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I feel like I am going to be sick

So I am sitting here watching the Katie Couric special on NBC about teens and sex. All I can say is OMFG! This is scary. I can see that I am going to have to have to get a lot more comfortable with the idea of talking to my now 7 year old about sex. I think he isn’t ready yet, but with 14% of 12-14 year olds saying they are sexually active, I am going to have to broach the subject a lot earlier than I had originally thought. I guess the main thing is that I want to make sure he is comfortable enough to talk to me about whatever he is thinking or feeling or has a question.

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Exchange 2003 Recovery Storage Groups

I attended the MS Technet Briefing yesterday that covered both Virtual PC 2004, which I have already started using myself, and Exchange 2003 disaster recovery, which I have experience with in prior versions, but not so much in 2003. I was blown away by the new Recovery Storage Group feature. The presenter demonstrated both a recovery of deleted items from a single user’s mailbox, and he showed what was called a dial-tone recovery of an Exchange Information Store.

For anyone that hasn’t done an Exchange disaster recovery, this may not be that impressive, but here are the steps for a single-server disaster recovery of a crashed Exchange Private Information Store (not a crashed Windows server). This outline assumes a good backup from the previous night.

  1. Information Store crashes, and the administrator is notified.
  2. Administrator stops the Exchange services and moves the corrupt copies of the priv1.edb and priv1.stm files to another location for possible recovery at a later time.
  3. Administrator restarts the information store service and the IS fails to mount. Administrator mounts the IS and is informed that this will result in the creation of a blank database. Administrator accepts the warning. USERS ARE NOW ABLE TO SEND AND RECEIVE EMAIL. Total elapsed time to this point should be less than 10 minutes.
  4. Administrator creates a recovery storage group in the Exchange System Manager disaster recovery section.
  5. Administrator begins a restore of the Exchange database to the RSG. (This will happen automatically, since the mounted blank database that is currently in use is protected from overwrite by the restore process, and the RSG database is automatically configured to allow an overwrite by a restore. The administrator does not have to tell the backup to do anything other than restore the IS backup.)
  6. At this point, Administrator has a choice to either begin an Exmerge of the data from the restored database into the newly created blank copy, which could take a significant period of time, or to swap the recovered database with the live blank one and then import only the new items from the mostly blank database.

As anyone who has ever done an alternate server recovery with Exchange can attest, this process is incredibly simple and fast!!!! Way to go, MS. This feature, alone, is almost worth the cost of an upgrade to Exchange 2003.

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Microsoft Security Summit – Philadelphia

I am sitting in the Microsoft security summit in Philadelphia, and I wanted to provide some thoughts on what has happened so far. The keynote address was given by Bret Arsenault, Microsoft’s Strategic Security Advisor Team Lead. During his presentation, he showed one slide with resources for security information. The last item on the list was, “Security Blogs”. The image on the screen was of an ASP powered blog with the Syndication and orange XML icons visible – neither was mentioned. In fact, Arsenault’s quote was, “and lastly, Security Blogs – I’ll leave it at that. I hate the term blogs.” That was it. That was all he had to say about the benefits of weblogs related to security for the attendees. What a collosal lost opportunity. I hope Robert Scoble reads this and gives Bret a hard time when he is back in Redmond next week.

I would have loved to see Bret mention the syndication capabilities of RSS/XML on weblogs that allow people to follow developments, like security issues. I would have loved for him to mention that there were blogs being written by many of the teams at Microsoft that write the programs we all use every day. I would have liked for him to mention that many webloggers are among the most well informed on the Internet regarding any number of issues, including security issues relating to specific applications.

What this type of thing shows us in the community is that we have a LONG way to go in evangelizing the usefullness and applicability of weblogs, even to the IT industry.

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How blogging can provide unsolicited possibilities

I have been writing this weblog now for less than a year now. During that time it has come to be a resource for many different things, but it has provided me with several unexpected opportunities. By having a weblog that anyone can use, I have been interviewed by two local newspapers, the Bucks County Courier Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I recently received an offer for a free piece of software for the purpose of reviewing it and publishing the review on my site. In the past it has been difficult for a small site or individual like me to even be noticed by organizations like the Inquirer or by companies producing software. Further, software and hardware companies haven’t had a mechanism for finding people like me with influence over the buying decisions of others, nor have people like me had the opportunity to influence such a large group of people.

I guess what I am saying is that there is some serious potential for people to consider when starting a weblog, it doesn’t just have to be a time consuming endeavor – it can provide real results. I haven’t even mentioned the clients I have gotten because they found me through my weblog. If you are reading this and have thought about creating a weblog, you should give it some serious consideration.

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Analysis of Real Networks’ Real Player

The folks at Wired have undertaken an analysis of the problems Real Networks has had in recent years with the decline of their market share in the Internet audio player market. Here is the quote I think they got the most wrong:

But the installation of Windows Media Player on almost every new PC created “a tremendous headwind against Real,” said Richard Doherty, director of Envisioneering, a market research firm. “It’s a handicap and a challenge for anyone who isn’t an embedded player.”

