Thursday, January 31, 2008

USA Wind Energy Statistics

I just finished reading a report on where the United States stands, relative to the rest of the World, in regards to Wind Energy (a wonderful alternative energy option we really need to exploit more!) I was quite delighted, and a bit surprised, to see that the US added nearly 45% to its total wind power output capacity in 2007 - adding a whopping 5.2GW last year (that's Gigawatts - or, thousands of MegaWatts, or Millions of Kilowatts). Not bad!

We have a LONG way to go to offset our insane consumption of carbon-based energy (this included ethanol by the way!), but at least the high energy prices are finally encouraging development of alternative energy sources like large-scale wind farms. Here's an excerpt of the report I was reading (courtesy of Technology News Daily):

New developments in 2007 have seen the USA continuing to lead as the biggest annual market with 5.2 GW of new installations, followed by Spain and China, which added 3.5 GW and 3.4 GW to their total capacity respectively.

The North American market experienced the strongest growth with a spectacular 5.2 GW of new installations in the USA alone in 2007, more than double the 2006 figure. The US total wind power generating capacity was expanded by 45% in a single calendar year, injecting an investment of over 9 bn US$ or 6 bn EUR into the nation’s economy. The new wind projects account for about 30% of the entire new power-producing capacity added nationally in 2007 and will power the equivalent of 1.5 million American households annually. With the total installed capacity in the US now standing at 16.8 GW, it can be expected that the US will overtake Germany as the largest market for wind energy by the end of 2009, provided that growth continues at the current rate.
Good news, but...
Now, let me get to the complaints I have with our screwed up tax system in the United States, specifically in regards to tax credits for windmills, tax credit for wind power, etc., especially the disparity between what corporations can get [TONS!] (in tax incentives, abatements, credits, you name it!) vs. what the average homeowner can get [ESSENTIALLY ZERO]! In America, where the government is controlled by corporate special interests and lobbyists, all of the "tax relief" (as GW likes to call it) with regards to alternative energy goes to the existing predominately carbon-based Energy companies (that run the government these days). Sounds a bit messed up? Darn right! Especially while these large energy companies are raking in record profits!

Here's how completely messed up this alternative energy strategy is in America: you and I the taxpayers give our money to the Federal, State, and Local Governments, which in turn give the money to big energy companies in the form of dollar-for-dollar tax credits (for "investments" in wind power, solar power, etc)... those companies get to essentially build (at no cost to them) large wind-farms, solar power generation facilities, and the like,... and then the same companies that got the massive tax breaks get to sell the power generated by the capital you paid for (with tax credits) back to you perpetually. What a deal!! (not for us, the American public though!) Our deal is a simple one: we get screwed forever under this type of plan. And, this plan is not good for the health of our economy - I'll explain more in a bit.

But, this is the ONLY power-delivery model that the big corporations and government will support. They will not offer YOU the tax-credits to put power on your home, decentralizing the power-generation system in this country (which, by the way would also enhance our National security - but, sorry, big business doesn't want that if it interferes with their profits!). Compare this to Germany where pretty much anyone can reap the rewards of alternative energy tax incentives.

Fact is, big energy is scared to death of there being any REAL alternative to the existing model where you, the consumer, pay them over and over to fill up your tank, power up your appliances, and so on, forever. These companies and their lobbying powers have convinced our government that moving away from this energy-delivery model will "hurt our economy" or something (well, it will hurt their own profits if they don't adapt! And, that's what matters to them.) And, the government fears not being able to TAX YOUR POWER you generate (since, we have sales tax, excise tax, and taxes upon taxes on energy consumption now that the government "needs" for building roads, and more often, just wasting!) So, couple the fears the government has of potential lost taxes from the consumer (the whole time preaching "tax relief for individuals"), with the fear power companies have of losing their god-given "right" to collect revenue eternally for selling us power, and you have a formula that spells one thing: NO CHANGE WILL EVER OCCUR!

Here's the thing about this mentality: it's just plain ignorant (aside from the reality that "greed is good" to these folks).

