Saturday, March 28, 2009

Playing with Eclipse and Amazon Web Services

It has almost been a week since Amazon released its AWS Eclipse plug-in, but today was the first time I had the chance to really play with it. While much of its functionality is available through the AWS Managment Console, it is really nice to have the Eclipse views right there in your development tool so that you don't have to leave it. This will enable me to monitor our servers more frequently. You almost tend to forget how much you have running in the cloud sometimes! I really wish that the plug-in would have included the ability to link multiple AWS accounts to a single Eclipse instance as I have several accounts that I need to monitor. Installing the plugin was very easy, but there was a gotcha that took me a couple of minutes to figure out. Once I had everything installed and restarted Eclipse, I immediately went to the EC2 Instances tab. I tried to right click on one of the instances and open a shell to the instance. It did not work. The red X's that you see beside the key pairs in the image below should have clued me in before I tried.

It was missing the private key pair file and therefore could not launch the shell. There was no menu item on this view that would allow me to add the key pair file and the general setup has no indication of being able to add them. To correct the problem, I had to go to the EC2 AMIs tab and attempt to launch an AMI. Once you do this, you are presented with a launch screen and a listing of all of your key pairs. If you have existing key pairs, you can right click on one of them, as shown in the screenshot below, and choose "Select Private Key File..."
This allowed me to choose my private key file and the green check marks appeared in the EC2 Instances view. This allowed me to open a shell right from within that Eclipse view. After that, I was off to the races and everything worked exactly as stated on the AWS Eclipse page.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bruce Kerr - Tech's Weird Al

This is a great way to start the day. A simple little ditty from Bruce Kerr at Sun Microsystems on Cloud Computing. I hope you all enjoy.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

AppEngine to support Java

While I enjoyed programming in Python to complete the Juicy Ideas Website on AppEngine, I am really looking forward to trying Java out on Google's cloud computing platform. It was one of the most requested languages to be supported in the AppEngine forums. It will be really nice to test the real power of AppEngine with one of my primary languages. It is just much easier when you know all of ins and out and details of the beast you are trying to tame. Java on AppEngine should be announced officially very soon, even before the May Google I/O event. One of the things that I will be most interested in seeing is what libraries will be available to the developer. The available Python are very restricted and controlled and I am hoping that we do not see the same for Java, but I am guessing we will. There are so many utility jar files, such as Xalan and Xerces, all the Apache Commons libraries, and scores of projects on SourceForge. Will GAE allow me to deploy a WAR file with everything that I need in it? That would definitely be nice. The other fun topic will be the mapping to BigTable. I am looking foward to seeing how that is going to work. The excitement builds.... what do you hope to see?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My First SXSW

I just got back from my first South by Southwest conference and I have to say that it certainly lived up to expectations. I have been hearing about this conference for a couple of years now and how I must go, but this is the first time that I have actually made it. If you are a young start-up web company, this is the show to be attending. There were some great booths and lots of people to talk with and share ideas. I did attend several panels and talks and I would have to say that my favorite had to be Steve Souders talking about his new book "Even Faster Web Sites" and all of the tips and tricks you can do with loading Javascript, CSS, Images etc. It was very useful and included some great details that you really gloss over (but really shouldn't) when you are trying to get a product out the door. I am pre-ordering the book at so that I can make sure I apply his principles. I also went to a panel on Version Control because I wanted to dig in deep with CVS and SVN and figure out why everyone is so hot on SVN. It was fairly disappointing because it was extremely high level and not much meat to the discussion. I was interested in hearing what Matt Mullenweg, of, had to say since he was on the panel. He was by far the most knowledgable on the panel and it showed. He actually did a demonstration of an SVN checkin that propogated to all of the servers and then he did another checkin to fix the change. It was the first time I had seen someone try to do a live commit to many live production servers during a presentation to 200 people. Even though it was a trivial change, it was still cool to see someone that confident in the systems they have in place. The last panel that I went to for the week was the Cloud Computing panel. It was particuarly interesting because you had, Google and Microsoft sharing the stage talking about their different platforms. It was obvious that Amazon had the most complete architecture right now, but I am looking forward to seeing what Azure comes out with in the near future. One of the highlights of the conference was being able to sit down one on one with Werner Vogels, the CTO of, and talk about how we are using the services at DigitalChalk and give him some feedback on our experiences. There were many other experiences that will always stand out, like meeting Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble and of course all of the parties. Needless to say, I will be going back next year.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

GrandCentral == Google Voice

A number of people have been asking me how to get into GrandCentral and I must say that it wasn't easy. I did sign up early on and asked to be notified when it became publically available. I was lucky enough to run into a person that had the chance to invite a single person into the private beta. It has been a great service so far and I am happy to say that it looks like it will soon be available to everyone as Google Voice. The site says that current GrandCentral users will be asked to upgrade their accounts to Google Voice, but unfortunately I have not been able to do that yet on the site as I keep getting an "Invalid Request" message when I attempt to log in. Om Malik, a user of GrandCentral that is already made it into Google Voice, reports that the following features are available:

  1. You can use your GrandCentral number to send and receive SMS messages, and have them forwarded to your current wireless phone. You can send messages from the mobile or from the phone.
  2. Make phone calls using the web or your mobile/landline phone.
  3. You can get transcripts for voicemails left on Google Voice. These transcripts, based on internal Google technology currently being used by GOOG-411 service, can be sent to you via SMS.
  4. Create conference calls by dragging phone numbers onto existing calls. This will be useful for small businesses and web workers.
  5. Free calls to all U.S. numbers. You can make international calls but that will cost you, depending on the country you are dialing.

Looks like it will be a great solution for the "cloud worker" that is always on the go and looking to streamline everything. I am looking forward to seeing the new interface.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Trip to Google

We had an absolute blast on the trip to the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Last week I had the pleasure of traveling out to Google's headquarters with the winning team of the Juicy Ideas Competition.  Ryan Klinger, Spencer Price, Andrew Drake and Justin Henry from Appalachain State University won the competition in the Western North Carolina region and at the national level.  The team was able to take a tour of Google headquarters, get shuffled around in a limo, and present their winning idea at a Google TechTalk.  The weekend was absolutely amazing and lots of thank yous and props go to Mary Radomile, Susie Vaks and Matt Dunne of Google, Pam Lewis of AdvantageWest and Dale Carroll, now with the State of North Carolina as Deputy Secretary.
I am happy to say that the we also had a couple of meetings that were focused on the development of next years competition.  I am excited that we have started the process again and I know it will be just as fun next year.  Get ready, because it is going to be bigger and include many more schools nationwide.  So, if you think you have the next Juicy Idea that will change the way that we live and do business, watch for the announcement of the competition at your local college campus.
Because DigitalChalk was working on the technology behind the competition and putting that on Google's AppEngine platform, it was especially interesting to get to speak with Pete Koomen, one of two product managers working on the platform.  We were able to discuss what the experience was with the platform this year and what will make it even better next year.  At one point, during the registration for the competition, we were experiencing 25 hits/second on the AppEngine site for the competition and the platform handled it with grace.  Pete was able to share some of the experiences that they have had in the past year on the platform and some of what is coming in the future.  We had a great discussion on the future of cloud computing and what might be some ways to help make a common platform across the different cloud providers.  I will be looking at implementing some of what we talked about and releasing it to the open source community if I am successful.  Needless to say, I am very excited about the competition next year and I can't wait to see what new ideas we see!