The problem for Real hasn’t been Microsoft’s bundling Media Player with Windows. It has been Real’s almost virus-like approach for their product. The article does focus on the issue of users finding the free version on Real’s site and the fact that there are pop-ups and other problems, but this one paragraph makes me feel as though they still try to blame Microsoft for Real’s recent slide in market share.

Speaking as a technologist, I stopped downloading and installing Real Player because it installed unwanted components, like their ridiculous download manager, that interrupted the rest of my computing experience. Further, they made it extremely difficult to fully get rid of their product. As a user with broadband, I don’t care about having to download and install an application like Real Player. I do care, however, that the application feels less like something that will give me a high quality experience and more like something trying to find a way to extract every dollar possible from me. And yes, at one point I owned a subscription to Real Player plus, but I have since switched almost exclusively to WMP for streams, unless I have no other option.

Read the full text of the Wired article – Find the Download in a Haystack.

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Not the first positive step from the folks at SixApart, but a HUGE one!

I was incredibly impressed with the first post written by Mena Trott on her new weblog at SixApart, Mena’s Corner. Having worked in and with start-ups before, I can completely empathize and sympathize with some of what she is describing. I hope that she can find the time to keep this going, while I would never expect daily, at least biweekly.

One of my main criticisms for Typepad, which I use to host this weblog (read disclaimer), has been that I felt they didn’t plan adequately for its success, and they didn’t communicate quickly enough when it had problems. Do I understand why? Of course, but understanding doesn’t excuse it. SixApart is supposed to be one of the “new” companies that has a firm grasp on what weblogs and real-time communication is all about, since they have helped to make it a reality for so many people. When they don’t execute on that, it is more disappointing than when one of the “traditional” firms have similar failures. That being said, I still think SixApart and their products are some of the best around, and I hope they keep up the great work!

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How to help someone use a computer

Thanks to Roland Taglao for the pointer to this article by Phil Agre at UCLA. For people that do what I do, that is help people with computers, this article represents the same kind of things for us that we think users should know about the computers and don’t. If more people who help people with computers acted this way, I wouldn’t have as much success with my business cleaning up after the Saturday Night Live Computer Guy.

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Typepad vs. Blogharbor – Round 1

The first round.

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Testing Blogware via Blogharbor

I am currently testing a new weblogging tool, Blogware, through their Blogharbor reseller. I am going to be posting a comparison of the features of Blogware with those of Typepad, along with my experiences getting things set up and running on the Blogware site. Those posts will be linked here, but they will be created on my new Blogharbor site. In the end, I will make a final decision about whether to keep the Typepad site going or relocate to Blogharbor.

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Typepad domain mapping problems – a commentary

I hope the folks at Six Apart read this, because I am becoming extremely frustrated with the domain mapping issues that people are having. In the interest of full disclosure, I charge people to help set up domain mapping on their behalf – $25 per domain. The process for setting up domain mapping is not particularly complicated, and if one has a thorough understanding of how DNS and web servers work, it makes complete sense – at least the way it should work makes complete sense.

A few weeks ago, I started seeing problems with mapping domains. The problem was that after DNS was updated properly, and I could confirm that the names were resolving properly, the Typepad web server would return a 404 error for the URL. I understand that the reason for this is an update necessary on the web server to inform it that the new incoming URL should go to the virtual host for that particular weblog or account. The issue is that the update on the Typepad side of things is COMPLETELY UNPREDICTABLE!!!!!

When you complete the domain mapping on the Typepad side of things, the information that is displayed says that the URL would be updated on the Typepad server within two hours. Ever since a few weeks ago, my experience with this has been anywhere from immediately to 4 or 5 days. That is completely unacceptable. Further, it causes people to seek me out for help and want to pay me when they have actually done everything right. In those cases, I refund the money if they want and tell them it will just be up to Typepad to update things on their end.

I have submitted several help tickets on behalf of users, This is by no means and indictment of Brenna – she is extremely helpful and cordial, but the response is usually, well if it is mapped properly in DNS then it should be working. That is fine when the person to whom you are responding doesn’t really understand DNS. I do. I run a DNS server. I can delete my cache and ensure that the DNS system is responding with the appropriate CNAME information for the requested domain. I can also trace the path to the domain name and see it wind up at the Typepad web server, and finally, I can see that it is the Typepad server that gives out the 404 error. There is no problem anywhere but with the Typepad server. I have yet to have any sort of satisfactory answer on why this is.

The bottom line is that if it were at least predictable, I could deal with it being slow. If it meant that the updates only occurred at midnight each night, and we could be sure that without fail at midnight each night the incoming URL information was updated, then I would not be complaining. I can’t abide the unpredictability, though, in a hosted service like Typepad. I really regret being this critical, but I want folks to understand how incredibly frustrating this is for someone that does this sort of thing for a living. I expect software and services to perform in a certain way. I especially expect a result to reproducible when following the same steps. When it isn’t, then something is wrong with the software or service, not the process. I hope the folks at Six Apart will fix domain mapping once and for all for everyone.

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