Doing it right: decentralized power generation
The fact is, a decentralized power-generation model where we leverage alternative energy to push power-generation to the point of consumption (the home, or businesses) via solar power or wind energy, reduces the reliance on "the grid", and creates a much more scalable, reliable, power system overall. In theory, it can be more efficient too, as line-loss is reduced, and there should be a corresponding push for higher-efficiency appliances, lighting, heating, and cooling to make the most of locally generated power.

JOBS! Yes, JOB CREATION, JOB GROWTH, and a whole new manufacturing and service industry will arise from pushing power generation out to the homes and business locations. Who do you think is going to install and maintain all those windmills and solar systems and battery-backup systems and power-interconnects, etc.?? Yes, a veritable army of workers will be busy getting this country converted over to power-generation from sun and wind sources. And, with that income comes income tax, and likely sales-tax on the services (well, at least is States like Ohio that will ultimately try to collect sales tax on anything!).

Now, how about the economic impact? Simply put: HUGE! Our ECONOMY will boom if we incent ALL consumers to install windmills and solar panels. Aside from the job creation I mentioned already, our reliance on foreign energy can plummet. This current sucking sound (our money going to the Middle East constantly) is a huge burden on the economy, and a giant outflow of cash! Trade defects could be positively impacted in a huge way as we kept that cash "internal" to the United States and used it to build energy independence. Perhaps if we are really smart about things, we'll also learn to build and export some of the physical products needed for solar/wind (to other countries - and actually help our trade balance out), though I suspect the temptation to outsource manufacturing of all the physical goods to China will be overwhelming. Either way, we'll have our "service sector" jobs installing and servicing this stuff forever!

Also, if we use existing roof-tops for solar arrays, we won't be wasting any more land just to get the area needed for solar farms. A minor issue perhaps, or maybe not? Just multiply out the square-footage required for enough solar cells to power one house, and multiply by the number of households in America to calculate required acreage for an equivalent solar farm: the number is huge!

A comparison... this same decentralized strategy model is used regularly in computing environments to disperse processing and storage across multiple physical machines and locations in order to minimize single-point-of-failure prospects while increasing resource utilization (especially the processing power of desktop computers which tend to be underutilized / idle much of the time).

It can work, and it would work, if our government would take some serious action to encourage wide-scale distributed alternative energy (through personal tax incentives). The curent $150 BILLION idiotic short-term "economic stimulus package" currently nearing reality in Congress will do NOTHING for our economy long-term.

You want long-term economic security? Put that $150 BILLION into PERSONAL TAX-CREDITS (DOLLAR-FOR-DOLLAR) for implementing alternative energy (wind/solar) at the home and small-business level
- and, spread this out over a few years so workers and windmill/solar producers can keep up with demand. The money will stay in the country, unlike the current "tax rebate checks", which might as well be 90% signed over to China as soon as consumers receive them!

Monday, January 28, 2008

State of The Union : Analysis 2008

Now that Congress has finally stopped applauding (lol), and the State of The Union speech has commenced, and concluded, we have all heard what United States President George W. Bush had to tell us after his first 7yrs, as he addressed the 110th Congress here in early 2008.

Not surprisingly, he jumped right out and tackled some of the high-level Economy / economic issues, briefly mentioning rising competition in the World Economy, and global trade, etc. There was a lot of political phrasing of grand concepts like "The power and resilience of America's self governance", and how "Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time."

But, according to the President, we also need to open more markets overseas too (is the the empowerment he's talking about?) Break down trade and investment barriers around the world and pass more free trade agreements - Columbia, Panama, South Korea, etc. 100 million extra customers supposedly. But, it seems unlikely to me (though, even with Panama and South Korea being more "upper end" economies), that the flow will net out to anything in America's favor. As for Columbia, and how GW proclaimed them a "friend"... gee, well,... drug friend perhaps and money dump "fighting a war on drugs" friend, but what else? It seems that the first thing we need to do is quit dumping Billions on this "war on drugs" - that alone would set the trade-balance with Columbia on the right direction, though we'll never have enough trade with them to offset the Cocaine-cash flow to the country from American drug sales, regardless of whether the illicit drug trade is "being fought against" or not. Sorry, I'm rambling!

