There's A First Time For Everything

It seems that tonight I'll be going without the benefits of my notebook. Perhaps this means I should go and get some things ready for my upcoming Japanese Language classes at Langara.

So, despite the fact that my notebook can go an hour and a half on the original battery (not bad for a 3 year old notebook), I'll keep this post short.

Hopefully tomorrow I won't forget anything.

Sitting Idle

Shortly after becoming involved with computers, I started wondering why people would let such wonderful data processing machines sit idle for most of the day. There is always so much work being recruited by distributed computing projects, and considering the amount of raw power that goes to waste every day, I'm surprised that large vendors such as Microsoft and some Linux variants don't include some built-in software that makes use of the extra clock cycles. Just think of how far [email protected] or [email protected] would be if the userbase was increased by a factor or two!

I mention this because, like the idle computers that are online 24 hours a day with very little to occupy themselves, I have nothing to seriously occupy myself with at work. Since the middle of 2006, it seems as though I've been cut lose to accomplish very simple tasks, but not be a part of any enjoyable solutions.

I am a solutions provider by nature. When somebody has a technical or process problem, I think of ways to solve the problem. If I can use technology, then I'm in my element. If it's a very complex problem that needs technology, then I am really in my element. Not being able to flex these mental muscles leaves me very unfulfilled and this seems to follow me home….

The last major project that I had at work was finished in the early fall of last year. Since that time, I have tried to occupy myself with side projects and minor maintenance issues reported by users. The maintenance I can understand. This is a regular part of dealing with software. Things break or processes change, so software needs to be updated from time to time. The side projects that I do at work are typically done to both keep myself happy, and to provide value to my co-workers. Unfortunately, these are usually cancelled long before they even get off the ground.

Since last summer I have felt as though my efforts are largely ignored. I know that I was a bit pre-mature telling my employer that I would be leaving an entire year in advance, but given the complexity of the proprietary enterprise software, I would have figured that a new programmer would need at least six months to get the ropes before I would leave. So far there have been no mention of a possible new employee, and any new work that needs to be done goes to the my already-over-worked teammate. Unless I'm the only person in the office during an emergency, I barely seem to exist.

I wonder if I could work on an as-needed basis. They could call me a day or two in advance, and I would show up for given days. Because I would already know the data and software inside and out, there would be no waiting time for me to provide a solution (unless it's a nice, big project). This would give me the opportunity to find other work during the day and perhaps move towards an alternate career path.

Or perhaps I should just cut my losses and move on.

Giving Voice to My Internal Monologue

Since launching my initial website in October of 2006, many people have asked my I maintain a blog. Admittedly, I don't really talk about anything that would be interesting to most people, nor do I attract enough traffic to warrant a daily entry. To most people, I tell them the site is mainly for the image gallery. But to some people, I tell them the real reason: giving voice to my internal monologue.

Over the last few years I've noticed that my way of thinking has changed dramatically. Ten years ago I would have tried to sound intelligent to make up for my worldly ignorance. Five years ago I would have been much more reactionary and impatient. Two years ago I would have been truly optimistic for the first time since high school. And now … I'm not sure how to classify my thoughts.

For the moment, this site is somewhere between a personal journal and a place to rationalize ideas (though I haven't done that much lately). I'll admit that the posts from Japan were made not only for my personal historical benefit, but also so my friends and family could see how I was faring on the opposite side of the globe. But for the most part, this site exists to give me a place where I can express my thoughts as they exist for the moment. It's almost like a time capsule.

Hopefully in five to ten years I'll be able to look back at some of these posts and say something about them. I also hope that in that time, my personal site does not expand to include ads of any kind. One of the largest reasons I host my pictures on this site rather than Flickr or MySpace is to eliminate the ads. There are enough sites with AdSense and other flavours of the same thing, I don't need to be another drop in the bucket. And with the very limited traffic I generate, what kind of return could I expect with these advertisements? A dollar a year? Hardly worth the eyesore.

All this said, I'm currently working on plans to build yet another site on another domain that would be for a more commercial purpose. I have (what I think) are some very useful applications that could be used in a corporate environment, none of which are being considered by my current employer. To this end, since this work is all based on my designs and done on my own time, I'll be finishing the projects and making them available to the general public. At first the programs will be made available for free with a PayPal donation option, and a service / customization package will also be available for an attractive low price.

It's time to get my software out on the market, so I might be able to add a cushion to my future life with Reiko in Japan. I hope that one day, if I look back at this post, I can say "this was the point in my life where I finally got my act together."

Neighbourly Actions

In the Broadway show "A Streetcar Named Desire", there is a song titled "A Stranger's Just A Friend You Haven't Met." This seems to fit in with the small adventure I had after venturing to the local Starbucks after dinner.

