Taking the Long Way Home

Today I was benchmarking my internet speed using Speakeasy's speed test.  One of the reasons for this is that I've noticed some inconsistencies with Telus' network speeds.  Anything that's outside of a 250 km radius to me tends to cap out at about 1100 kbps, while sites as close as Seattle can send at almost my full 3.0 Mbps.  To prove the point, here is the best speed I managed to get from Seattle, Washington today:

Seattle Run

My test scores from Texas, New York and Illinois averaged at just below 800 kbps.  I tried these tests during different times of the day, and on different days with no real difference in speed.

Digging a bit deeper, I decided to do a trace route for these sites to see just how the data is routing through the net before reaching my computer.  From Seattle, data hops through an average of 12 servers.  From Austin, TX, data hops through just over 30 servers.  From Buffalo, NY, data hops through Montreal, then what appears to be every city with a population higher than 100 people straight through until Vancouver.

I wonder if some network sultan decided to take some revenge on Telus, because I can't believe that something like this would be missed.

For the last few months I've been struggling with speeds moving between here and Japan.  Reiko and I often talk on MSN with our webcams, and we're regularily struggling with constant disconnections and network pauses.  I've pulled my hair out thinking that it might be my hardware, or Reiko's hardware, or something between our different computer setups ... but all of this checked out.  But after doing these tests (not only for speed, but for routing), I have something else to consider.

Broadband isn't just about speed, but reliability.  People pay the extra for broadband internet because it's supposed to be both faster and more reliable.  Telus has already failed miserably with reliability, considering how their DNS servers are about as useful as a 100 yen coin in Istanbul.  Perhaps this routing is just the tip to something else I need to examine.

I know that data will hop from server to server as it travels from one part of the globe to another.  I'm just surprised that it has to jump as often as it does.  With Shaw, I would often see no more than ten hops if I was getting something from anywhere in North America.  Of course, depending on who Telus has angered, they may be powerless to prevent this.

A friend of mine at work has often threatened to have someone route all our external traffic through Uzbekistan (in jest, of course).  Perhaps this is what happened to my long-distance packets, too.

Another Paradigm Already?

Several weeks ago I was reading a post in one of the industry journals about something called Composite Programs and how they were the new paradigm in many businesses.  After reading this rather lengthy article about how certain users build these tools, I was left with the single question:  "Where are these people?"

To quote from Chris Keyser's article in last month's Architecture Journal:

"Composite applications offer a long-sought-after business nirvana whereby empowered technical business users can stitch together componentized business capabilities.  In many ways, composite applications are the business web users' equivalent of Web 2.0 and "mash-ups."  While there has been a lot of hype around composites, many vendors have been slow to deliver real value in this area.  Technologies are emergine, however, that will change this game, and composition will become an increasingly important aspect of constructing business logic."

Pretty words, but does this apply to the average Canadian business?

In order to find out, I've been discussing this supposed 'new paradigm' with a few other programmers and found that the people that work for my employer are no different than 99% of people that work for other employers.  That is to say, that while these employees are typically great at what they do, they will likely never build one of these composite applications.  It's just way outside their field of expertise.

I was looking at how people went about building these apps, and when I think about all the non-programmers with my employer (there are 3 programmers and 380+ non-programmers), I can only think of four people that might venture into this area.  Building these mash-ups typically means that the user has a pretty good idea of what they need the software to do, and what role they expect the data to fulfill.  For all the people my friends and I work with all over Western Canada, we don't really see this catching on.

Then again ... lots of people didn't see the cell phone catching on, either.

In ten years, I can see composites making their way into some companies.  But even then, it will be on a limited basis.  Only people who have a througough understanding of the business or processes should be making these mash-ups.  Otherwise, the problem companies will face will be non-standardized mash-ups.  The other big problem would be supporting these non-standard apps.  Already at work, programmers are expected to reverse engineer reports based off pivot tables in Microsoft Excel using some often-unknown data source in order to make things work.  Who will reverse engineer these products when the initial creators either leave, or forget how something worked?

