Zoom – FREE P2P Video Conference

Scott Scazafavo and I have been working full time on our new start-up, WolkeWerks.com.  This often places me in my home office reaching out to colleagues for advice and collaboration.  My communication tool of choice has been free peer-to-peer (P2P) video conference tools.  Scott and I have used Skype and FaceTime, but experienced the common video lags and garbled voices.  These were frustrating experiences needless to say.

Zoom Logo

It only take a garage to fall on me

My dad used to say, “I don’t need an entire house to fall on me to learn something, it only takes a garage”.  I think he was telling me to learn from trends when they are still small – and even a garage hurts when it falls on you.

The second time someone (ok a nice recruiter) asked me connect with Zoom, I realized it was a high quality service in terms video choppiness and garbled voices.  I did not look into pricing as I figured it was another service used by larger corporations ala WebEx or BlueJeans.  When a colleague in Berlin sent an invite with it, I thought it was odd that he was willing to pay for a service just to chat with me.  This was on top of another colleague with a pending Zoom call scheduled.  Why does everyone want to see a bald guy on video when it is such a frustrating technology?

FREE Zoom P2P Video Conferencing

Because it really isn’t frustrating anymore.  At least from my sample set of 4 calls now. One to Boston, one for two hours to Berlin, and two to different people in Seattle now.  But the biggest surprise, it is FREE for 2 people for unlimited connectivity.  It is also free for 3 or more people for 40 or less minutes.  FREE is my favorite word as I am an unabashed open source bigot.  But FREE that really works well is amazing.

I love the idea of getting people to try something for free for personal use and then once they fall in love with it, they are happy to pay for it in other circumstances.  I have not tried a 3 or more participant call yet.  I suspect they have this technology so dialed in that once you do a 30 minute call with 3/4 people that runs long, you get hooked on how well it worked and add your credit card to the account.

Check out Zoom

The folks at Zoom also have connectivity modules and upgrades for H.323/SIP systems, LifeSize, Polycom, and Cisco gear in corporations. It is all on their website.  They seem like they really nailed the tech on this so far.

I have a call Monday to London with another colleague.  I would never have asked him to use video conferencing in the past.  Too clunky and messy.  But we are setup on Zoom and it will be good to see his face for the first time in a year – even though we catch up nearly every month.

Check out Zoom. All it takes is a laptop, iPad or a mobile phone.

Ted Cahall

MARRSPOINTS gets some SEO love

The marrspoints.com racing application recently got some SEO updates.  These we long overdue in terms of getting better ranking inside Google.  Now driver’s season results URLs include the drivers name (example for Mike Collins) and the race results include the race name and classes (example for 2017 MARRS 5 SM Feature race).  Most importantly the Points Leaderboards have the class name and season as part of the URL now.

On top of all of that, I automated the sitemap to build nightly and worked with the Google Search console to fix duplicate title tags and content descriptions.

Enter Tuckey – SEO URL Rescue!

This all should have been done long ago.  But features were my first priority.  I used the Tuckey urlrewrite filter for all of the friendly URL magic.  It really is awesome and I am glad I remembered it from all the way back to my CNET days when we used it on a project there.

I still have some clean up to do when the pages are selected by form drop-down menus.  My sitemap tool does not include these paths.  I know Google is a lot happier to not see parameters on the URLs any longer.  It is a LOT of JavaScript magic to rewrite the form action to use the rewrite destination.  So that may be left for another year or two until it works its way up the stack in terms of importance.

Ted Cahall

Surfing to the end of the Internet

Keeping (too) busy

Since I left Digital River at the end of February, I have been working closely with Scott Scazafavo on a stealth start-up idea we had been kicking around.   Most mornings I hit my office early and attempt to further the research or  code base.  I worked on some Java REST API code I wanted to improve from its early usage at marrspoints.com.  I remembered there was a simple test site that gave canned responses to HTTP GET, POST requests along with cookies and the likes.  After a tad of searching, I found it again: httpbin.org – what a nice tool.  Simple yet elegant – and great for testing out HTTP code samples where you just need a simple endpoint.  Tutorials on the Internet should just use this site in their examples – as it likely will not change much.

