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The Age of the Platform by Phil Simon

The Age of the Platform book coverI picked up Phil Simon’s The Age of the Platform after running into his blog, and some of his writing online. Simon is an interesting guy with an obvious strong technical background. He’s also an accomplished speaker and you can find several videos of his speaking online.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how it came to be. The book was funded through Kickstarter, an online platform for people to fund their creative projects. Perhaps it was Simon trying to drive home the point of his book. But it gets better, he self-published the book through Motion Publishing. Furthermore the book isn’t cheap for a paperback at $20. That said I admire that he has obviously eaten his own dog food, as the proverbial saying goes, and done it himself.

The premise of the book is that we’re entering a new age exemplified by four companies, namely Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. He takes us through a quick history of each company, then illustrates their successes and how each of them have successfully created platforms to extend their reach. Continue reading The Age of the Platform by Phil Simon

A History lesson for Cloud Detractors

Computing history

We’ve all seen cloud computing discussed ad nauseam on blogs, on Twitter, Quora, Stack Exchange, your mom’s Facebook page… you get the idea. The tech bloggers and performance experts often pipe in with their graphs and statistics showing clearly that dollar-for-dollar, cloud hosted virtual servers can’t compete with physical servers in performance, so why is everyone pushing them? It’s just foolhardy, they say.

On the other end, management and their bean counters would simply roll their eyes saying this is why the tech guys aren’t running the business.

Seriously, why the disconnect? Open source has always involved a lot of bushwacking…

Continue reading A History lesson for Cloud Detractors

What Wouldn't Google Do?

What Would Google DoIn his latest book, What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis seems to have authored a gushing tribute to the search giant that has pledged to do no evil. He paints a very optimistic picture, and shows us over and over how Google has opened up industries, and how that same openness helps consumers like you and I.

Jarvis, if you don’t know him by name, has been a journalist for some time, but gained particular cred and notoriety when he blogged with the headline “Dell lies. Dell Sucks” after his horrible experiences with Dell computers and customer service.

While digging through Googly chapters, on Real Estate, Publishing, Entertainment, Shopping, Education and even Airlines, Jarvis serves up anecdotes on how a more open approach can help these industries adapt to a new business environment brought about by the Internet. He cites interesting examples like Gary Vaynerchuk, the creator of the hilarious and insanely popular winelibrary.tv show about wines, and now a public speaker on social media and brand building; and Brazilian author Paulo Coelho pirating his own works.

Taking the cue from some of these successes Jarvis goes on to propagate the idea that sharing and dishing out services for free is the way to make money. The irony that you have to buy his book for him to tell you that deserves a chuckle, and also raises the question of whether he himself buys all of that (pun inevitable). Indeed openness is great for consumers as most of us would agree. A level playing field increases competition, drives down prices for consumers. But it also drives down profits and margins. Continue reading What Wouldn't Google Do?

The Problem with Startup Bootcamps

instant startups

Scanning Crains NY Business recently, I saw an article on ‘starting up’ in 54 hours.  It’s the brainchild of Marc Nager, Clint Nelsen and Franck Nouyrigat called Startup Weekend. Startup bootcamps seem to be the current extra-curricular activity of choice these days. Wharton is also getting in on it with their Innovation Tournament. Then there is the 48 Hour Startup  and of course let’s not forget the 3 Day Startup.

So what’s my beef?  Truth be told I admire the ambition, the optimism, and the openness of these efforts.  And for sure these bootstrapping marathons do introduce entrepreneurs to future colleagues and partners, get them asking the right questions about financing, customers, revenue, competition and so forth.

My problem with these events is they frame startups as something you *can* do quickly. As if it were a Lego set or pop-up book that gives instant results and gratification. Sure startups are 21st century tech-driven business that provide innovative products in a very short development cycle but a lot of the day-to-day running of the business are still very mundane 20th century sensibilities; not unlike running a mom and pop store, a laundromat, deli or sandwich shop.

Continue reading The Problem with Startup Bootcamps

Scalability Rules for managers and startups

Scalability RulesAbbott and Fisher’s previous book, The Art of Scalability received good reviews for shifting the way we think about scalability from merely splitting databases and adding servers, to include the human factors that weigh heavily on its success. Together with the authors’ distinguished pedigree (PayPal, Amazon, and eBay between them), I picked up a copy of their second book, Scalability Rules – 50 Principles for Scaling Web Sites without a second thought.