While the software world is moving into some very exciting areas, I'm looking forward to retiring and opening that coffee shop by the beach.


Tomorrow is the day Microsoft's next-generation operating system, Windows Vista, is released to the general public.  In a recent polling among my friends and co-workers, I have found only two people planning to upgrade before the end of the year.


I've been paying very close attention to Vista and what it can offer.  As a software engineer that works mainly with Microsoft products, I've had to keep myself up to date and aware of the directions that are being made in terms of security platforms as well as the various subtle changes that invariably cause an application to respond unexpectedly.  On top of this, I've been working towards yet another certification (the MCAD).  While none of the course material or exams cover Vista, the people I've been studying with have been working with this OS for the last year throughout the various alpha and beta releases.

Personally, I like what Vista brings to the plate.  The platform is more secure.  The interface is a bit more intuitive for everyone.  The experience is also geared more towards letting people see what they're working with, rather than inferring what they're working with.  When viewing directory contents, rather than see hundreds of files with similar icons, people can now see thumbnails of the document or file.  This will make things easier for quite a number of people who may not have strict habits regarding file management on their computers.

However, I don't think I'll be making the move to this new operating system any time soon.

I did give Vista's Beta 3 and two RC's a try on my notebook here, as well as test my machine for Vista operability using the Upgrade Tool provided by Microsoft, but it's just too soon for me.  I have extreme confidence in Microsoft's ability to deliver great products the first time, and Beta 3 worked flawlessly on my computer despite it's incomplete state.  However, in order for me to make the most of this OS, I will be forced to upgrade to a new machine.

I'll admit that I can run Vista in a simpler mode, which would allow me to have the security and stability of the new OS but without the Aero interface (which I could easily live with).  My biggest constraint is with possible DRM issues.  Unfortunately, the Digital Rights Management system was not fully implemented in Beta 3 (the only release I tested for an extended period), so I did not see the results of this protection software.  Lots of people have issued complaints about the technology (either because they have lots of illegal media, or because they're going off hearsay and think that RIAA and MPAA will be advised any time you see copywritten material on YouTube), but I've not yet seen this system in action.

This is a pretty important area for me as I do download lots of asian media.  I enjoy TV dramas from Japan and Korea, as well as documentaries from all over the world.  Most of what I watch and listen to cannot be easily obtained in North America.  But on top of this, I do have mp3s that were ripped from my CDs.  Will any of these files be impacted because they do not contain any DRM tags?  I found no problems in my testing, but these tests were carried out on pre-release versions of the OS.

I've heard from many industry sources saying that my media will be fine, and audio or video quality will only be down-sampled on super high quality media such as BlueDisc or HD-DVD movies.  But even when downgraded, the media will still play at DVD-level quality according to Microsoft.

This would be more than enough for me, considering how my LCD is 15.4" in size, and I have no ambitions to buy a television any time soon.  But I am always looking to future-proof my media.  I am also curious to see whether some predictions will come true, though.  Will Vista become the next Windows ME?

I don't think so.  But only time will tell whether the general public is on board with everything that Vista offers.  Until then, I'll stick with XP Pro.

Respecting the Deceased

Today I happened to overhear a child asking their parents for a new dog, and this boy wanted to give this animal the same name as one that had passed away a few months ago.  The father had mentioned that they might look at getting another dog soon, but said nothing about the name.

This is not the first time I've heard of this situation, and it makes me wonder if most people view animals as some sort of subjective life form that does not warrant the same respect that is given to humans on their passing.

There has been talk of using the technology of cloning to offer a "carbon copy" of a deceased animal.  On hearing this, I was quite shocked that any family would want to consider this option when bringing a pet into the home.  Dealing with the loss of a loved one (be they animal or human) is something each one of us must learn to do.  The grieving process is crucial to our well being after such losses.  I would think that outright replacing the deceased with another that looks just the same (without the memories, of course) would be incredibly disrespectful.

Would this not also teach our children that life is no different than any other commodity?