While in line, a man was ahead of me with his notebook asking one of the baristas (Jennifer) if he could connect to the Hot Spot that was advertised. Unfortunately, the signal has been down for a few days, and the provider had not yet come to fix it. After learning that the man wanted to confirm that his computer did not have any problems connecting to the internet, I invited him to my home, where he could check out whatever he needed.

As expected, his computer worked just fine on my network.

I learned that a tech support person with his internet provider had tried to blame the extended outtage on this man's computers and network hardware. What didn't add up was the number of computers that were affected, as well as the timing when they all failed. Thinking this might be a similar issue to what I faced with Telus a few weeks ago, I mentioned a few of the possible scenarios.

So we decided to head to his home in an effort to put an end to his problem. After all, a Canadian home just can't be without internet. It's a crucial utility for most of us, now.

After checking that his modem and router were fine, we checked the network's ability to ping an outside site. When that failed, I changed the DNS servers to those offered by great people at OpenDNS. After this change, we had internet again!

Kinda …

It seems that the change had occurred within a slight window of network operation. For two hours we checked and rechecked everything with only occasional success. After changing the DNS servers back to Shaw's defaults (in order to check Shaw's mail servers), we were no better off. So, after it was all said and done, I could not solve their problem … Shaw will need to step in.

I can really sympathize with these people. They've been in this home for only a short while, and the internet is a crucial part of their livelihood. I become incredibly frustrated and irritable when my internet is only remotely acting up, and downright upset when it fails altoghther (my landlords can vouch for this, as they've heard my shouts), so I can understand their frustration with the situation.

But in every dark could, there is a silver lining. The good things that came out of this chance occurrance was the ability to meet some great new people, and help provide some context on what the problems could be (it's not always a customer's fault, Shaw). I really hope that their connection problems can be made a thing of the past, considering how friendly and courteous they were despite these issues.

Image Gallery Back!

Alright … it's taken just about 10 hours, but I've managed to upload about 400 pictures to the image galleries again.

With the migration of my webserver, I had determined it would be better to re-upload my picture gallery than just import the backup. This was for many different reasons, not the least of which being the image resolutions. One of the nice things about re-uploading all these pictures is that I've been able to add more than was originally posted. Last time, there were close to 250 images in the galleries.

I'll see what I can do to put some of my older pictures into the gallery, but the image quality for those shots is really low. These images would have been taken either with my first digital camera (a 3.2 MP device in 2002), or the camera I borrowed for a while a few years ago (a 2.0 MP Canon). One thing I have noticed about most of my pictures is that they suck. Often times I take pictures of what most people would describe as "nothing". To this end, I'll make sure that my future pictures are more audience friendly.

Hopefully this will be the last post regarding my website. Most people will notice that the address has changed, but the old one will forward you here. The Japanadian.net link will continue to forward to this page also, as that was it's main purpose.

I guess this means I can get back to talking about some current events, my upcoming wedding, and the occasional philosophical entries where I try to rationalize or justify something.

Yay!

Almost Fixed!

Alright, after several hours of exhaustive work, data imports, image imports and directory permissions … it seems that my site is mostly back to normal.

It appears that when my database crashed the other day, it was the result of a larger problem that I did not properly identify. After getting the system to partially work again, I decided to stop trying to band-aid the problem and start from scratch. I chose this method not because of my extensive Windows experience, but because of what I've learned over the last few months about my web server, as well as WordPress (the software that this site uses).

One of the advantages to starting with a clean slate is that I could change many of the initial settings I had configured, without damaging anything. Importing my old information was mostly simple (there were only a few custom plugins that I couldn't recover data from), and after a bit of testing, re-uploading my images has proved a positive experience. One of the things I did not like about my last site was the small size of the photo gallery pictures. After increasing the size, I found that the initial images were blurry and otherwise terrible, so I deleted them all and started to re-upload the albums. The image quality is now much higher and, hopefully, people will enjoy some of the photos more.

Of course this makes me wonder if it's time to get a better camera….

Kidding!

Over the next few days I'll be re-uploading a few hundred photos to the image galleries, and I'll even give this site a make-over to ensure w3c compliance. I'm seeing that most of the people that visit me use either FireFox or Netscape, so it's time I ensure their viewing the pages as I intended with IE.

Lost In the Ether

Well … I had a well written post for today about an Intellectual Property dilemma that I face, but it seems that my server decided to "lose" the information! After a brief examination of the database, as well as my cached files, it seems that the matter is lost for good.

Shame, too.

Perhaps I was a bit too quick to say that I didn't want a faster web server. Or perhaps I just need to change how my posts are written.

