The Real Web 2.0

“nofollow” is the new internet. What does this mean? Well it means that instead of the internet being organic and free it becomes controlled and limited to a small group. The big get bigger and the small, well they disappear into obscurity. If you don’t understand what “nofollow” refers to you may have landed at the wrong blog. This is a technical blog. If you do know then perhaps you have turned it on automatically assuming it would help you fight spam? Well, let me contend that this was a mistake. If your loyal site contributors refer to a link then slapping them with a “nofollow” is just discourteous. If you honestly think that the “nofollow” tag will discourage spambots then think again. Has it really? There are much better anti-spam mechanisms available. This site for instance only lets through a bare minimum amount of spam without need for moderation. The spambots don’t even know that your site is adding “nofollow” to their posts. They just keep coming back and posting, over and over. A human being who is taking the time to participate in your community deserves the internet right to link to relevant content. It’s the basis of the internet.

So think twice. Unless you want Facebook and Google to dictate all that is the future internet you may need to draw a line here.

Quality Assurance

As the cost of Sony’s failure to recognize a dysfunctional development team reaches estimates of over $4 billion we hope that corporations all over the planet are taking note. Among the the other winners of the most dysfunctional quality assurance processes Amazon’s cloud is also near the top. Amazon’s low standards are evident at just a glance, however ugly doesn’t always mean insecure. Then there are Apple developers who are being sued for using Apple’s toolkit. Doing it the way Apple told them to now makes them liable to monetary damages? Brilliant.

Being positioned the way we are VeraciTek regularly gets calls from recruiters. Most of them Asian, and many of them quite confused about what we do here. So the phone rings an average of 3 times a day with job offers from corporations using head hunter agencies to supplement their workforce. It has proven quite revealing. Not only are these folks confused, but they are in mass production mode. We decided to make the most of these calls to try to gauge some details about what process these corporations think will provide them with quality services. The result has been astounding.

Firstly, as we already mentioned, these “recruiters” are in mass production mode. They talk fast, and they are looking for keywords. Without exception they fail to answer correctly even the most simple IT questions, and often have requirements that are impossible. When was the last time you met someone with 15 years of .NET programming experience?

Secondly, almost without exception, these corporations reject the possibility of telecommuting. They want a warm body in a cube. Despite the indisputable fact that the office environment is counterproductive in almost every way for highly skilled programmers. I suppose if they don’t know what you’re doing they can at least watch you doing it. We exhausted this angle because we thought there may be potential of injecting our services in place of such a role, however this is not an option in what claims to be a “tech savvy” environment. At least not yet.

Finally, the projects usually range from 4-12 months but they call them “full time” positions. We are stumped as to how they have come to the conclusion that if they just hire a programmer that in 4-12 months their project will be done. Who exactly made that estimate? We did get asked to be on a team of 5 meant to conquer a request in 3 months. The titles of each of these members were very specific too. “Web Designer, with CSS experience.”, “Senior C# .NET programmer with experience in the health care industry.”, “2 Junior C# .NET programmers”, and the cornerstone role, “.NET Business Analyst”. What is a .NET Business Analyst?

Now back to Sony. Where did they get their “talent”? How many of those developers where actually capable of the keywords they put on their resumes? Again, where is the brilliant young guy who told them months or even years ago that the process was not working? Wherever you are we’d like to meet you. You’re just the kind of developer we want working with us. As for the rest of that team happily averaging a line of code per week through the BNDP (bureaucratic nightmare development process), wonder where they are? Hopefully not building your company’s next killer app.

12 Steps to Better Backups.

Best Backup SolutionWindows Backup sucks. This is just a fact. For years we have come up with creative solutions to get around the buggy mess that used to be called NT Backup and is now in Windows 7 as Windows Backup and Restore. If you have a fresh install of Windows 7 or Server 2008 and are enjoying the temporary bliss that is a working backup routine I’m about to ruin your day. If you are lucky enough to have it complete without an 0x81000037 or 0x80070002 error be aware that may not last long.