Then, we were told how we should trust people with their own money and empower them to grow out economy. 52 straight months of job growth are behind us, and job growth is slowing but still exists.
But, even as job-growth slows, he pushes for foreign workers that "we need to come here and support our economy" (presumably to do those "jobs Americans won't do" - like, construction, which used to be a damn good job here!). Wages are growing, but so is inflation. So.... what do we do about it? Tax incentives / relief / rebates of course!

Tax relief for individuals and families and incentives for business investment was one thing President Bush mentioned quickly, calling the current bi-partisan (apparent) economic stimulus package (ala a tax-rebate and tax-break gift set courtesy of Washington), a "good agreement that will keep our economy growing". (I doubt it - history shows otherwise, and I can't help thinking the BULK of the "rebates" will end up going to China since most goods are made there now!)

Of course, President Bush kept making the pitch for his tax cuts (capital gains and such from a few years ago) to be permanent. Don't (paraphrased quote) "allow tax relief expiration... Make tax relief permanent!", and so forth. He made the claim that 116 million tax payers would experience an $1,800 average tax increase if the existing "tax relief" was allowed to expire. OK, so you're telling me that the government would instantly get an additional $209 Billion). Yes, do the math, 116MM x $1800 = $208,800,000,000. Gee, I look and that and say, "wouldn't that cut our deficit in half" (to which anybody that feels compelled with just say "it'll slow economic growth"). I can't help thinking that much of that money

And, even though the Federal Government (per GW's direction) should not take in that $209 Billion/year, the President says that there will be a budget surplus by 2012 with his proposed budget - yeah, right!! How many times / years have we heard this crap, and NEVER seen a balanced budget (please, don't post comments saying Clinton balanced it or had a surplus - just check the US Treasury's own numbers on debt held by the public/government historically - it NEVER decreased in all of President Clinton's years). Our government is debt-addicted just like all of its citizens, and this will never change. In fact, I'd argue that the people of the United States learn their debt addition behavior from their own government - but, that's another blog topic.

Then came some medical discussion (a topic of concern with most Americans), with things like... Empowering people with better info/options (medical), and make it more affordable/accessible to all Americans... Make decisions about your medical care in privacy of your doctor's office - not the Halls of Congress (uh, whatever that rhetoric means!) How?... you guessed it: expanding consumer choice, not "government control". Sure GW, like that'll ever work or like it has worked at all yet! The ONLY thing that I heard that made (some) sense was the part about allowing EVERYONE to write off health-insurance. Confronting the epidemic of "junk medical lawsuits"... well, I'd like to see proof that if lawsuits were decreased that we'd see our medical insurance costs go down. Fact is, our medical costs / system is so unbelievably broken (and our government is complicit in this mess with special interests and lobbyists literally writing any legislation that would impact them), that nothing is going to change.

Indirectly or otherwise, the government is "owned" by these medical lobbyists when it comes to policy, thus nothing will change (well, not in any way that will help you, the average American consumer, though I wouldn't be surprised if more legislation giving additional corporate handouts, welfare, and guaranteed profit make it into law -- sorta like the Medicare prescription drug plan that prohibits our own government from negotiating lowest prescription prices like all other major Nations can do!).

Education: "no child left behind" was called a success. Supposedly we have recently posted the highest math scores on record last year, and reading scores on the rise (since when!!!??? everything I read about World standings in these areas shows the USA slipping.) Now, education for adults... Displaced workers will learn new skills and find new jobs. Sure, what jobs? Oh... maybe some in these sectors...

What is up with Energy security and President Bush's sudden public (show at least) of wanting to be "green" and climate friendly? Slow, stop, and reverse greenhouse gases... -- yeah, and this is GW speaking, whose administration has done everything to avoid it. Now acting "green". I don't buy it. Confronting global climate change and reduced dependency on foreign energy. Sure, right, since when? Now? I don't buy it.

