Month: July 2010

Power Outage Disaster

So today at work I faced one of the things you hope you never have, but you are sure you will some day when you least expect it.  For example when your supervisor (IS Director) is supposed to be somewhere in north-central Iowa climbing a hill on a 21 speed, road bike.  This morning when I was on my way to work, I got within 1 block and there was a street light out.  I didn’t think much of it, there were stop signs 1 way so I wasn’t worried about getting hit, on with my business.  I pull in to my parking lot and noticed that nobody is parked in our companies private lot.  It would be very surprising if I beat everyone in.  I noticed that most of the cars were parked just outside of the lot in the metered parking.  Again, not a huge surprise, we seem to have alot of problems with our electronic gate.  Usually the problem is someone drives through it to get prime time parking on the weekends.  So this was a little odd, but oh well.  I’m walking in and one of the maintenance guys is removing the arm from the gate and says “gonna be an exciting morning”.  Again, I figure he’s just referring to a broken arm on the gate and having to work outside when it’s already humid and warming up.  Then I walk into the building and the light for the first floor isn’t on for the elevator.  Weird, but I remember 1 of the lights was burned out before, but I thought it was 2nd floor.  Maybe it just burned out over night.  Then I press the up button and the elevator doesn’t open.  It hits me, “THE POWER WAS OUT”!

I mentioned my supervisor was out, so is my office mate, the 3rd guy in the IS Department.  So that just leaves me.  I raced up the stairs, the server room had been getting hot so we had a portable air conditioner in the server room (more like a closet).  The room was open to keep cool, but there was not a sound.  Everything was off, the lights were obviously all out, network and phones down, everything.

I hear there was a fire in a man hole in downtown/old market and that power has been out since 2 AM. I figured there wasn’t much I could do, but hope that the power came up soon.  I texted my boss to see if he had heard.  Turns out he was still in town and was on his way in.  He was trying to put together some paper work for me to do some work today and was unable to get into the system from home.  So he ran in to check on the cooling unit and discovered the problem a little before I had.  So that was a relief.  I hate to bring him in from vacation, but it took a little pressure off my shoulders trying to explain to everyone what all was down, how long and what could be done in the mean time.  I was prepared for the questions, but still not my favorite situation.

I tethered my laptop to my phone and got a little done.  Grabbed breakfast and then it was just a waiting game.  Word was power could be out anywhere from 2 hours (12 noon) to 24 more.  The most solid news we heard was that the area was still to hot to work in and repairs would probably start around noon.  Still just a guessing game.  The CFO and CEO decided to ask me how hard it would be to bring in generators and get atleast the server stack up and going.  Which brings me to the main point of this post.  What’s your disaster recovery plan?

Every company has one in place.  When you think about it, it’s pretty obvious.  What would you do in case of any possible disaster that could happen to your work place, or the information needed to work.  Like most companies most of our server stack is in the building.  We backup off site and have a pretty solid disaster recovery plan in place, should we know that the disaster will last atleast 1-2 days or more.  It’s tough in this case when we didn’t know if it was going to last from 2 to 8 working hours.  So I was asked how hard it would be to bring in a generator, I mentioned we needed to have the networking gear and atleast a few of the servers plugged in to accomplish what they wanted.  My supervisor quickly came to the rescue again.  He had ran power meters on the servers halfway recently and with the help of the building maintenance guy and his electrician, we were quickly able to decide what was needed and how long it would take to get the equipment there and working.  The guesstimate was a little less than 3 hours and they were able to beat that by 30 minutes.  Pretty quick turn around actually.  The networking, phones and servers were up and running by 3 PM and we didn’t have to go into our full disaster recovery.