Your cat Fluffy died after 12 years?  That's okay, make a clone and call that replacement Fluffy.  The first one lived 12 years, so maybe this one will give you just as much time.  Then just go on with your life without thinking about the temporary loss of your cat.

Your child died in a horrible car accident?  That's okay, too.  Make a clone and give them the same name.  You already have everything you need to start over, right?

"But isn't that heartless?" you ask.  Not at all!  If you've never had to deal with permanent loss of a loved one, then this is no more different than the temporary inconvenience of having your car stolen.  After some paperwork, you get a new car and continue your life with yet another story to tell.

I'll admit that one can more easily get over the loss of a cat or car than the horrible tragedy of losing a child, but if we allow our kids to think it's okay to "get a new one and give it the same name", would that lead to their understanding that life does not need to be cherished?  Looking at this from a human perspective, how would someone feel if they heard someone say "I liked the first version of you better" ?

In the next 20 years, I'm quite certain that technology will allow science to make clones and rapidly age them to the point required.  This would be incredibly useful when someone needs a replacement heart or lung.  If the cloned tissue or organ is made from the person that needs it, there would be no chance of rejection.  What an exciting area of science!

But could this apply to entire bodies as well?

When someone's middle-aged animal runs across the street and gets hit by a car, will the animal be cloned and aged to the point of the accident as a replacement for the family?  I sincerely hope not.

I really hope the child from this morning is taught that we can't just replace a member of the family with someone else and move on.  We need to cherish the time we had with that loved one and keep it close to our heart.  When someone new is brought in (whether it's human or not), they can't be expected to act as a replacement.  They need their own name.  They need their own identity.  They need to be given the same respect that we want for ourselves.

We've already created enough of a throw-away society.  Let's not throw away our loved ones, too.

Is Vancouver Worth the Money?

While doing laundry at the local laundromat I happened to have a conversation with a gentleman who, like many Canadians, enjoyed to pass the time by complaining to anyone who would grant him an audience.  Of all the complaints this man went through, only one seemed valid:  the mass evictions by property managers in order to sell or rent residences at ridiculously high prices.

Since winning the bid for the 2010 Olympics, the Vancouver area seems to have become a prime area for price gouging.  Food costs more, transit costs more, houses have more than tripled in price since 2000 and the population is expected to grow by a significant factor through to 2020.  As expected, much of this can be attributed by people who stand to profit the most.

In the last 12 months there have been large protests by people who have been forcefully evicted from their homes in order for the property managers to clean the building up and or sell the apartments at twice their previous value.  In the case of this man, he had a two bedroom apartment that was comfortably large, and had lived there for a total of 10 years.  Rent was a respectable $780 a month (the going rate for an apartment of that size in this area of Vancouver).  Last summer he received a notice from the property manager that the rent was going to be changed to $1590 a month at the end of his contract, which was due the next month.

Much like his, my response was "WTF?"

This is quite illegal in British Columbia, and the tenants took the property manager to court for this.  Of course, the court ruled in favor of the tenants, and the rent was not increased by such a ridiculous amount.

The next attempt to remove the tenants involved notices advising massive renovations.  The tenants would have to leave for at least a year, but they were given the option to return first when the renovations were complete.  Of course, the expected rental value would be about $1600 a month after the work was complete.

This didn't go over well at all, but many of the tenants became fed up with the treatment they received and moved out to prevent the property managers from making any more money at their expense.  So after only a few months, the building owners managed to get what they wanted.

The building this man had lived in had work crews inside for a total of four months.  After this time, the building opened up again and was accepting tenants.  More out of curiosity than anything else, the gentleman arranged a tour of the renovated building and found that aside from a fresh coat of paint and new carpets, the building was no different than before.  The same cracks existed in the walkways, and the parking lot was just as littered with trash.

Rent for a third floor, two bedroom apartment with view of Oak St:  $1575

I'd like to know where this will end.

Last year I had worked several side jobs in conjunction with my primary place of work and earned more during the 2006 year than I did during 2001, 2002, and 2003 combined.  I live alone and make more than many people in my family who have kids.