The dangers of the Internet

This is where the danger began…  As I was done using it for the simple testing I was doing, and was ready to move onto the next phase, I noticed that it had the authors name with a hyperlink.  Since I wished I had written such a useful “demo” or example.com website, I wanted to see a tad more about him.  Through Kenneth Reitz, I learned that I comparatively don’t have many cool hobbies or talents (I am not that great of an auto racer and I have not written books, published music, been a professional speaker or even amateur photographer).   That is all on top of his enormous contribution to the Open Source space.  This guy is REALLY talented. Through his link on his personal values, I saw another link stating that “Life is not a Race, but it has No Speed Limits”.  Of course that deserved a click!

Through Kenneth and that link, I met (online so to speak) Derek Sivers and read his axiom – that “Life Has No Speed Limits“.  And though that story, the life of Kimo Williams and why focus matters.  Focus?  On the Internet with so many lessons to learn?

Saying “Hell Yeah!”

It was great to “meet” three SUPER TALENTED people on the Internet this morning.  People I will likely never meet in person or even exchange emails.  Yet, people from whom I have already learned.  While perusing Derek’s site, I found another life lesson to which I truly try to adhere.   No “yes.” Either “HELL YEAH!” or “no.”

OK- back to that focus thing and getting some work done.

Ted Cahall

Using Postman for API consumption

Being a caveman

So what is wrong with curl?  Nothing.  But Postman (at getpostman.com) is simply one of the best tools I have used while developing code that consumes APIs.  This is another case where I was using caveman tech (curl) to do a job so elegantly managed by a service that makes a desktop app that runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows (and syncs across them).

Sometimes you just need an API

My coding and racing adventures led me to develop and win an award for the marrspoints.com application.  The app consumes two different APIs: race-monitor.com and motorsportreg.com.  I used curl to do the testing dirty work for these as one of them did not publish their response formats that I needed for my JSON parser.

I have been playing with a stock/equities “demo app” for my Cassandra cluster.  The app required me to replace the old Yahoo quotes feed.  I had to do testing on the new feed I chose, and I was still doing it with curl.

Even a stealth API…

Currently, I am now working on a stealth start-up idea with an even more stealth cohort of mine in the financial space.  The data company we have tentatively selected (and their API documentation) pointed me to Postman.  It is awesome.  I have deeply tested the financial access, accounts, instruments, etc.  This was accomplished on my own accounts in only a couple hours of work and research.  Postman is script-able, has variable replacement, etc.  Oh, and the best part, a single developer license is FREE.  My favorite price.

To think Sam Morris at Digital River talked about Postman dozens of times. It never occurred to me to go look at it.  That cost me a lot of wasted time. Especially since I know Sam is “the man”.  Thank you Sam – the second time I heard of it, I knew to go get a copy and learn it quickly.

Ted Cahall

Gnome desktop coming to Ubuntu :-(

Unity vs Gnome

I hate to think of myself as a tech Luddite.  Being an Ubuntu Linux fan has caused familiarization with the Unity desktop.  Recently, I have been playing with 17.10 to see what is coming in 18.04 LTS.  I never thought I would defend the Unity desktop as my earliest Linux days were split between the Gnome and KDE desktops.  But I wish I had my old Unity back. Yes, I know I can return to it in 17.10 – but it is becoming mostly unsupported.  Incremental scaling is essential with today’s 4K monitors.  Or I need Lasik.  Uber-Lasik in my case.

Why I like LTS.1

I never actually run the first point release of an LTS version.  I waited for 16.04.1 to get anything real live on 16.04 LTS.  It seems the Gnome desktop has a big memory leak and it likely will not be fixed in the 18.04 LTS initial release in April.

OK, scratch moving to 18.04 LTS in April on anything I need.  I already am a desktop memory hog as it is and finally upgraded my new desktop machine to 32GB of RAM.

A Gnome future in Ubuntu

I know this is all for the good.  That change thing.  Moving to Gnome in this case.  It is far more widely supported and used across more variants of Linux.   I used to be a CentOS champion as I loosened the evil grip of RedHat subscription fees back in my AOL cost cutting days.  I have since become almost an exclusive Ubuntu home data center.  Seems I will be straddling Gnome and Unity for a year or so.  One other word of caution, the Gnome 3.26 desktop (used in 17.10) does not truly support incremental UI scaling yet.  This is a problem for people like me with a 4K laptop screen or large 4K desktops.  There is a workaround.   However, it is not clear if fractional scaling will make it into Gnome 3.28 which ships with  18.04 LTS.