As for our full disaster recovery, we have a hot site setup that we can restore our servers to from backup.  Then they set up 10 work stations imaged like our computers so that 10 people can be officed and fully working in 4-8 hours.  The tough part of that equation comes when we have to change our DNS settings so that people on the outside can reach us.  The only guarantee that we are given in that situation is 20 minutes to 48 hours.  Since we have properties all over the US that access our systems though a web interface, it could cause a little more of a damper for them.  The main goal is that the company has an answer for any possible thing that could happen.  Today we learned how long it takes us to adapt and gives us real experience to know if we can handle it.

The other thing that faces many companies today is, if servers or the services they provide can be moved off site or hosted.  We have been toying with this and many companies already have hosted email solutions and are starting to move other services into the cloud.  I wonder if this will come up in the near future.

So what’s this mean to you?  Do you have a “disaster recovery plan” in place for your home computer or information.  What would you do if your hard drive crashed and you lost your family pictures?  What if there was a fire in the house and you lost your photo albums?  How far are you willing to go to make sure your information AND stuff is safe?  I have a server that backs up the information from my home computers so that any 1 of them or all of them can crash and I don’t loose anything important.  Then that server duplicates the data so that any 1 hard drive can crash.  I hate to admit this, but if someone steals my server I’m currently out of luck.  I’ve backed up most of the data to an external hard drive that I store in a fire safe box in my house, but really people should be saving this stuff to the cloud or somewhere offsite.  I could talk forever about backup solutions, but the point is, make sure you have a plan.

Videos of @goldengage

Gage is our beloved golden retriever that we got on August 8th, 2008 (08-08-08), which was exactly a year before our wedding date.  Many of you have heard this story, but the reason we got him was as a gift of our engagement.  That’s a whole different video, but I told Amy that we could get a dog for me losing the bet and in the process asked her to marry me.  We named the dog Gage, short for En-Gage-ment.  

Now the dog has his own twitter account and website.  He thinks he runs the relationship.  Just kidding, but we love him a lot and here’s a couple experiences we’ve had with him recently.  The first video is of him meeting my sisters new chihuahua / miniture pinscher puppy named Bandit.  Bandit took control of the relationship real fast.

The second video is of Gage swimming for the first time.  He’s been around water a lot, but never deep enough he had to swim.  Of course golden retrievers are bred to swim, but the first time can be a doozy.  He acted like a pro and wanted more.  It’s too bad we don’t have somewhere like this a little closer to home than southern Iowa (Roberts Creek).  He’s had a couple good stories about water.  One time we took him for a walk by a little lake in our area and decided there weren’t many people around we’d see what he did if he got wet.  So with the leash on we let him in to the water.  We, as in Amy, decided he had enough and tried to get him to come out.  There was a pretty good size bank he was afraid to jump up and I couldn’t pull him up by the leash, then it pulled the colar off of him and he just thought he’d start heading towards the middle of the lake.   We were able to call him before he got very far away, but it was far enough away that Amy had a canary.   I put the collar back on him and tightened it up, before we pulled him out.  I thought it was kinda fun, but Amy hasn’t wanted him around water since.  This video just shows how much he loves it.

ps, I’m also embeding these videos with the new youtube HTML5 embed api to be a geek.

Hands on with the iPad

I had the chance to play around with an iPad recently.  The chairman of our company got one and liked it so much, he asked me to set one up for his wife.  It felt like Christmas opening an $800+ Apple package before anyone else got their hands on it, since I don’t get the chance to do that much.  The task was to get it working on AT&T’s 3G, to setup an iTunes account, and to add an Exchange email account.  Sounds easy enough.  I really didn’t run into any problems.  Like I’ve mentioned before, I have a 2nd Gen iPod Touch and now have iOS 4 running on it, so I’ve setup apps and added Exchange email accounts before.

I was suprised at how easy it was to get 3G running.  From the phones that I’ve had activated on Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, I was expecting this to be a little more tedius than it was.  Basically I just put in the credit card info and the rest took care of itself.  I wish there were a few more options so I could tell if and when it was going to renew.  Then choosing between the different levels of service was a pain.  It’s too bad there’s not 1 unlimited plan for a low price.