We heard how the "Genius of entrepreneurs and scientists" needs to be trusted and used to get "green" power up... then, a minute later came the REAL push -- COAL (and a bit of nuke energy perhaps). Advanced battery tech and renewable fuel (read: ethanol! of course; i.e., competing with your FOOD for energy). But, I can nearly guarantee what the REAL agenda is, and where all the money will be focused: CARBON. COAL, OIL, ETHANOL, etc. NOT SOLAR, NOT WIND, but CARBON. This is where the big (existing) lobby money is, and where the government will focus their money because of it. We won't do what we need: i.e., implement a MASSIVE push to get energy independent via distributed power (solar, wind, etc) that could create tons of new jobs for installers, servicers, etc. Instead, the focus will remain appeasing the interest of big energy. Mark my words. I need a whole other blog on this topic too!

Well, the 2008 State of The Union speech is over. Where does it leave me regarding my opinion of the "state of our union"? Simply put: America has some severe issues that I fear won't be addressed in any MEANINGFUL way, and the same old thing will continue and lead us further down a hole we can't get out of. Massive government spending and debt, personal debt levels beyond compare, a financial system in disrepair (thanks to greed on all levels) and spiraling / rising inflation in energy, food, and medical care, all spell disaster.

A fundamental change needs to occur, but I doubt it will. Maybe you got something more optimistic out of this Presidential speech, but I detected the same old government politics (you could see the divided nature of Congress clearly as one side sits, the other cheers). Please, government, wake up and do something for your citizens (not just your lobbyists) and focus on long-term solutions that will help us remain the great country we are (or were and can be).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chevy Silverado Gas Mileage

I just saw this lame advertisement on TV which intends to convince you (the consumer) that the new Chevy Silverado Gas Mileage is "good" - as they make it a point to emphasize how good a whopping 20 MPG is! How absurd that we live in a country where 20 miles/gallon could be "good" in any way, shape, or form. Gee, at $3.00/gallon and 20MPG, you're ONLY dropping 15 cents/mile (if you happen to get that 20MPG, which is bound to only occur with distance/highway driving anyhow).

So, in the advertisement, the Chevy pickup is driving down the road, and keeps coming across other drivers that are stuck alongside the road with their "other" presumably less efficient pickup trucks (yes, there really are lower mileage ones, but .. ) that have run out of gas, and their drivers are eagerly awaiting a ride while holding their gas cans out. Obviously their trucks just don't go as far, and that must be because of gas-mileage issues (sarcasm galore here!)

I'd say the difference in fuel-tank size would be more likely to blame, since 20mpg is still, quite simply put: SAD. If 20 miles per gallon is good enough to brag about, that says a lot about the state of our American fleet fuel economy as a whole! The fact is, there are pickups out there that get a LOT BETTER THAN 20MPG, if mileage is a selling point. The new Ford Ranger claims 29MPG highway and the Toyota Tacoma claims 28MPG, which is as good as most small cars these days.

So, I don't quite get the Chevrolet commercial. OK, your car (oops - I mean truck) gets 20MPG, but if miles-per-gallon are the selling point, and you attract an audience that cares about MPG, beware that the same audience may do a bit of research and quickly find there are many alternatives that get MUCH better gas mileage (I call this all typical stupidity marketing from the "Big Three", and why they don't make money). It only took me a few seconds on Google Search to get a link to a list of top-10 MPG pickup trucks. I presume others searching for high-mileage pickup truck options will do the same.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Polymer Vision Readius 3G Cell Phone

I just had to write a blog about this latest entry into the 3G cell-phone race, because of how totally unique and awesome the technology is! The new Polymer Vision Readius Cell Phone and book-reader gizmo is extraordinary in its use of "e-paper" display, which is flexible and power efficient. This makes for a design that can best be shown in pictures:

The unit fully open...

The unit partially close (note flexible, foldable display!)...

Isn't that just amazing!?

I have been following the e-Ink, e-Paper technolgy for quite some time, waiting for some great implementations like electronic-ink or electronic-paper based book-readers, cell phones, PDA gizmos, and more. Now this Polymer Vision Readius 3G Cell Phone device featuring a 5-inch foldable e-paper display is officially entering production. I expect it'll cost $350 or so (pricing and exact sale date not yet announced).