Happy times.  It is really hard to see my shell windows in a non-scaled up Gnome desktop on a 4K laptop screen.

Ted Cahall

Ted Cahall’s “new” tech blog

New Blog along with some old content

As a past media executive at companies such as CNET Networks, Microsoft’s MSN, AOL and the early social network Classmates.com, I have operated a  blog here and there over the years.  Mostly to test out SEO ideas and cross link my sites, etc.

Started on LiveJournal in 2004

One of my unfortunate SEO decisions was using LiveJournal.com for my tech postings.  In 2004 as CTO of CNET Networks, I was fortunate enough to meet Brad Fitzpatrick who invented LiveJournal (as well as memcached).  Since we made a (failed) bid to buy the site, I decided I should use it and get to know it a bit.  I had used it to blog about some of my non-proprietary experiences with technology and software from time to time.

My last post there was almost two years ago to the day.  I was musing at the intersection of my auto racing hobby and my technology hobby.  It was through a lack of automation of the points standing of my auto racing league that I had finally brought these two passions together.  This was all enabled by Open Source, the Intel NUC computers (home data center), and Amazon’s AWS hosting facility.   Resulting in the creation of the marrspoints.com race points tracking web application.

LiveJournal did not seem to get the SEO juice

Compared to modern blogging sites such as WordPress (which this blog is built on), LiveJournal never got the great SEO features that it deserved. Therefore today, I am moving my LiveJournal information over to a new home here at cahall-labs.com.   All of the posts have been successfully moved here as of this post.

Open Source and my Home Data Center

I have a few tech topics that are of interest to me. They include:

Cassandra and Hadoop

The marrspoints.com site was simple to build, but the back end tools to ingest all of the race data was a lot more work.  I occasionally look at ways to change the data ingestion or analytics.  Therefore I play with tools such as Cassandra and Hadoop on my NUC cluster in my home data center.  In general, I will try NOT to blog about racing in this blog.  That will move to a blog at either cahallracing.com or cahall.com.

Thank you LiveJournal – hello WordPress

So thank you to LiveJournal for the tools and time.  It was a good 14 year run.  There is also an old, outdated racing blog on WordPress.  It will likely be moving to a new home in the next month or two.  It will be good to get back to using the tool Matt Mullenweg built (WordPress).  I had the opportunity to work with Matt at CNET when he spent time there for a year on his way to becoming famous.  Clearly I wish I had made a blog tool.  Some day I may even blog about Gavin Hall and Alex Rudloff.  They built blogsmith.  Blogsmith powers TMZ.com and most of the AOL blogs.  I guess I met most of the people that built blogs…  Very, very smart and talented people.

Ted Cahall

The Intel NUC Computers, AWS, and racing cars

It has been over five years since my last post about software and technology.  It’s not that I stopped using it.  I just stopped talking about it.  Lately I have been on a bit of a streak.  I have been working on the MARRS Points tracking app in AWS for over a year now.  It will now be the official points tracking application for the 2016 season across all race classes in the Washington DC Region (WDCR) of the SCCA.  I have actually done something mildly productive with my spare time!

An AWS Project Was In Order

It was mainly by happenstance that I got the app going.  I wanted to work in the Amazon AWS cloud a bit to understand it better.  I had managed teams using it for years now at various companies.  So it seemed like a reasonable learning experience. I could have easily chosen Microsoft Azure or the Google Cloud, but AWS has the deepest legacy and I started there.  Once I logged in and started to play with AWS, they let me know my first year was FREE if I kept my usage below specific CPU and memory levels.  Sure no problem.  But what to build, what to do?  I remembered I had built an old Java/JSP app as a framework for a racing site for my brothers and I, called cahallbrosracing.com.  GoDaddy had taken their Java support down and it had been throwing errors for years.  So I decided that was the perfect domain to try, and grabbed the skeleton code.  It would be some type of Java/JSP racing application that used a MySQL database backend.  But for now, I just needed to see if I could configure AWS to let me get anything live.