These convoluted backup archives are not only virtually impossible to easily traverse for individual files. They are prone to corruption themselves, and despite their claims that “they” (the magical little fairies flying around inside of Microsoft Windows’ source code) manage your disk space for you, you’ll be lucky to go a few months before it announces that your backup drive is out of space. Then you may discover the most irritating part of all! You cannot delete older backups (easily) without deleting the new ones too. Why? Because those little magical fairies decide on when to split the backup sets and under normal use you can go months without them deciding to favor you with a new “backup set”.

So, what can you do? Well, if you are technically savvy let me suggest http://www.xxcopy.com/. XXCopy is an ultra-powerful copy utility that can be scheduled to mirror files in a way that you control. This is a “techie” solution, but if you are reading this you probably are a “techie”. The beauty of this is that you don’t mess with silly archive files and convoluted restore processes. For some clients we implemented this on their main network data drive and had a fantastic system where they could find a backup mirror of all of their critical network files at an admin share almost exactly the same as the source share. eg: “\\corpData\data” = share that everyone uses, “\\corpData\dataBU$” = last night’s mirror. It even copies NTFS permissions, the powerful hierarchy that makes NTFS still the most popular file system for networks. Spending a few extra bucks on some extra hardware and you can cycle out the data$ drive and store it off site. Voila, a no-nonsense solution that has a better than 1 in 3 chance of success. (Hunt for Red October)

If you are not a techie you will need to research 3rd party backup solutions. Paragon, Acronis, Norton Ghost are all possible solutions. We cannot suggest any because we just wouldn’t use them.

What do we use? Well, we own a drive cloner. Not the software kind, prone to all kinds of hair pulling frustration, but the hardware kind. Don’t even need to connect a PC. Here’s one on Amazon for < $40 (Cloning Docking Station), then for another < $80 we just pick up a spare drive for each machine that needs backing up. In fact, we went ahead and got faster versions of the same drive, and put the new drive in our systems. Don’t be tempted to get a bigger drive, that would spoil the beauty of this simple solution. Sure you can pick up some software that claims to do the same thing, but if my hard drive dies in literally less than 1 minute I can swap out the dead one for the clone. Done, hardware and all! If there is a file I need, I can just pop the clone into the dock and pull it off, and as far as shadow copy errors or partition type incompatibilities, I’m immune!

The speed is amazing. We can clone our 500GB laptop drives  with triple OS boot and 5 partitions of HFS, EXT4, NTFS, and FAT32 all on the same drive, in less than an hour. This is a full copy, no worries about the Microsoft logic fairies deciding wrongly about what is needed in an incremental backup.

If you are a PC user, especially Dell, we have yet to see one not designed for easy hard drive access. If you own a Mac, while the cloner will work perfectly, your access to your own hard drive is not usually so simple. This is not techie, for our M1710s we:

1. Shut down the computer.
2. Unplug it.
3. Remove the battery.
4. Flip it over
5. Remove the 2 screws that have the little HDD symbol next to them. Looks like a cylinder.
6. Slide out the drive using the convenient finger grips.
7. Tried to fit it in the dock with the caddy (little metal frame with the convenient finger grips) attached, but didn’t try too hard. Just take off the caddy (another 2 screws)
8. (WITH DOCK POWERED OFF) Insert the drive (check the connector, it’s like plugging in a video game) to be cloned into the “mother disc” (hilarious) port.
9. Insert the backup drive in the “son disc” (more hilarious) port.
10. Power DOCK on and press the big red button for 10 seconds.
11. Let off.
12. Press it again.

When the red status light starts flashing you know it’s doing its thing. 12 steps might seem like a lot, but it really only takes about 1 minute (including the 10 seconds to press the big red button), maybe 2 if you haven’t done it before. In about 30 minutes (I suppose this depends on your drive speed) the light should stop flashing. Voila, 2 idential drives. That is unless you’ve decided to upgrade to a 7200 or even 10000 RPM drive.  You’ll be surprised at the difference that makes. One catch, you’ll have to put the drive back in without instructions. :-)

It might seem like overkill but with a fresh clone sitting on the shelf we can fearlessly dive into the unknown, including installing OSX Lion Beta (© Apple), Ubuntu 11, or whatever we want really. Hardware is cheaper than it used to be. In fact, this cloner will even allow you to upgrade to a bigger drive very quickly. Just be aware that moving to a bigger drive means that you cannot maintain two copies unless you get another larger drive.