Yet despite all of this, I can easily say that I will never be able to realistically afford a house within 75 km of my work.  Houses are insanely expensive to the point where it is beginning to look as though Vancouver is no longer a valid place to live unless one's annual household income is 70+K.

As it sits, I don't think I can realistically afford to stay in Vancouver past 2010.  Reiko and I have plans to raise a family in Japan, but I'm wondering just how much we can save while living in this part of Canada.  I've been lucky so far, in that most of my landlords have not been heartless businesses.  But the people I rent from have the same issues.  They have bills to pay and costs incurred.  How long until I'm forced to pay drastically more or face moving farther from work in order to save money?

I work hard for every dollar that I earn, so I tend to justify expenses in terms of hours worked.  Two years ago my notebook cost me 62 hours at a time when rent was 26 hours ofwork.  In all, both were worth the effort.  This notebook has performed exceptionally well in the 17,500+ hours I've asked of it, and rent is a necessary expense.

Currently, rent takes approximately 30 hours to earn.  I've worked out that I can afford to pay no more than 41 hours toward this.  I haven't had a rent increase in almost two years, so I may be due this coming March.  But this begs the question ... is living in Vancouver really worth the expense?

This is a great city to live in.  It's a shame that people need to be rich to enjoy it.

The Easiest $24.95 match.com Ever Made

One year ago today, I paid $24.95 (plus GST) to match.com.  Ten minutes after paying to upgrade my service, I sent my first email to Reiko.  Three days and three emails later we started chatting on MSN.  Since then, my world has changed in more ways than I can count.

In the last year, I've been able to visit Japan twice and learn more about this amazing world.  I've travelled to other parts of this province with Reiko and seen some of the places that she enjoyed while studying in Canada.  I've even been accepted into her family as the newest member, and we've been planning our wedding along the way.

A year ago, I never could have predicted that any of this would happen.  So much has occurred so quickly that sometimes Reiko and I have wondered if things were moving too fast, while other times the world dragged on ... the distance between us seemingly growing wider by the second.  Yet throughout all my mistakes, and all the challenges we've faced, Reiko and I are still together, and stronger than ever.

An old Chinese proverb states:  "When one door closes, another is opened for you."

At the start of 2006, I thought that the year would be spent in lonely isolation.  I can't thank the Lord enough for bringing Reiko-chan into my life.

Watching the Clock

Today I was forced to leave work early due to what might be my first 24-hour flu in almost 10 years.  Of course, I was still there for six of my usual eight hours.

Since getting home, I've tried sleeping off and on, but find that I can't seem to get myself to that state where I can easily lose consciousness.  Instead, I've sat on my bed with this trusty HP notebook and watched each and every change to my LED clock radio for the last nine hours.


Of course, I've been doing other things while combating the urge to reverse-digest my food ... it's just amazing how slowly time moves when there is very little to keep you distracted.

Einstein once explained the theory of general relativity with the following example:

"If you hold your hand on a hot stove for a minute, it feels like an hour. Spend an hour with a beautiful woman, and it feels like a minute"

This is an apt analogy for my afternoon.

When I think back to the two weeks I recently spent with Reiko in Japan, it felt more like a few days.  When I think of the three weeks that have passed since my return to Canada, it feels like a few months.  I realize that this is due to a great many reasons, none of which I intend to address in this post, but I do look forward to the coming future when Reiko and I will share the same house.

While time may seem to move much faster when I'm with her, I have no qualms about quickly growing old with my Reiko-chan.

Rise of the Home Servers

I love storage, and lots of it.

Since first becoming heavily involved with computers and the internet, I have often struggled with simple things like storage.  Where can I put all my files where they will be easily accessible the next time I want to view them?

In 2000 I started building myself dedicated servers that would sit on my network and act as a simple file store.These systems would later be used as FTP servers to share my data, as well as XDCC servers.  This provided the necessary resources for me to both share as well as receive more information from people online.

By 2001, my file servers had grown to hold 300 Gig of information (which was massive at the time) spanning 9 hard drives and two computers.  This was also the time that blank CDs had come down to be roughly $2 each, so were an affordable solution for archiving older files that were seldom in demand.