EC2, RDS, a little AWS security magic…

I provisioned an EC2 node, downloaded Tomcat and Oracle Java and went to work.  In no time, I had the fragments of the old site live and decided I should put my race schedule online.  The schedule would not come from a static HTML page.  It would use a JSP template and a Java object to get the data from the database.  Then each year I would just add new events to the database and display by year.  Quickly the MySQL DB was provisioned, network security provisioned, DB connectivity assembled and the schedule was live.  OK – AWS was EASY to use and I now had a public facing Java environment.  I was always too cheap to pay for a dedicated host. Too cheap to sort out a real public facing Java environment that allowed me to control the Linux services so I could start and stop Tomcat as needed.  But FREE was right up my alley.

So there I was, developing Java, JSP and SQL code right on the “production” AWS Linux server.  Who needs Maven or Ant, I was building it right in the server directories!  Then I started to realize I did not have backups.  I was not using a source code repository.  It could all go away like a previous big app I wrote when my RAID drives both failed in the great 2005 Seattle wind storm.  Not a good idea.

Intel NUCs (and GitHub) to the rescue!

Enter the NUCs!!!  I had learned about the Intel NUC series and bought a handful of them to make a home server farm for Hadoop and Cassandra work.  These units are mostly the i5 models with 16GB of RAM running Ubuntu 14.04.4 LTS.  I realized I needed to do the development at home, keep the code in a GitHub repository, and then push updates to AWS when the next version was ready for production.  My main Java development NUC has been awesome.  It is a great complimentary setup.  An AWS “production” environment in the cloud and a Linux environment at home with the source code repository also in the cloud.  I even installed VMWare Workstation on my laptop so I have Linux at the track.  This allows me to pull the code from GitHub down to my laptop and make changes from the track.  It’s almost like I have made it to 2013 or something.

Why software is never “done”

Well once I got going, I wanted to track my points in the MARRS races.  So I made some tools to allow manual entry of schedules, race results, etc.  This manual process clearly did not scale well.  The discovery of  Race Monitor and their REST APIs. solved that issue.  The code was written to pull the results back from Race Monitor and used Google’s GSON parser.  GSON let me marshal the JSON data to objects used in the Java code.  Unfortunately, Race Monitor does not pass a piece of critical data, the SCCA ID for each racer.  The next step was to work with the Washington DC Region and the fine people at MotorsportReg.com to use their REST APIs to get that data for each race.  This simple Java app has become complex with two REST APIs and tools to manage them.

The rest is history.  The tool can now also import CSV files from the MyLaps Orbits software.   A simple CMS was added to publish announcements and steward’s notes per race.  All of the 2015 season has been pulled into the application across all of the classes and drivers.  Many features, bells and whistles have been added thanks to Lin Toland’s sage advice. Check out the 2015 season SSM and SM Championship pages.  A ton of data and a lot of code go into making those look simple.

Racing into the future with MARRS

I am really looking forward to being able to help all of the WDCR MARRS racers track their season starting in April.  Let’s hope I can drive my car better than last year and race as well as I have coded this application.

It is kind of odd to think that my desire to play with AWS caused me to build something useful for hundreds of weekend racing warriors.  Now the next question, should I make it work for every racing group across the world?  I mean multi-tenant, SaaS, world domination?  Hmmm…  Maybe I should try to finish better than 6th this year…

Ted Cahall

Windows 7 – huge upgrade from XP

Nice hardware helps

I just realized that I bought my “new” Windows 7 machine way back in late January.  The thing is amazing: 8GB RAM, i7 860 Quad Core CPU, 3.0Gbps RAID-1 SATA drives, etc.  I recently went out and bought a 30 inch Samsung monitor so I could put the video card in 2560×1600 mode.  The speed, video, stability, etc. of this machine are incredible!

The most amazing thing is the OS.  I skipped Vista due to all of the bad press – coupled with the fact that XP mostly did everything I needed from a desktop OS.  Mostly was the key part of that sentence.  It really could not handle more than about 2GB of memory efficiently – and I had some leaky open-source apps that regularly gobbled that up since I rarely reboot…

Free Microsoft Software!

Additionally, Microsoft has tossed in some FREE apps that were not available under XP as part of their Windows Live Essentials program.  The most significant of those apps (to me) is Movie Maker.  I regularly edit and upload portions of my SCCA Club Racing videos using Movie Maker.  It is simple and easy – which fits my video skill level really well.  I am also in the process of adding in a TV Tuner card so I can really utilize the Windows Media Center software that came with my Windows 7 Ultimate version.  That should make it even more interesting to connect to my Xbox-360 (which now gives my AppleTV a run for the money in renting movies from the Internet).