12 steps might seem like a lot, but they are really tiny steps and as reliable as one could hope for. Until Microsoft gets some better logic fairies we’ll stick with something that actually works.

BACKGROUND: We’ve seen all kinds of problems with Windows Backup. Most recently a colleague’s personal 10k rpm workstation drive started complaining of errors.  No problem, she thought, the backup has run once a week since Windows 7 was installed. Or has it? At some point about a month ago it decided the drive was out of space (We let Windows manage the space). Upon opening Backup and Restore we discover exactly one backup set dated for the last 2 months. (Thanks again Windows) The only option for getting a fresh backup? Delete the old one. ALL OF IT. That would be brilliant, drive announces that it is failing, so step 1, delete your only backup? Thanks a lot Microsoft. We tried everything, including deleting the individual backup folders from the set (YES, WE KNOW ABOUT THAT) and what happens? Backup and Restore gets it backwards, now it only shows the date range of the files we deleted and the rest are now non-existent as far as it is concerned. We finally formatted the backup drive (yes, she had a separate drive just for backup) and immediately copied all critical files manually (painfully) and then kicked off a new backup. Guess what? 0x80070002 backup cannot complete. After investigating the 0x80070002 shadow copying errors and attempting a half dozen fixes the backup function is now dead. Perhaps due to the drive errors, but based on our research more likely due to Microsoft’s inability to deal with its own <JUNCTION>s, or its own anti-virus, or … well, who really knows. For $40she could just keep a clone since she already has a backup drive.  Add that to the long list of history’s failed recoveries. Thankfully, the workstation drive is still working. Let’s get that puppy cloned.

OSX Lion Preview Review

Here’s a quick summary of about 30 minutes with OSX Lion (© Apple):

1. Little “lights” under icons in dock were by default turned off in Lion (© Apple).
2. Smaller control buttons on the windows.
3. There is a new link in the dock called “launchpad” that makes your desktop look just like an iPhone/iPad (© Apple).
4. Address book looks like a book.
5. Strange sliding effect on finder view selector.
6. The finder’s (apple copyright lion Apple) left pane is now nearly identical to windows 7 explorer’s left pane.
7. The mail application looks quite different and again not in a good way.
8. Safari (© Apple) finally supports full screen.

In short, I may suggest some reservation when your desktop OS is modeling its “innovations” after a 4 year old mobile device. There are rumors of pending “multi-touch” capability but our touch-pad did not indicate any sign of it. If this is for touch screens they must be planning to tabletize their iMacs (© Apple) or something since it is obvious that touchscreens in a desktop formfactor are impractical. You think your carple tunnel is acting up now? Try holding your hand up in the air for long periods of “touch time”.

The beta is buggy and does not appear to behave correctly. It really looks like they may be attempting to create a 1 size fits all OS for all devices. Safari (© Apple) finally supports full screen. Something most other browsers have done for longer than we can remember. I used to use Netscape’s full screen mode, which means it’s definitely been around a while.

Those little lights in the doc that tells you the app is running are by default turned off. This could be a further hint at their plans to clamp down on mult-tasking the same way they have on their small devices. Windows 7’s “glass” box around the icon is synonymous with this. Exposé (© Apple) has a strange habit of overlapping the windows which seems to be a bug & dashboard (© Apple? If not, I’m sure they’ve tried to) looks different. The window comes from the side and is no longer transparent. Perhaps something not finalized.

Scrolling by default is backwards! Thankfully this can be fixed in mouse settings.
Apple (© Apple) is really in love with their own mobile OS, so much so that they are willing to deprecate their desktop OS features in favor of the mobile OS. Very counter-intuitive strategy. IMO.