My first observation about he hardware was how heavy it was.  I never would’ve guessed from looking at it.  I think the size is a little awkward, it was tough to type with my thumbs in portrait mode and too small in landscape, but I guess my hands are probably a little bigger than the average person.  Once I turned the screen on I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the screen.  It is clear, vibrant and crisp.  I could see a use case for showing off photography if I was good at it.  The default wallpaper was so detailed a few of the lines on it looked like scratches at first glance.

As for software, this in my opinion is the only way to really get value out of the iPad.  There are some nice news apps that were specifically written for the size of the screen.  That part seemed nice, that I could look at a news paper and see a few headlines before I chose what to read.  But it actually frustrated me that Facebook and some other games had to be blown up 2 times to fill the screen. Then the resolution looked horrible and it took the value away from having a nice big screen.  

I’m happy with my iPod Touch and it was quite a bit cheaper.  It gives me my fill of the iOS and it’s apps.  I also have a Dell Mini 9 netbook, so I have a small device I can travel with if I want that.  So the only place an iPad would really fit into my lifestyle is for a couch device that turns on quickly and can find information fast.  I don’t watch enough videos that a need a new device to do it with.  I don’t ever read, but if I did, I could borrow my wife’s Nook.  As far as that goes, I could just go back to the 1 book I’ve been reading for a few years now and flip pages manually.  I can already search for info, read my email, and scan my calendar from my Android phone, so I just really don’t have a need for it.  i suppose if I had some expendable income that was burning a whole in my pocket I’d get one to show off to my friends, but only when they put a nice camera in it for “FaceTime” or taking quick pictures and videos around the house.  Oh yeah, and on Verizon.  So think about that Apple, you might be able to sell 1 more iPad if you found me some expendable income.

I’d consider something like this for my family members that aren’t so computer savvy, but the more I think about it, I go back to one of my principle technology theories.  If you can’t handle figuring out a new piece of technology, then maybe you shouldn’t be using it.  I’ve always thought people should embrace technology as it could make their lives easier.  It won’t make it any easier if you spend more time trying to figure it out or getting help than you would’ve saved.

Schmap Seattle Twelfth Edition: Photo Inclusion

This is kinda exciting, I had a hell of a time finding my picture on the site.  I had to flip through the pictures of Downtown Seattle until I found it.  I copied a link to the picture too.

 

 

     
 
Flickr®

Hi oneniner!

Claire Evans has sent you a message on Flickr.
Subject: Schmap Seattle Twelfth Edition: Photo Inclusion
Date: 18th July, 2010

 

Hi Nolan,

I am delighted to let you know that your submitted photo has been selected for inclusion in the newly released twelfth edition of our Schmap Seattle Guide:

Downtown

http://www.schmap.com/seattle/introduction_neighborhoods/#p=2006Cb1&i=2006Cb1_98.jpg

Thanks so much for letting us include your photo – please enjoy the guide!

Best regards,

Claire Evans
Editor, Schmap Guides

P.S. If you’re a Twitter user, please check out our latest release, a tool for sharing events, places, and local reviews on Twitter:
www.schmap.it

We also have two Twitter accounts for Seattle, well worth following:

Twitter-trending Seattle restaurants and bars:
www.twitter.com/seattlepicks

Live music, parties and more happening right now in Seattle:
www.twitter.com/seattle_today

 