At one time, I would write everything out in Microsoft Word before posting it here. This was done mainly to ensure that I didn't make simple spelling mistakes, and to prevent large grammar mishaps. After a few weeks, I decided that the improper sentences and occasional spelling error would make this informal site look like it was written by someone who is usually paying attention to too many things … which is usually the case.

I guess this means that I should start using something like Notepad to write my entries before posting. Losing 45 minutes of work is something that hasn't happened to me in the last few years. This has certainly been a nice reminder of what was once a regular occurrance.

Sorry. I'll make sure tomorrow's post isn't lost.

Server Upgrades and Some Unexpected Complications

For the last two days I've been slowly upgrading my web server, and I must say, there have been some unexpeted complications.

Only twice has my site gone down due to unforseen hiccups in the update process. These updates weren't software-related failures, but instead, hardware capacity failures. It seems that my site attracts lots of attention from data-mining bots. When my site is under heavy load from them (more than 4 hits in 10 seconds, give or take), most of the server's resources go towards Apache and MySQL, which leaves very little room for other operations.

Yesterday I had connected a new hard drive to the server and I was copying over quite a large amount of data. Unfortunately, this caused some problems with the heavy internet load and caused my server to freeze! This is almost unheard of on Linux servers, but when they just don't have the resources to run effectively, they can starve and freeze just like their Windows cousins.

So … after lots of work and patience, the update is complete. This site shouldn't be going down any time soon, and now that I have the extra space, I'll be uploading lots of the pictures from my trips as well as some from around the area. I guess this means that I could be a tourist in my own city for a bit, since I've had many requests to take pictures of this area. With the snow all around, some of the shots might turn out quite well!

Server Back Up and Running!

Sorry about the server down-time, to anyone that tried to connect this morning. It appears that some database issues caused a crash on my server, and this affected all the sites being hosted. I've corrected the matter and we should be good to go, now.

Thanks go to Reiko for letting me know about the problem. :)

Internet Withdrawl

Too much of anything can form an addiction. This is true for food, sex, alcohol, television … and even internet.

I live in a very connected state. I am typically on the internet in one form or another 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Recently, these forms expanded to include a simple eggdrop bot, and this simple website. I have the ability to connect to the internet with my PDA almost anywhere in North America and Europe, and of course, I'm connected while at work and at home.

This level of connectivity keeps me in touch with my digital and physical surroundings. When disconnected, I feel almost lost … mute, if you will. I no longer have the answer to the unknown. I no longer have access to the various places I work. I no longer have the ability to talk to some of my friends. And more importantly, I can lose the ability to easily talk to my Reiko.

For the past few weeks, Telus (my internet provider) has undergone several changes to their systems. Unfortunately, these changes often bring several days worth of unstable net connections. With these instabilities I find it difficult to collect the several gig worth of information that I enjoy every night after a day's work. I find it frustrating when I cannot chat on IRC with friends and aquaintances all over the world. And worse … I find it painful when I can't communicate with Reiko either in text, or with our webcams.

I do have backup methods to connect when Telus fails. However, these methods are often slower and more expensive than my main internet connection. I'm charged a premium by Telus because of the package I use, as well as the service level that I demand. Yet it seems that Telus consistently fails and never reports the reasons why. It has always been up to me to find the reason for the constant outages.

And unfortunately, my tools can only say so much.

Typically I cannot reach Telus during these outages, as their phone systems are over-loaded (pretty scary, since they're also the primary phone company in this province). Nothing is ever mentioned on their website afterwards. And it's equally difficult to find other power-users explaining why an outage had occurred.

Several weeks ago, Telus had upgraded their DNS servers. When this occurred without notice, I changed from Telus' servers, to those offered by OpenDNS. A week later, they stress-tested some of these servers for the Vista release, again without notice or warning, knocking tens of thousands of people offline.

Not one email or apology.

Phoning customer service never resulted in any decent answers, as often they're the last to know why things fail here and there. I can't really fault these operators either, because they could be thousands of kilometers away and have no way to access the local server statuses due to these failures.

I'm really at a loss about which direction to go with Telus. Their biggest competitor in the area is Shaw, and I refuse to go with that company. The remaining ISPs are little operations that would cost more than they're worth. So what option do I have?

I sometimes wonder if it would be worth moving to a commercial package. I could try to force information out of the company should their service be sub-par, then, as a business line is expected to have a higher Quality of Service. If they weren't five times more expensive than the residential packages, perhaps it would be worth it.

So come on, Telus! Give your customers some credit! We understand that things break, or need to be upgraded from time to time. But if you're going to knock us off the internet for the better part of a day, give us the courtesy of a generic email. Let us know what you're doing and when we can expect these things. Your competitors don't seem to have a problem doing this. Many people buy the premium packages expecting better service. But it seems that ever since this package upgrade, I've had nothing but problems.