Time perception and IT jobs

It’s well known in the IT/Computer field that pretty much every task or project takes at least 2-3 times longer than you will think. If you estimate something will take 3 hours, it will actually take 6-9 hours. If you think it will take 3 months, it will actually take 6-9 months etc etc.

The odd thing about this is that even being aware of this Law of Tripled Time*, computer folk (including myself) still can’t seem to accurately estimate how long a job will take. Now I think I know why! It’s because of the Inverse Law of Tripled Time*.

It’s well known in the IT/Computer field that pretty much every task or project takes at least 2-3 times more time than you think it is taking while you’re actually doing it. You start some task, an after about an hour or so, you look up at the clock and discover that 3 hours or so have actually passed. You start some project, and after a month or so working it, you suddenly realise you’ve been working at it for 3 months.

So our estimates of how long a project will take are actually fully in sync with how long it feels like it’s taking – it’s just none of it matches what’s happening on the clock and calendar!

* I just made these up, if you see them again, remember you read them here first!

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What do “normal” people do?

I’ve been hearing good reports about Microsoft’s Windows Home Server so I thought I’d download the free 120 day evaluation and set it up on one of my spare PCs. Home Server is designed to be a simple setup easy for the average user to install and configure and connect their home PCs to. It then automatically backs them up and you can also share your documents, pictures etc via the Home Server.

Installation went pretty smoothly and everything looked fine – until I went to open the shared folders from my main PC –

Cannot Connect. The Network Path Was Not Found.

Interestingly the supplied “console” software would quite happily list the folders being shared, but connecting to them failed. It appears that MS is using newer web technologies to provide the information about what’s available, but use older local area network technologies to actually connect to the shared resources. This is fair enough – if it works!

I checked and discovered that Microsoft had supplied a connection troubleshooter with their Home Server Toolkit. I installed and ran that and it advised me –

No DHCP server, or DHCP server is not reachable

A DHCP server was not detected, or the test cannot communicate with the DHCP server.

By default, Windows Home Server gets its IP address configuration from a DHCP server that is on your home network. Normally, the DHCP server is located on your broadband router. Without the DHCP service, your computers cannot get their IP address configuration and cannot communicate with each other.

To fix this problem, ensure that your broadband router is powered on and is connected to the network. Also, ensure that your broadband router is configured as a DHCP server.

Alternatively, you can assign static IP addresses to all computers that are on your network, including your home server. You need advanced networking knowledge to do this. If you assigned static IP addresses to the computers that are on your home network, you can safely ignore this issue. Look for other others issues, particularly name-resolution issues.

For more information about Windows name resolution, NetBIOS, HOSTS files, and other name-resolution possibilities, see “Host Name Resolution” at the Microsoft Web site (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=98161)

Okkayy … I understand that. I’ve been involved with TCPIP network for almost 20 years. I also know that their assumption “Normally, the DHCP server is located on your broadband router” is often false in this part of the world. I have a direct 100Mb ethernet connection to the ISP, as do many folk in the major cities of Sweden. The ISP, Bredbandsbolaget, supplied me with a wireless bridge to provide WiFi access and additional ports for my various PCs – but all of them get their IP addresses from the ISP’s DHCP server – not from the bridge or a router.

I understand all of this. But how many “normal” people do? So what would be the next step? Click on the link supplied for further help I guess. Go on, click on it – http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=98161

Now seriously, how many “average” home users, the target group for Home Server, are going to understand even a few sentences of that? And even if they did, it doesn’t provide an answer! You need to be a network engineer to solve it.

Or if you’re lucky and googling “Windows Home Server” and “network path not found” you might find this post!

The solution is actually quite simple. When your PC connects to a DHCP server to get it’s internet address, it also gets some other settings. It’s more than possible those settings will not be appropriate for Windows Home Server. In particular, my error was caused because NetBios over TCP/IP was not enabled. This is a way for computers, usually on a local area network, to talk to each other over an “internet” based network. It’s set either via DHCP or in the “advanced” settings of network connections. In Windows Home Server you can reach it by clicking Start then going to Control Panel/Network Connections/Local Area Connection. Click Properties, then select Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) then click Properties and then Advanced. Once there, click on the tab labelled WINS. At the bottom you’ll find NetBIOS setting. The default is to get the setting from a DHCP server. If that’s not working, change it to Enabled and click OK.