Apps, Apps, & more Apps

I’ve used an iPod Touch for a year and a half and Windows Mobile for about 5 years, but this is my first Android phone and I think the 1 key difference everyone would agree on is – the apps.  Other than the iPhone OS, the other operating systems can be on about any piece of hardware you could imagine, with different variants such as proccessor/memory speed, screen size/orientation, hard/soft keyboards and basically all have wifi and GPS now.  So what is different about the apps?  Before I get too in depth, I’ll admit I’m a little biased against Apple and actually a little biased towards Windows Mobile – that part will surprise some people. I started using a Dell Axim PDA with a form of Windows Moble probably 6 years ago and then went to the Moto Q in 2006 when it was released and then to HTC devices in 2008 (Verizon VX6800, Touch Pro 1).  So I thought the non techies/apple fanboys got a little over excited, when their iPhone was doing some of the things my phones had done for years.  Once I got an iPod Touch I realized what the real difference was is the developers.  There were some really fun games and apps that people didn’t take the time to develop for Windows Mobile.  iPhone users could jailbreak their phones, but couldn’t install custom ROMS and upgrade their OS as fast as Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile had all the apps I needed and even more that were business focused, including Exchange support, which wasn’t available on the iPhone yet.  So I guess the point I’m getting across is I could do a lot with my WinMo phones and I was pretty happy with them.  If anybody’s interested I could give my WinMo or iPhone app suggestions in another post, but this ones focused on Android, since I decided my new phone would be a HTC Incredible (obviously running Anroid) on Verizon instead of my 2nd choice, the HTC Touch Pro 2 (Windows Mobile 6.5).

 

I like Android because it’s so open for developers and Anroid apps are usually cheaper (possibly as a result of more ads) and the possibilities are a little more flexible.  Eventually I’m also probably going to root my phone and I when I do it will open up even more possibilities for Android. I was finally ready to pull the trigger on an Android phone when they released a powerful HTC phone to Verizon.  I had good experience with HTC devices and didn’t care for a keyboard, but really wanted the 1 GHz processor.  That’s why I chose the HTC Incredible. To start out with there are a few places to find apps.  The Android Marketplace is the go to hub, but those apps are listed online at AppBrainDoubleTwist, and Android MarketYou can even install additional other marketplaces on Android or apps that aren’t in the market place.  Here’s a few lists of Apps I made on AppBrain.com.  Which is a great app for organizing apps and researching them on the web.  I’ve also read you can install them directly from the site now, if you have the app running on your phone.

Must Have Apps 

Cool Apps to Show Off

Apps I Wish Were Better

Apps on My Phone

The Incredible, of course, comes with the basics that I needed: HTC email (exchange), GMail, Google Maps, and YouTube.  The first step for me was to start grabbing apps from my iPod and WinMo phone that were also on Android.  That list included Evernote, an absolute must for me.  I love to over organize stuff and keep a copy of everything.  I use it to make lists, outlines, databases, recipes and then to store pictures of menus, hand written notes, and to record audio notes or music I want to remember to download.  Others that directly came over from my iPod were Pandora.  A great music app, I’m sure about everyone has heard of.  Having the ability to use it over 3G is amazing.  I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the stations I’ve created and now I can access them from anywhere.  Speaking of using an app on 3G, I recently go the Slingbox app when they brought it to Android, and that app is amazing.  I was a College World Series game and when I got a text that I was on TV, I was able to pull it up from the game and see myself on ESPN.  I was also the go to person for when ESPN showed instant replays that we didn’t get to see at the stadium.  It’s too bad that it cost $30 and I had already paid that for the iPod Touch version.  Here’s a quick round up of the rest that come to mind: Shazam (amazing how much more I use this when I have 3G to instantly tag a song, instead of tagging it and waiting till I got home with my iPod Touch), Google Maps/Earth/Latitude  (way, way better on Android, turn by turn navigation, Latitude, which isn’t even on the iPhone), Waze (I don’t use much, but still cool), Trapster (again, not very useful where I’m at yet, but cool), Urban Spoon/OpenTable (once in a great while, this comes in handy), Sportacular (many good competitors, but this one’s great), Qik (better on android)/Ustream (I’m still trying to figure out how to use this, but I love the idea), Amazon, Yelp (I didn’t realize how useful it was until I had GPS), Photoshop, USA Today, Dropbox, Bump (neat, but I’ve never used it), & Flixster.