If Art was about laying a strong foundation for a scalable organization then Rules is the reference point for when you actually tackle the growth challenges. It acts as a reminder when you come to a crossroad of decision-taking, to keep with the principles of scaling. Each guiding principle is clearly explained and illustrated with examples. It also prescribes how and when to apply the rules. Continue reading Scalability Rules for managers and startups

How about an easier tip jar?

Tip Jar Walking around New York you find yourself stopping at plenty of different places to grab some takeout for lunch. There are Vietnamese sandwich places, pizza shops, noodle bars, taco stands, juice bars and of course your daily coffee shop. You’ll find an endless variety.

As is customary in New York, even for takeout there is usually a tip jar at the checkout. Many of them have a large bowl, or glass jar in which you can throw your change as tips, or if you really love the place and service, a couple of dollars.

Of late I’ve noticed a few have placed those small plastic boxes with a tiny slot on the top. You try to put some change in the slot, and half of the money falls on the floor. It’s as frustrating as threading a needle while suffering from astigmatic vision. Now when I come to a place that has this plastic box, I don’t even bother tipping. I get a headache thinking about my change falling all over the floor. All I keep thinking is, why make it so difficult to tip?

Continue reading How about an easier tip jar?

Review: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

Here Comes EverybodyClay Shirky tells a great story. Here Comes Everybody begins with a case of a lost phone in a taxi cab, and the extraordinary turn of events that led to the owner retrieving it. From photos posted online, to NYPD who were uninterested in following up, to taking it all online. Through that online publicity, the story got picked up by the NY Times and CNN, which put pressure on the police to track down the taxi.  It’s a great example that illustrates the nuances, both good and bad, powerful and persistent that the Internet can unleash.

Throughout the book he weaves stories about the network effect, friends and friends of friends, and how that impacts information, organization, and the spread of ideas. Citing examples such as the SCO vs Linux court case and Groklaw, flash mobs and political organization, Shirky notes how all these events were influenced and facilitated by the Internet. Continue reading Review: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

The Mythical MySQL DBA

I’ve  been getting more than my fair share of calls from recruiters of late. Even in this depressed economic climate where jobs are rarer than a cab at rush-hour, it’s heartening to know that tech engineers are in great demand. And it’s even more heartening to think that demand for MySQL DBAs has never been better.

My reckoning was confirmed by a Bloomberg news report about stalwart retailers suffering from a dearth of talented engineers. Bloomberg cited Target’s outage-prone e-commerce site as a symptom of, among other things the market’s shortage. One of the challenges old-timers like Target face is having to compete with Silicon Valley startups as a fulfilling and ultimately, financially rewarding place to work. Continue reading The Mythical MySQL DBA

What Ops doesn’t tell you about your MySQL Database

MySQL is a very scalable platform which has proven robust even in the most dense and complex data environments. MySQL’s indispensable replication function is ‘sold’ as being fail-safe so you have little to sweat about as long as your backups are running regularly. But what the ops guys aren’t telling you is MySQL performs replication with tiny margins of error that could cause big problems in times of disaster.

Replication database backup

The Scenario

Imagine the scene, you use replication to backup your data. Your secondary database is your peace of mind. It’s the always-on clone of your crown jewels. You even perform backups off of it so you don’t impact your live website. Your backups run without errors. Your slave database runs without errors. Then the dreaded day comes when your primary database fails. You instruct your team to switchover your application to point to your live backup database. The site comes online again. But all is not right. You notice subtle differences and your team begins to question how deep the data divide could be.

The Problem with MySQL replication

Although MySQL replication is fairly easy to setup, and even to keep running without error, you may have unseen problems. MySQL’s core technology to replicate data between master and slave is primarily statement based. Various scenarios can cause what in other database platforms you might call database corruption, that is silent drifting of data from what tables and rows contain on the master. It is no fault of your own, or perhaps one might argue even of your operations team. It is a fundamental flaw in how MySQL performs replication.

The Solution

Fortunately there is a solution. Checksums, the wonderful computational tool for comparing things can be put to work nicely to compare database. The Percona Toolkit (formerly maatkit) includes just such a utility for use with MySQL. It can be used to check the integrity of your slave databases.
If you’ve never performed such a check, you should do so ASAP. If your database has been running for months at a stretch, chances are there could be differences lying undiscovered between the two systems.

Depending on the volume changing in your database, you can continue to use this tool periodically to confirm that all is consistent. If integrity checks fail, there is another tool in Maatkit to syncronize differences, and bring everything back to order.