However, last but not least, the most exciting change in OSX Lion (© Apple) so far! Drum roll please… Resizing windows from any side and as a special bonus, window animations! Welcome to the last decade Steve Jobs (© Apple).

So Apple (© Apple) manages to simultaneously salute the other OSes with some of their copycat enhancements while oddly moving toward what appears to be constraining a full computer to the input and formfactor limitations of a PDA. We can certainly cheer the prior.

As far as I’m concerned there is nothing better than Ubuntu’s “jiggly” windows. Or as I like to refer to them, the Jiggy Windows… or as the song goes “na na na na na na, getting jiggy windows.” But, Apple (© Apple) has done well to take a clue from them. Once again we will certainly be astounded to see how Steve (© Apple) spins these imitations as innovations.

Credits: thanks to Apple (© Apple) for sending the Lion (© Apple) Preview DVD and thanks for making it the easiest yet to install on my 5 year old Dell.
And thank you Dell for making the M1710. An amazing machine.

Disclaimer: We are not sure that Apple (© Apple) has ©ed the word Lion (© Apple) however since we are aware (© Apple) of their (© Apple) propensity for lawsuits (© Apple) we figure it can’t hurt (© Apple) to © the heck out of this.

Firefox 4 vs. Internet Explorer 9 vs. Chrome 11

ie vs ff vs chromeI hope you will welcome my contributions to the V-Tek blog, this is my first post.

As a project manager here at VeraciTek I am always trying to polish my fluency with the latest technologies. The browser war being one of the most relevant to my job.

Microsoft recognized very early that building the browser meant owning the traffic. At least to some degree. The internet landscape is changing very quickly and has advanced light-years beyond the early days when Netscape and Internet Explorer fought for dominance. The same early days that Microsoft lost the court battle to force IE on Windows users.

Today IE is still the top, at 55% market share. A gouge out of it is Firefox’s and Chrome is still the “little guy”. However, recently Chrome has been taking market share from them both.  The summary review of Chrome is: it’s super fast, and buggy. Many sites don’t work correctly with it and it has the habit of announcing: “He’s dead Jim” on sites that work fine in the other browsers. However, it is VERY quick compared to the others.

Firefox 4 claims to be faster, by a factor of 5, it claims. However, in our office the consensus is that is just not true. One developer said: “It might be the same speed as FF3, but that’s just might be.” Another complains that he stares at a full screen white out for about 10-20 seconds before it does anything at all. He once opened and closed Chrome and visited Google twice in the time it took for FF4 to leave the white screen. Another says: “It’s ugly.”

IE 9 is the one we open just to test. At 55% market share we have to be compatible, but that doesn’t mean we have to use it. I have been in IT for years and I remember when it was IE vs. Netscape. There were some others, but those were the big players. Beginning at around IE4 there was a long period where developers would complain about trying to support all of the versions of Netscape. That flipped at the end of IE5’s reign.

Today, Chrome has done something a bit counter-intuitive. Instead of asking if you’d like to update Chrome, it just does it. Perhaps taking a lesson from Apple, Google seems to have realized that most users just get stressed out by questions like: “Would you like to upgrade?” Whatever the reason, Firefox and even IE fails to keep their users at the current point release. Both of those ask users, and Microsoft does so so inconspicuously that it seems like unless someone is an expert typist (in other words, have reasonable computer skills) there will be an explanation mark in their task area. So easy to just ignore, which the stats say is being ignored.

So the verdict is, Chrome is crashing the party. Not today, or tomorrow, but IE had better come up with something more exciting than another integer number to hold on to its market share. Firefox remains the developer’s choice. Even at FF4 the Firebug plugin is ultra functional in FF with limited support in Chrome (firebug lite). What our senior developer let me know though is that Chrome has something called Dev Tools and many Firebug holdouts don’t even know it exists. He uses both depending on which browser he is in.

I’m sure that means something. However, if you’re like me you leave the deep end for those guys. I installed Chrome just a few months ago, I highly suggest it. Even if you’re like me, and relegated to the kiddie end. Then maybe you’ll notice when your web developers leave your site non-functional in Chrome. You can let them know that you know what’s up.