You may need to make the same changes on your Client PCs, it will be in much the same place.

Hopefully that helps someone.

UPDATE: After a while the above “fix” stopped working for me. It appears, though I’m still not 10=% sure, that my Vista PC was deciding whenever it rebooted to be the Domain Master Browser and not doing the job properly – stopping itself and other PCs being able to connect to the Home Server. Setting the IsDomainMaster parameter in the registry to false seems to have solved it.

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Science meets social networking

Social networking has really increased the interest in the power of Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing and it’s starting to get the attention of some real smart people. I came across a blog, Science for SEO a couple of weeks ago by a PhD student studying search engine optimization techniques. On Friday she posted a review of a paper in the related WOM area. Her review of Heat Diffusion for Social Networking is a nice summary of highly technical paper by some mathematicians out of Hong Kong. You can get the original paper here.

The work has some interesting implications, and applications, for the world of marketing and particular network marketing pioneered by companies such as Amway. It’s going to take a little while to grasp it properly, I’ll keep studying it!

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My new favourite thing

These have changed my life –

macksearplugsbox

Most of the time I’m a very light sleeper, it doesn’t take much to wake me up and then I can struggle to fall back asleep quickly. Long plane flights (for example from Australia to Sweden and back!) are simply exercises in sleep deprivation.

I’ve tried various ear plugs over the years but always found them either ineffective or uncomfortable (meaning I still couldn’t sleep!) or both. I nearly always sleep on my side, and regular ear plugs just aren’t designed for it. This has been no small problem. I have 2 cats that like to reenact Chariots of Fire in the middle of the night, a toddler who grinds his teeth when he’s not babbling about whatever he dreams about, and a fiancee that (occasionally) snores … working nights and sleeping days when nobody was at home virtually became the only way to get a decent sleep!

macksearplugsThen, a few weeks ago I found these! They’re a small ball of silicon rubber. You place them over (not in) your ear canal and then mold them until you get a nice fit. Done properly you get a little vacuum suction and then they’re just brilliant. My life has changed! I’m waking up feeling so much more refreshed. They don’t completely block noise, but they dull it such that it doesn’t wake me.

Life is good 🙂

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Integrity matters

Several days ago I got into two separate online discussions about some controversial topics (at least in the US). One was on evolution vs creationism, the other about the historicity of Jesus and the historical accuracy of the Bible.

On the former issue I’m firmly in the evolution camp. Evolution as a concept is incredibly logical and to my mind, incredibly elegant. I truly have no problem imagining that the immense diversity of life on earth today began from something as simply as, say the crystalline structures inherent in clay. With regards Jesus and the bible, I’m a firm believer in most of the core principles taught by the world’s major religions. Love thy neighbour, respect for life etc etc. I don’t however believe in the existence of any “gods”. I see no evidence for them and find no need for them, either personally or as an explanation for as yet unexplained phenomena. If I was to categorise my beliefs, then secular humanist is close enough. With regards Jesus, in the past few years I’ve moved from believing the historical Jesus existed (as a man) to now leaning towards the idea he never existed at all. There is no contemporary historical record of Jesus having existed, and those writings we do have (both biblical and otherwise) have all been dated to many many decades and even centuries after the time he supposedly lived. Furthermore, most of the stories about Jesus bare remarkable similarities to various other myths that existed earlier in the same region of the world. It seems entirely possible to me that the historical Jesus is a myth much like that of Zeus or Thor or any other supernatural being.

But back to the point of the post. In the discussion about evolution, my “opponents” provided me with lists of “evidence” that evolution was wrong and had an enormous amount of flaws, claiming for example that there is a lack of supporting “transitional fossils” or that various dating methods are highly unreliable. They also pointed me towards Ben Stein’s move Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

The problem I have isn’t with other folks disagreeing with my beliefs, or even disputing well established facts such as Evolution – it’s that they outright lie when doing it! Even in the brief trailer for Expelled I encountered numerous outright false or misleading claims. I tried watching the full movie, but simply couldn’t get more than half way through it – repelled by it’s intellectual dishonesty. I recommend reading Expelled Exposed for a demonstration of how truly dishonest it’s producers were.