Windows 7 handles memory well

I now regularly run over 3GB of apps without any issues on the machine whatsoever.  I have not added all the DB servers, app servers, etc. that I used to run on my various Windows desktops.  That is because I never retire my old machines and they are still on the network somewhere.  I finally have created what is mostly a desktop machine used as a desktop.

No question, Windows 7 is a really fantastic OS.  It will continue to be my main machine to access all the servers running in my in my home data center.

Ted Cahall

Kubuntu and Wubi

Linux  desktop variations

After playing with Debian and Ubuntu, I wanted to see what the latest in KDE looked like. I have mostly been a Gnome user and had read some interesting tidbits on KDE 4.3 in LinuxJournal. I did not want to “polute” my Ubuntu installation by downloading all of the KDE parts to it.   So I decided I would add a Kubuntu partition to my Ubuntu box.  I would do this as well as test Kubuntu on my 64bit Windows machines using Wubi.

I was surprised to see that the installers for Ubuntu and Kubuntu are not really from the same code base. The installation on my 32 bit Ubuntu box went off without a hitch. I had a spare drive on it and I used that for the new partition. I needed to manually change the partitions with the partition manager.  This is so it could leave the old Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10 versions where they were. Even this was simple and straight forward.

Wubi letdown

I guess my biggest surprise was that Wubi does not install Kubuntu/Ubuntu to run “on top of Windows” as I thought it would. I had thought there was an additional VXLD layer or something that was written to let Linux run as a guest OS on top of Windows XP. This would have been really cool. Sort of like Cygwin on steroids. This may sound ridiculous, but a colleague long ago, Bill Thompson, wrote such a VXLD for Windows.  He did this back in the mid ’90s that allowed x86 versions of Unix to run on top of Windows.

I searched around the web and Facebook and LinkedIn to see if I could find Bill. With much digging I found him on LinkedIn. His start-up was called “nQue”. He was also a file system guru that wrote a lot of CR-ROM file system drivers, etc. after the start-up went south.

Needless to say, I think if that feature could be added to the Wubi concept, a lot more people might try Ubuntu.  Adding it right on their Windows desktop as an application environment without requiring a reboot. I know Wubi does not alter the Windows partitions.  So it is still a fairly painless way to try Ubuntu without risking much. Users can always uninstall it as they do any Windows application it if they are not happy with it. I just prefer to rarely reboot my systems if I can avoid it.

Ted Cahall

Windows, MacOS, and editing race cam videos…

Windows 7 solves so many issues

I finally got around to installing Windows 7 on a used Dell Precision 360 w/ 1GB RAM that I bought from work. During installation I somehow fried the AGP video card’s DVI port. I was able to still get the VGA port to work – and was impressed with the graphics and performance.

I went out and bought a new AGP card and am now really impressed with the “Aero” themes and video effects. The system is amazingly fast.

Windows 7 and video editing

I figured I would look at the Microsoft Live extensions including the Movie Maker download. I was able to get the software up, running, and edit one of the MPEG videos from my TraqMate race cam within minutes. This was really interesting to me as everyone says the Mac and Final Cut are the way to go. Movie Maker was FREE – while Final Cut Express was $199.00 at the Apple Store. 🙁

Mac Snow Leopard and Final Cut Express

I recently bought the Snow Leopard upgrade for my Intel based Mac and Final Cut Express 4.0 for editing videos. On Final Cut Express (not sure about Pro), the version of MPEG that the car cam shoots is not recognized. I need to read in the video with the software provided by TraqMate. The “fun” part about MPEG is that the file extension does not say it all.  There are 3 versions of MPEG videos… It seems that the TraqMate shoots MPEG2 and Final Cut only recognizes  versions 1 and 3. TraqMate makes a video conversion utility that I have not tried yet. http://traqmate.com/downloads/videoconverter/TQConvertInstall.exe.  There are several other free utilities out there as well.

A pay program from Apple should have at least the minimum features of the FREE program from Microsoft…

And a Ted Cahall Racing Video is Born!

When I was done, I went to post the video to YouTube.  But – YouTube was down! I first tried at 11:15AM ET today.   It was down for a while. It was back up when I checked back at 11:30AM. Movie Maker posts directly to YouTube. So here it is.

Ted Cahall