Then there are the apps that are only available on Android, I should’ve listed these first, but I really did start with my iPod apps.  These are the cool apps like Shop Savvy, Google Maps Navigation, Google Goggles, My Tracks, Advanced Task Killer (oh wait you can’t multitask on the iPhone) & Astro (you can’t manage the files on an iPhone either?, really? plus it’s a great app for backups), Key Ring Rewards Cards, TripIt, Google Listen, and how could I forget Google Voice.  Then the apps that do the same thing as some iPhone apps, but are made by different developers handyCalc, Astrid Tasks, GMote, LED Scroller (I don’t really expect many people to use this, but I love it [marquee replacement on iPhone] and I consider Google Listen different since it’s so flexible with Podcast subscriptions over the air.)

I know what you’re all saying, there are 2 huge apps you haven’t talked about much yet.  How do you keep up on your social networking without a Twitter & Facebook app.  I saved them, because I have two opinions about them that are probably different than most.  Facebook sucks – yeah that’s right.  The Facebook app for Android is horrible, maybe that’s because I was spoiled by the iPod one, but I can now see why Joe Hewitt (Facebooks ex-iPhone app developer) was considered to be so good at what he did.  The WinMo app was better and I still use the web version over the app.  I couldn’t believe it.  It even calls out to a worse mobile version (m.facebook.com) through a built in browser instead of the nicer web version (touch.facebook.com).  To be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to see profile pictures or accept friend requests – two pretty big things in my opinion.  So I haven’t used Facebook on the Incredible near as much as I did before.  The tools for contributing to Facebook aren’t bad, but don’t post too much.  I do post some to Twitter and I have a few different accounts I like to manage, so Seesmic was the Twitter client I went with.  I’m not sure anything on Android could compare to Tweetie 2 for iPhone (now known as Twitter), but I’m liking Seesmic more and more everyday.  I’ve heard Twidroid and Touiteur are pretty good, but I haven’t given it a chance yet.  To bring up another bad subject for developers, I did try the official Twitter app.  It was pretty nice, but when I found out it only supports 1 user – I had to pass it up.  It makes me support Loic from Seesmic more when he said it drives competition and pushes him to be better.  Which is good, because I like their approach to Twitter apps and I now use them on Android, Windows and the web.  Tweetie is still my Mac and iPod app of choice.  I also like some of the custom options Seesmic offers allowing me to use my custom bit.ly url shortner, 19r.us for my links I post.  That way I can track my stats better and it looks more uniform.

There are a few things that I really, really wish did make it onto Android that I can’t seem to find and a few that are just wishful thinking.  I wish there was an app that combined Nike+, MyTracks/runstar, Livestrong/Calorie Counter by FatSecret, the FitBit/BodyBugg and Google Health.  I know this is a little bit of a stretch and these apps overlap a little, but can you imagine if there was 1 go to app that tracked your eating calories, burning calories, scanned barcodes, told you your WeightWatchers points, mapped your workouts, shared all of this info to the web in a downloadable form and then synced with Google Health AND synced info from my FitBit or whatever piece of hardware you used whether it was a Garmin watch, Nike+ shoes, a pedometer/heart rate meter or a BodyBugg (these things are all the rage right now). I would love to be able to go to one place to follow my health and share it with other people to motivate myself.  I guess I’ll just have to find a good way to combine them on my own.

I’m hoping I will push Android developers to make more apps and more advanced apps, because I’m going to have to say I don’t think Android has quite caught up with the iPhone apps.  Obviously the quantity of apps is lower, but I’m talking about the quality as well.  There are still a few that I really liked on my iPod that I just can’t find equivalents for like Everlater, Posterous, Tumblr, and RibbitMobile.  Then some of the ones they do have just aren’t quite as good like Facebook, Sportacular & Livestrong.  Also, gaming hasn’t come near as far on Android.  I enjoy the puzzle games the most, but will also do some social gaming.  I just hate paying for apps and most of the good Android apps aren’t free other than lite versions.