Now, to be fair, the folk who were presenting these arguments to me did not originate them, and likely believed them themselves, so they weren’t lying – they were just wrong. However, someone clearly created these false lists for propoganda purposes, and I find it hard to believe that they do not know that what they are claiming is false. This wasn’t isolated issues either – it was false claim after false claim after false claim.

How am I supposed to respond to people who promote their “beliefs” to me through such blatantly dishonest means? It’s obviously not going to convince me of anything – and all it really does is destroy my respect for the people professing these beliefs.

The second debate was regarding the historicity of Jesus and the historical accuracy of the Bible. Now, with regard the first issue, I’m still open minded on the topic. I don’t know if Jesus really existed or not, I’m just leaning towards “not”. This, by the way, makes no judgement about the teachings attributed to Jesus. I wholeheartedly agree with much of what he is reported to have said! Similarly with much of the Bible. Furthermore, while I don’t think it’s what one could call “accurate”, it’s my belief that most mythical stories have their origin somewhere in a true story. I believe for example that the story of Atlantis probably had it’s origins in the destuction of Thera (now Santorini) and the devastation of the Minoan empire. The Biblical flood could have easily had it’s origins in any number of real floods. Many once believed mythical places are being found to have had some historical truth – take the discovery of Troy for example or the likelihood of hallucenogenic gases in the cave of the Oracle of Delphi.

But, again, my “opponents” tried to convince me of their position with a dishonest document – in this case a supposed “true story” by Josh McDowell called The Skeptic’s Quest. McDowell purports to outline his journey from non-believer to stauch Christian and the story is clearly designed to influence others to make the same journey. It might work for some. Me, I get turned off by dishonesty – who would want to associate with people when you know they are willing to lie to you? The absolute dealbreaker for me was this claim of McDowell’s –

Have you heard of Dr. Simon Greenleaf, who held the Royal Professorship of Law at Harvard? He was a skeptic, often mocking the Christians in his classes. One day they challenged him to take the three volumes he had written on the laws of legal evidence and apply them to the resurrection. After much persuasion he did that. In the process he became a Christian and went on to write a book about his search. Greenleaf came to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the best established events in history according to the laws of legal evidence.

That seems interesting, I thought, so I went to research further. What I discovered was that Dr. Simon Greenleaf was indeed a leading mind of the legal world. Even accounting for the fact this was 150yrs ago it would still seem impressive. Greenleaf reportedly put his legal brain to work analysing the story of the resurrection of Jesus. According to McDowell he was trying to prove the resurrection false, and instead “proved” it true and became a Christian convert. I researched and discovered that the story, like any good story, does have some elements of truth to it. Greenleaf wrote a treatise called Testimony of the Evangelist where he “analysed” the  four Gospels and comes to the conclusion the accounts were accurate. Now, without going into the flaws in that analysis (and in my opinion there are many), my issue is really with McDowell – again, he states about Greenleaf –

He was a skeptic, often mocking the Christians in his classes

and that his analysis converted him –

In the process he became a Christian

Unfortunately for McDowell I’m a trained research scientist, and I know how important it is to read the original sources whenever possible. So I did. It quickly became clear that McDowell had not been entirely honest. In the third paragraph, Greenleaf says (my emphasis) –

The foundation of our religion is a basis of fact

“Our” religion? I thought he was a skeptic who made fun of Christian beliefs? Well … perhaps he wrote this “after” his conversion. But no … he was writing as a lawyer, developing his argument. And what does he say as part of his lead-in (again, my emphasis) :

The proof that God has revealed himself to man by special and express communications, and that Christianity constitutes that revelation, is no part of these inquiries.  This has already been shown, in the most satisfactory manner by others, who have written expressly upon this subject. Referring therefore to their writings for the arguments and proofs, the fact will here be assumed as true.

He begins his argument by stating that the existence of God is already proven, and that Christianity is that revelation! And McDowell wants us to believe this man was a skeptic who made fun of Christian beliefs!?!?!?!

