The cloud is safer than your data center

I’ve moved jonathanboutelle.com over to the amazon computing cloud (from pair.com, where it’s been hosted for the last 5 years). It was dead easy to make a system that keeps your data in safe, redundant storage … MUCH easier than it would be with a typical hosting company.  To be blunt: I think that hosting an app in the cloud is probably much safer than doing it in your own data center.

My setup looks like this:
1) An ec2 small instance server, rented on the spot market (currently costing about 21$/month, 1/3rd of the retail price you’d pay amazon).
2) A 2GB “Elastic Block Store” volume on ec2 for saving the database files and wordpress application files (because if a cloud server goes away, you need to make sure your data doesn’t). The EBS volume is mounted to the EC2 box. It costs like 40 cents a month.
3) One “Elastic IP address” (to map a static IP address to the ec2 machine, which is necessary since it might disappear at any moment).
4) One “Security Group” configured to only let in http traffic from the broader internet (all other ports are blocked).

Both (2) and (3) might seem like overengineering for a simple blog. But they were so easy to set up that it didn’t matter. It was easy and cheap to “do the right thing” and set up a system that could survive the disappearance of the server (maybe with an hour of downtime as I fire up a new node and run a couple of scripts).

Cloud computing basically forces you to take the precautions that you really should be taking anyway, and provides infrastructure that make these precautions trivial to set up. And that means that your app is probably a lot safer in the cloud than it ever was on dedicated hardware!

SlideShare down due to ServePath outage

SlideShare is down and has been down for the last several hours. Our dedicated hosting provider (ServePath) is experiencing catastrophic network problems. For a while we were able to keep the site live by pointing our DNS to specific servers that were available on the network: this strategy is no longer working (the paths that still work on the network are changing as ServePath technicians try to fix the problem).
My sincere apologies to all SlideShare users. We’ll be taking stock once this outage is resolved, and we’ll evaluate what to do long-term at that point. Right now there’s not much we can do besides wait for the network to get back online.
UPDATE: as of 7:45, we seem to be back in business! Doing the happy dance (and checking the servers every 5 minutes to make sure we can still get to them).

LinkedIn Answers: a killer social app?

A few days ago, I simultaneously posted a question about source control structure to my blog and to LinkedIn Answers. My blog got one response. LinkedIn answers got, as of now, 14 extremely well-thought out answers (more are coming in every day). The quality of the answers is pretty remarkable, as is the fact that none of the people responding are people I know. They may be distantly connected to me on linked-in, but they aren’t on my contact list.
I’m super-impressed. While the app doesn’t have a friendly face (URLs are non-intuitive, information architecture is confusing, etc), this is an extremely valuable and practical result to get from a social app. I’ll definitely be posting more questions to LinkedIn! Answers are below the fold if you want to read them …

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Top 10 things I hate about my new macbook

I got a new macbook last month. It’s a nice machine, with 160GB Hard Drive, 2 GB RAM, and Parallels 2.5 and Vista preinstalled. I was ready for switching to be a little bit of a hassle. But I really wasn’t expecting to still hate my mac, more than a month into owning it! Here’s my top 10 gripes.
1) It crashes. At least once a day (the screen says “you must restart your computer now” in about 5 languages). Friends say this is likely a hardware problem: I’ll be calling applecare (1-800-APL-CARE) tomorrow to try to get to the bottom of this.
After rebooting, it puts up a dialog box which asks if I would like to report the problem to apple / find out more about the problem. A nice thought. However, pushing the button does absolutely nothing!
2) No gtalk. Seriously, WTF? I rely *heavily* on gtalk. I use it not just for chat but also as a simple way of exchanging files, and as a way of having quick voice conversations. How, in mid-2007, does gtalk for mac not exist? Is there some back-story involving software licencing issues that I’m not aware of? Is google worried about apple as competition? This is a seriously lame thing about the mac, and it seems to be entirely google’s fault.
3) The software installation process is just weird. After installation, you often have to copy your entire application over to the “Applications” folder. Excuse me, shouldn’t an installer do this?
4) The mac approach is to have a top menu for an application that appears at the top of the screen (above the main rectangle of the application). Unfortunately, this really sucks if you’re using multiple monitors. Your main app is on your nice big LCD screen, but the top menu for it is over on the other monitor!
5) Weird modal problems that are not apple’s fault, but still suck if you are transitioning from windows. For example, when you are in the file chooser, a windows user is used to pressing the “return” key to open the directory and move down to the next level. On OS X, this action selects the current directory and closes the dialog box!
6) The wide-screen format of the macbook is seriously constraining. It’s hard to design or even to read a decent chunk of a document without having to scroll.
7) That pretty white laptop gets dirty *really* fast. Black is an 150$ feature that I actually wish I had bought, not for fashion reasons, but just because it wouldn’t look grungy. White is a terrible color for a product that gets daily use like this.
8) The power adapter requires a ground (my ex-house had many 2-prong outlets. Fortunately, my new pad in SF does not have this problem, so this is less of an issue for me now than it was 2 days ago).
9) Requires special dongle for connecting to a VGA Monitor. Pretty much every monitor except the ones you buy from apple are VGA.
10) No built-in support for right-click (two-button mouse). I realize I can attach an external mouse for this, and I also realize that ctrl + click = right click. But still: I want that button!
Looking at this list, at least half the problems are hardware problems (maybe more, if #1 turns out to be a faulty hardware issue). So if only I could buy a thinkpad that would run OS-X, I’d be pretty happy! Sigh…