In addition to the spectacular and novel designs that flexible displays can allow for, I really like how that e-paper stuff doesn't require a constant display "refresh" like a CRT/LCD/etc. That makes any such device definitely easier on the eyes and battery life than traditional display technologies.

This particular electronic device is not expressly designed to be an e-book reader (though that is a feature). Instead, it seems to be mainly marketed as a tri-band HSDPA phone (with up to 30 hours of reading and/or talking time). I don't yet own anything nearly this cool for portable tech gadgets -- in fact, the cell phone I have is bottom of the barrel old as can be simple type that you can get at Walmart for $15.00 now from Virgin Mobile or other pay as you go (pay per use) cell phones. Even the iPhone hasn't enticed me much (and, the iPhone is rather COOL with that awesome full-color touch-screen and all), but this Readius device offers something I'd more likely use : the book reader (vs. the media players in most cell phones, which I could care less about).

Although a side note, I must say what I really want to see is a desktop e-paper display (realizing won't work for high-motion or full-color tasks) that I can use with Microsoft Windows or Linux or Apple OSX for stuff like I am doing now (typing this blog), since I'd LOVE to reduce eye-strain and ditch the LCD flat-panel when I don't need the refresh speed. That'd rock! And, I'd be willing to pay a premium for such a specialty item just to save my eyes (and prevent headaches!).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Government Voting Machine Waste - Scanners, paper, all of it!

Make no mistake about what all this "voting machine" chaos is about: getting more of your money to move from your wallet to the various vendors and special interests that each want their "turn" to sell our government agencies a "voting system" or "voting solution", whether that is manual (paper ballots and manual counting), semi-automated (paper ballots with electronic scanners or punch-card machines to tally results), or fully electronic / computerized voting systems and software.

We, the American public, are being played like a fiddle. Thanks to everyone's paranoia about vote tampering, now it's the automated, electronic, computer-based solutions that are under attack, after we just recently paid BILLIONS to implement these solutions since they were so much faster, better, accurate, etc.

Then, along comes the rumors that the voting machines can be hacked. Sure, it is possible, but is it likely? Let me explain this to all of you computer-phobes out there as clearly as I can: if I wanted to alter a vote-counting mechanism, I'd be much more inclined to:
  1. have humans tamper with physical voting records. "Social Engineering" as it is referred to sometimes, is the EASIEST path to cracking any system. Fact is, people have their own desires (including greed or political motivations) that are much easier to appeal to than that of a computer! If you think the humans involved throughout the entire manual-vote-counting system are faultless, you are simply living in a dream land. People constantly manipulate things to suit their own ambitions. Sad, but true.
  2. alter the old punch-card counters than the new machines. It'd be SO easy. Don't you all get it? Punch-card counters ALSO USE PROGRAMMING and computers to tally what is "punched". Sure, you can do a manual recount, but that typically only happens in close elections anyhow. And then, see #1 (above)!
  3. And, why can't I alter the scanner results? Again, there is software involved here too!! I guarantee that the counting algorithms in that type of system can ALSO BE ALTERED.
So, to summarize: Wake up boneheads!!!! ANY SOLUTION CAN BE MANIPULATED - COMPUTERIZED OR NOT. Whether you realize it or not, computers have been involved in counting votes for many many years. Only now that you see a touch-screen computer sitting there at your local voting station are you suddenly concerned with the security of the voting data and such. If there was any massive computer-based voting fraud, guess what, it's already been done by manipulating the counting software that read all those punch cards and shaded-circles, etc. This supposed opportunity for "hacking" the vote is nothing new - the opportunity has been there for a LONG time. Just because the machines, computers, and software involved were not where you could see them does not mean they were not tampered with or that they couldn't be tampered with.

The fleecing of us all!
If you love watching your hard-earned money go down the toilet with these insane voting-system "improvements" year after year (of recent), just get involved with the public argument and "outcry" over voting issues and problems. Raise your voice loud! Make sure when the local County officials say they'll be spending another $100 million to address shortfalls and security concerns, that you don't mind funding it. I guarantee corporate America is loving this. Where else can you sell a set of machines for millions, have them replaced by the customer, and then have a new wave of machines purchased that addresses the issues of the first round, over and over and over, for something as simple as counting votes!?