Of course, since then my file servers have progressed both in size and intelligence.  I currently have a single Linux box that runs some custom software written to improve ease of use.  I don't have a problem remembering what's on hda1 and hde2, but I do have a bit of an issue seeing 16 mapped drives in my windows environment.

To that end, I wrote an application that will work with Samba and handle multiple drives on the fly, letting me view them all as a single drive.  If I add another hard drive, then this software will pick up the new device, format it accordingly (if it's never been formatted), and automatically let me gain the advantange of the extra space.  What used to be a 400 Gig drive would now appear as a 700 Gig drive, if I were to add three hundred gigs to the machine.

No restart required.

This appliation also allows for automatic version control of certain files, with content indexing so that I could query a database for files containing certain words or names.  I was really looking forward to finishing it off in a way that it could be offered to the general public.  I can see some great uses for this in a non-corporate environment where people don't want to use a specific Document Management System or worry about things like version control.  Unfortunately ... someone's beaten me to the punch.

HP Media Center ServerOn Paul Thurrott's site, he talks about Microsoft's upcoming Home Server (previously code-named "Quattro").  I can't say that I'm not impressed by some of the features discussed in this article, but I am a bit disappointed that I couldn't have come up with something better sooner.

Depending on the legalities of releasing something that essentially does the very same thing, but on a LAMP platform, I might still release my custom app to the general populace.  I can't say that it will have the same robust backup functions that the Microsoft version will have, but I think that it would provide just about everything that anyone would need.  And if it's an open project, people could always help out by posting revisions or customizations of their own.

It will be interesting to see these devices released later this year.  Hopefully the sticker shock won't keep people from making use of this sort of technology.

Flawless Upgrade

On Monday, the great people at WordPress released version 2.1 of their popular blogging software. I've been paying attention to this update for quite some time and found that my site would not have any problems upgrading. In fact, some of my plugins would work better and the pages would load faster.

So, today I took the plunge and made a complete backup of my website (rather than just a differential backup), copied it back to my computer (I hadn't realized that it has grown to 600+ MB with all the images), and upgraded the package.

All in all, it took a total of 20 minutes.  19 of those minutes involved the backup.  55 seconds was me staring at my screen saying "No way".  And the other 5 seconds involved loading the upgrade script and seeing the end result.

Flawless upgrade.

It doesn't matter how often I see happen.  I am always amazed by the consistent quality and reliability of this software package.

I tip my hat to the developers and testers who have put countless hours into this project.

Well done.

Opera's My New Browser of Choice

I've been using Opera for just over a day, and I can't believe how well it operates.  For the first time in over eight years, my default browser is no longer IE.

I've become rather accustomed to IE6 over the last five years, and all the little quirks that come with using the application.  I'll freely admit that I continued to use Microsoft's browser despite the frequent reports of exploits and other deficiencies, but none of the other browsers really appealed to me.  A few years ago I had given FireFox a chance to wow me, but it managed only to frustrate me with the miriyad of differences.  Opera, however, has come out on top as my new browser of choice.

There are quite a few things about this application that I enjoy.  As with most current browsers, there is a tabbed interface.  But on top of this is the ability to have my own custom CSS files (if I ever felt the need to override the various style sheets that are out there), a download manager, and a decent personal information container.  The list if features is a bit longer, but I've yet to explore that far into the application.  Just for my standard browsing, the experience has already proved superior.

One little area that I would like to see changed is Opera's handling of certain downloads.  I work with lots of Torrent files on a daily basis.  I am very happy with BitTornado and do not want to use Opera's built-in Torrent client.  To that end, I'd like to override the default so that BitTornado is called accordingly.  I'm sure that it can be done ... I just haven't found the setting, yet.

This browser seems to run on almost anything.  There are versions for mobile phones and even the Nintendo DS.  A few friends have said how much they prefer this browser over the other standards, and I can certainly see why.

If you've grown tired of IE and FireFox, you might want to give this a try.

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