add a third system. Both clients can hav outbound internet traffic so they connect to the third system. By setting up that connection the third system can patch them through so to say.

You can have your application connect to other applications (at your customer, business partner, affiliate network) using this pattern. The third system would be a cloud application.

Commodity workloads

The workloads described above are workloads of custom application that would be deployed to a platform as a service solution like Windows Azure, Amazon EC2 or Google App Engine. The final pattern isn’t really a pattern but I think that without it this article would not be complete. There are workloads that are so commonplace that migrating them to a cloud platform makes sense. E-mail is such a workload. There is nothing strategical about running your own E-mail platform so move it to the cloud. Buy it as a Service.

I think this is a useful yardstick when thinking about new IT projects. Cloud computing is here to stay but it is not the holy grail, neither the end to world hunger. It is a deployment model that has certain distinct advantages. Looking at these advantages there are 5 types of workloads that benefit most from migrating to a cloud platform. These are On,Off, Bursting, Growing Fast, Connected Applications and Commodity Workloads.

As I said at the beginning for me this is the starting point of more thinking in this direction so if you have an opinion about this please leave a comment.

*Gartner – Five Refining Attributes of Public and Private Cloud Computing – 5 May 2009

Posted: July 13th, 2010
Categories: Technology
Comments: 3 Comments.

4 Reasons why engineers must stay up to date on industry news?

I had a discussion with a former colleague over dinner. We were talking about staying up to date by keeping an eye on the industry news. He said that he was so busy and his work was so specialized that reading up on generic industry news is not interesting for him.

At first I was inclined to agree with him. His work is specialized and 90% of the information that is on the main websites like ZDnet, techcrunch, Mashable or Computable doesn’t help him in doing his day to day job. But when I was on my way home from the dinner location I reconsidered. I think there are 4 reasons why engineers should stay up to date on industry news.

  • You should be aware of patterns that are surfacing

    Especially the IT industry changes at a rapid pace. If you don’t keep your head up and look around now and then you might miss some new pattern that changes the way you work. Usually in our business it makes your live A LOT easier. Because someone fixed something that has cost you a lot of headache. You want to be the first guy that finds out something like that. It will get you the nice projects.

    • Before you know it you are like the COBOL programmers

      Keeping your ear to the grounds should put you in a position to see trends in the industry. Knowing these trends should help you to predict where things are going. It can be that you are in a position that will be not very relevant sometime soon. For example if you are managing hardware the trend of cloud computing might be worrying. If you are building websites now would be the time to start brushing up your HTML5, CSS3 skills. If you only start looking at developments like this the chance is big that you will end up like the COBOL programmer. Greatly skilled, highly specialized but in a field where there is no demand for.

      • It will keep your enthusiasm in technology

        Especially if you are doing highly specialized engineering work you can sometimes loose the broader picture of technology. If you are buried in in debugging a problem for three straight days it can happen that you loose tech as a hobby and only see it as work. To keep motivated it is a good idea to read some articles about cool new stuff that will be released later this year.

        • Search engines favor the old stuff

          I think this is the most important one. Engineers in IT spend a lot of time in search engine results. The thing with search engines is that they favor stuff that has been around for a while. Search engines loves stuff that has been linked to a lot. Especially if you are in deep stuff (like identity or security) the articles that hold very interesting information isn’t linked to a lot. Therefore these articles will not surface soon in the search engines.

          • (extra reason) It takes your mind of the problem at hand

          When I was still in engineering I sometimes was banging my head at a problem for a couple of days. It helps me to take my mind of for a couple of minutes and reading up on stuff did just the trick.

          So I don’t think RSS is dead I think it is still a good way to stay up to date (next to whatever realtime social network you follow) and I think that Engineers must find the way

          Posted: June 28th, 2010
          Categories: Technology
          Comments: No Comments.