This isn’t about whether the Bible is true or not, or whether Evolution is correct or whether Jesus existed or not. This is simply a matter of integrity. My integrity matters to me, and people and groups that so blatantly lie in their attempts to convert others to their beliefs simply have no attraction for me. Indeed, they repel me.

What do they expect?

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amazon.com sucks

It’s amazing that such a badly designed site as amazon.com is so successful. Maybe it works better for users “local” to the site, but for me it’s a disaster. The site completely ignores my location, even when signed in, and peppers me with offers for which I’m not eligible.

Save with this Amazon credit card!*
*but only if you’re in the US, which we know you’re not

Free Super Shipping availabe!*
*but only if you’re in the US, which we know you’re not

Shipping $3.99!*
*but only if you’re in the US, which we know you’re not. Hahahahahahha!!!

It’s not exactly hard to program a site to adjust these things. If I sign into EBay it quite happily lists the shipping costs to Sweden for eligible items.

What’s even more irritating with Amazon is the process to find out how much something will cost me. Because I’m in Sweden and usually ordering from the UK or US, the shipping fees are normally significantly greater than the cost of the books, especially when ordering second hand books. The problem is Amazon refuses to tell me the shipping costs until after I have gone through the entire ordering process – including confirming my shipping address and credit card details. Most of the time I’m not going to confirm because shipping becomes exorbitant – an order I’m looking at this morning for about $12.00 worth of books is going to cost me over $70.00 in shipping.

So now I want to keep looking  – but does Amazon give me the option? Not easily – only hidden down at the bottom of the page away from the screen is the link –

Go to the Amazon.com home page (without completing your order)

The really don’t want me to do anything but “Confirm Order” do they?

Now, the way to save money on shipping is to order multiple books from the same seller, so I like to look and see which seller I’m ordering the most books from, and then search their store to see if they have other books I want.

Well …. that’s what I’d like to do. 9 times out of 10, no matter what the store, I get something like this –

amazoncom-storefront-errorThis is my usual experience with Amazon, and frankly it sucks! These things are not technically difficult issues to fix, why don’t they fix them? If there is a better alternative, particularly for second hand books, please, please, someone let me know.

So that’s a few minutes … time to check back … sigh ……

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Paging Dr. Gupta: Is a TV Star Fit to Be Surgeon General? – TIME

Paging Dr. Gupta: Is a TV Star Fit to Be Surgeon General? – TIME

News outlets are abuzz with reports that CNN medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has been picked by Barack Obama to be Surgeon General of the United States.

At first I was a little mortified at the news – a media personality for one of the top positions in public health in the world? But after that initial reaction I’ve decided the move is brilliant.

I spent almost a decade in Public Health, working for the University of Queensland researching, designing, implementing, and evaluating public heath interventions – primarily in the fields of teenage alcohol use and adult drink driving. Unlike much of modern medicine, Public Health is really about prevention not about responding to disease or other conditions. Prevention requires affecting individuals choices – what they chose to eat, whether they chose to smoke or exercise, whether they chose to drink drive etc etc. These types of issues are at the top of concern in health throughout the western world.

What has the most influence on the world today? The mass media, including the internet. Dr. Gupta is an accomplished neurosurgeon and clearly a very capable and intelligent man. In addition he’s photogenic (an unfortunate necessity, in today’s world) and a great communicator.

Who better to get out the message of public health?

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It’s all about compliance

A little while ago, my Canadian friend Bob referred me to a blog he follows, the Innosight blog. Their main site says –

Innosight Institute is a non-profit think tank whose mission is to apply co-founder Clayton Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation to develop and promote solutions to the most vexing problems in the social sector.

Sounds interesting! Indeed, in my first look browse through their blog feed a post already leapt out at me as potentially useful – Innovating for Weight Loss? Focus on the Jobs …

In most fields of life there are well proven tracks towards success –  where most people fail is in what is called in the research world “compliance”. We get given weight loss or exercise programs, or perhaps a study program or business system, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that if we just followed the program we’d get the results. But we don’t do we? One of my favourite authors, John Maxwell, often quotes a friend of his by the name of Dick Biggs –

The greatest gap is between knowing and doing

As it happens I’m working on a new project to help folk (including myself!) maintain “compliance” with a healthy, active lifestyle. This idea of using SMS texting for food diaries (and perhaps other issues) is something I think we might look into down the track. Now I just need to work out how to make me compliant with what I should be doing!