In my opinion these are the top 2 lists for Android apps: Gina Trapani & Matt Cutts.  Most tech sites will try to mention cool new apps when they come out, but as far as people I really trust in the Android area, these 2 are on top of the list.  I think I’ve listed about everything I’ve tried on my Incredible, so comment or tweet me and let me know what apps I’m missing that I have to have.  I’m always willing to try out new stuff and if you can fill any of those voids I listed, I’d love to hear about it.  I’ll also try to mention a few more specifics about apps and how I use them in future posts.

 

UPDATE (02/10/2012): FitBit has added more functionality with apps, here’s a link to the ones their compatible with.  FitBit Apps

I really need to write another one of these, I just keep putting it off.

Nook e

I don’t really forget about this blog, I just have a hard time updating any of them.  Posterous has really made it more convenient by adding posts by email.  I use to tweet once in a while from my phone, but once I could post pictures and short notes to my blog with an email from my phone, then it made it so much easier.  This was especially true when I got my Android phone.  I posted a few times from my Windows Mobile phone, but the camera was enough better on my new phone to make a difference.  I have a huge post on Android and its apps that I haven’t posted, yet.  I’ll have to clean it up and do that before it’s too old, but back to the happenings from the last couple weeks…

Today at work, I had a question come up that I have looked into some, but really wish I knew more about.  The question was what was the best way to get Google Books on to an eReader and how much would it cost?  I recently bought my wife a Barnes & Noble Nook ebook reader – so I was leaning that way, but the Kindle is the name most people recognize right away.  I did a little research before buying the Nook, but each one has its own strengths.  I’m a big fan of Amazon and had always bought books for her from there, among everything else in the world I’ve bought from there.  It’s off topic, but Amazon Prime is awesome.  But the Barnes & Noble reader runs Android, of which I’m also a huge fan.  The Barnes & Noble book store offers the same books at similar prices, but has a little more flexibility with adding your own books, and I thought getting books from Google was one of the options.  I’ll have to look into that to see how easy it is.  The newest Nook software has an internet browser and other fun things included.  The Nook also has the color touch screen for browsing books.  These are the things that pushed me to chose the Nook – and so far she has been happy with the decision.  We got her the 3g version, but she is recommending the WiFi version to her mom – you can’t beat the $150 price tag now.  I wish it was that cheap when I bought hers.  I’m also wanting to see how hard it is to log on as her to my iPod or Android phone to read the same books.  I don’t read much – ok, I don’t read at all – but it would be nice to know that i could if I wanted to, or she could use my iPod or phone if she forgot her Nook.

As for other features, we thought it was really cool that you could lend books with the Nook, this isn’t possible on the Kindle.  But then again, 14 days isn’t very long and the only person she’s really going to lend books to is her mom, so they could just trade Nooks.  (That sounds funny, I may have to change what I’m calling it.)  I’d like to see how the future of e-Book readers changes with the size and color print.  I think they need to advance a little in the technology to be really useful in schools as text books, or to be known as reference books.  It would be cool to have the Nook sitting next to me and be able to pull up an article from Wikipedia to read about something on I saw TV, or maybe to look up a word in the dictionary or thesaurus.  I’m sure some of this is possible, but I think it should be quicker to do and quicker to change pages and scan a technology book for an answer.

So as for ebooks, I guess overall I’d recommend the Barnes & Noble Nook, but the Amazon Kindle would be a very close #2.  As for other options, I think the Sony would be cheapest and most flexible if you didn’t need 3g and were converting and loading your own books.  And I know Borders is coming out with one soon, but I don’t know much about it.  Then, of course, there’s always the iPad – if you can afford it. It uses a different technology for the screen, but I’ve heard its still pretty easy to read.  The iPad also has a world of other stuff to offer besides just reading from the iBook store, including reading your Kindle or Nook books.  I’m surprised Apple is finally letting people decide how they want to get their media, kinda.