I happen to live in one of the Counties and States affected by the current wave of organized ripping-off of the American population by our Government. First we used paper voting method, then we switched to electronic (fully electronic machines, with a paper-trail mechanism built in). But, that just wasn't "good enough" for people - the rolls of paper supposedly bunched up on occasion. So, what are we doing... yep, going BACK TO PAPER ballots, and now there is some new expense for something like $26 million dollars for the new scanners.

When did it become acceptable to have this constant flow of cash going towards voting systems? Gee, about the same time the government and corporations got the public to start arguing about which method of voting machine is better, safer, more secure, reliable, easier to use, etc.

The Baltimore Sun just had these quotes to offer about their State's situation (yet another example of this madness)!:
Making good on a campaign promise to overhaul Maryland's suspect electronic voting system, the governor there proposed an initial outlay in the state budget toward the purchase of scanners to replace its $65 million touch-screen voting systems.

The new machines would end up costing the state $20 million, the Sun reported, though meanwhile it would continue to pay off the remaining bill for the $65 million worth of touch-screen voting machines the state would evidently retire. That bill is being paid off on an installment plan that expires in 2014.
Thing about this: how the heck did our parents and their parents ever manage to vote!!?!

Amazing! Amazing what this country (and the cronies running it) have done to us all. They've made us all willing pawns, and we sit back and give them a blank check to rip us off over and over and over.

Since you are paying for all those machines (or their removal and replacement), you best darn well get out and VOTE THIS YEAR (and, vote against taxes too - it's your only chance to slow this mess down,... presuming your vote actually counts).

Friday, January 18, 2008

YUI JavaScript : Slowest Code Ever?

Would you believe it possible, that instead of using client-side JavaScript (YUI in this case - Yahoo User Interface code) to do something as simple as format a couple-hundred row table and offer client-side table data sorting (via column-header clicks), it is faster to do all of this via:
  1. a round-trip to a webserver,...
  2. where the webserver also roundtrips to a database server (a totally different machine, behind a firewall),...
  3. where the database server has to execute a complex stored procedure against a million or more rows of data, filter and summarize that data to a couple hundred rows, sort it, send it back to web server...
  4. where the webserver's C# ASPX code must write out the HTML and deliver it to the client's web-browser
I can't explain how insanely slow client-side JavaScript (in a browser) can be, without discussing an example I personally have experience with that demonstrates performance that is so poor your mind cannot even grasp how it is possible.

Yes, it sounds insane, but it is true - in this case, I was comparing:
using the Yahoo User Interface (YUI) Controls for a project, where the YUI datatable has been used to add formatting and column-sorting to an existing HTML table,...

...doing the sequence I first described above with round-tripping to the web-server / database-server / etc (which sounds impossibly more complex).
I'm even using a 3GHz desktop computer to run the JavaScript, and it is still slow!

The speed-comparison results:
  • Yahoo User Interface YUI datatable control - client side JavaScript version: 15 SECONDS!
  • Complete round-trip to IIS 6 web-server, SQL-Server, and C# 3.0 code to write out the same formatted HTML: LESS THAN 2 SECONDS!
My god!

Talk about an opportunity to tune that YUI Code! Or, is it the JavaScript / ECMAScript interpreter that is so insanely slow on the client? How is this even possible? When I use the YUI datatable to re-sort the 200-300 row local table, it is taking 15+ seconds each time (and that is when using FireFox 2.0 --- did I mention that Internet Explorer IE 6 takes nearly twice as long!!)

How can any code / language be this slow in modern times!!!???

Once again, I find myself remembering how I have felt all along, and still feel the same way, about web-development using HTML, JavaScript, etc -- it's complete rubbish! There are browser incompatibilities galore, rendering inconsistencies everywhere, behavior / event differences, and it is just generally the most screwed up application-development "platform" ever imagined.