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Migrating to a new IIS7 install from IIS6

I recently sold the web hosting client base of my company Asgard Web Technologies and have been shutting down the US servers where the clients were hosted. Since I have a whole bunch of my own sites plus look after a few for some friends I spent a while hunting around for a new hosting solution closer to home. Eventually I settled on leasing a Windows 2008 VPS from Tagadab, a new UK based dedicated server and VPS provider. So far things are running great and I’m very pleased with the service.

As always though, migrating websites to new servers can be challenging. In this case I was moving from IIS6 to IIS7 plus upgrading to the latest versions of PHP and MySQL. In addition, Asgard was using the Helm control panel for website management. The originally developers of Helm, WebHostAutomation, offered a free 5 client licence for Helm and this would have been ideal for maintaining my sites – but unfortunately Helm was bought out by Parallels and they’ve dropped this deal. While I could just maintain the sites through Windows, I liked the simplicity of a control panel and have decided to give DotNetPanel a go. DotNetPanel has a free 5 client licence!

DotNetPanel proved relatively easy to setup, though there was of course a learning curve . With PHP I was eager to test the new FastCGI capabilities of IIS7 and I found a great walkthrough on IIS.NET.  The first site I migrated was fittogether.eu, a new health based social network site based on Joomla we’re developing. It worked perfectly. I then migrated mlmfacts.net, a wiki I’m setting up to try and track all the different companies in the multi-level marketing world, and that’s where problems began – it simply wouldn’t work, complaining about not being able to load various “includes”. I then tried setting up a wordpress blog (this one!) at david.steadson.com and encountered almost the same issue.

After several hours of digging (and I’m not a PHP programmer) I eventually narrowed it down to a problem with the PHP function realpath() not providing the correct answer. I won’t go through the details here, you can read a bit about it on the iis.net forums where I reported the problem, but eventually I discovered the issue was actually with how DotNetPanel sets up websites. A site like this wordpress blog is installed in c:/HostingSpaces/David1/david.steadson.com/wwwroot. Various folders for logs and backups etc are placed in c:/HostingSpaces/David1/david.steadson.com. This isn’t a particular unusual setup, on Helm for example the site would have been in c:/HelmSites/david.steadson.com/wwwroot.

So what was the problem? Well, by default Helm gives access to the account folder, /david.steadson.com, to the user account the web service runs under. On a default IIS7 install folk tend to setup their sites under c:/inetpub and this directory also has read permissions for the web service. DotNetPanel on the other hand did not give this permission and I eventually found others who had reported similar problems. Adding the permission allowed the sites to work fine!

The only other “challenging” migration task was setting up “friendly URLs”. At Asgard we used a commercially IIS6 isapi module called isapi_rewrite that allowed websites to do URL rewriting using .htaccess and much the same syntax as used on *nix with mod_rewrite. This year though, Microsoft released a free IIS7 module, URL Rewrite, which does much the same thing, though with different syntax. Thankfully it comes complete with an “import” tool for importing mod_rewrite style rules and it’s working a charm.

So far I’ve migrated my various Amway hobby sites – www.amwaywatch.com, www.amwaytalk.com, www.thetruthaboutamway.com, and www.amwaywiki.com, next step is some of my other business sites and a handful of friends websites! I’ve requested Server Beach shutdown the server they’re on in the middle of next week, so I’m on a deadline ….

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First post

Well, this is the first post! I’ve been running a bunch of sites and an Amway focussed blog for many years, but I thought I might start a “personal” blog just to write about whatever takes my fancy at the time. So here it is – http://david.steadson.com! I have eclectic interests so expect this blog to bounce around all sorts of different topics. I’ll soon do some IT-related posts about some “challenges” I’ve had setting up this site and migrating some others to a new server.

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