The web should be no different than the desktop! Aside from super simplistic static HTML pages or generated HTML (via ASP, DotNet, PHP, Ruby, whatever) a "web site" should be nothing more than a document-presentation site. If you require real "functionality" (i.e., an "application", it is time to do things quite different.

Instead of this current web "application" model where everyone seems to continually try to beat "applications" into the shape of a web-page, we need to instead create true executable applications that run on the client machine natively. It is SO SIMPLE to create an application that can talk to remote databases over TCP/IP and/or through SOAP endpoints, etc., that I can't figure out why everything has to be a "web page" like it is now. You wait: sooner or later people will proclaim the "fat" web-client (a local EXE) the latest and greatest thing that was "invented" or "discovered" or something (instead of admitting it was just ignored and obvious!)

DEP Data-Execution-Prevention Windows 2003 Server "Joy"

I just had the "fun" of dealing with a difficult to track down (the underlying cause of) COM Surrogate error in Windows 2003 Server Web Edition with SP2 on it. The error was showing up constantly in the event logs on reboot, and a web-application that used COM+ components was working and failing intermittently because of something going wrong in the COM system.

Well, after a lot of hunting through event logs and examining system-settings and such, I found the issue was due to Windows DEP (Data Execution Prevention) junk that was introduced into Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1. More than coincidentally, it was at the time of the SP1 install that the web-server program / software in question (using COM Components) began to exhibit strange symptoms and seemingly random failures.

It seems that Windows DEP interpreted data being sent to/from my COM+ Component (Remote Procedure Call to another server where data was being pulled from a SQL-Server 2005 database) as a potential threat - i.e., as code embedded in the data stream that may be an attempt to execute malicious logic. The DEP function would only fail PART of the time, when a certain stream of data (which was actually just large PDF reports) would "look like" potentially malicious code embedded in a a data stream... at least, that is my theory.

DEP was introduced back with Service Pack 1 for Windows 2003 Server, which I installed on the web-server in question back in July of 2005, which shortly after is when I started seeing random COM Surrogate errors (I checked my logs / notes). I found this on the Microsoft support site ( Rather interesting bulletin from October, 2006, after SP1 was already installed on the webserver / web-site in question that was experience the COM Surrogate Error under Windows 2003 Server.


The "Understanding Data Execution Prevention" help topic in Microsoft Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1) contains the following incorrect entry:

By default, DEP is only turned on for essential Windows operating system programs and services. To help protect more programs with DEP, select Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those I select.

By default, in Windows Server 2003 SP1, DEP is turned on for all programs and services except those that the administrator selects. By default, the "Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those I select" OptOut policy is already selected.

Gee, isn't that special!

I never knew Microsoft officially announced that the original help file was BACKWARDS from reality. This whole time, the fix (Which I presume it is a FIX now), may have been just a "checkbox away"! Arghhhhhhhh.

So, here's my updated note to myself about what symptoms to look out for with COM Surrogate Errors under Windows 2003 Server (with SP1 or SP2 or SP3, etc)...

COM Surrogate Error Fix
IMPORTANTNOTE: DATA-EXECUTION-PREVENTION (DEP) SETTING in Windows Server 2003 SP1+ may need altered to allow the COM SURROGATE to run or function!!!

Where: Control Panel, System, Advanced, Performance (Setting button), DEP -- there should be a radio-button (2nd one from top) that is clicked and says "Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those I select", with a check-listbox below that shows "COM Surrogate" --> that item needs checked, to ALLOW custom COM object(s) to run on WebServer!!
I don't know if this will help anyone else, but debugging a COM Surrogate error isn't fun, and this is something to look into!

Friday, January 11, 2008

KDE4 FINAL Released (K Desktop Environment)

Have you heard the news? After quite a long wait, KDE 4, the latest version of the K Desktop Environment, has been released! This is definitely an exciting time for any Linux Desktop enthusiast, especially for those who have chosen KDE over Gnome for a Windows Manager.

Check out the screenshots of then new KDE4 desktop look and feel - it's fantastic! KDE-4 is very modern looking, and it supports full window transparency and much more.

Here's a screen shot demonstration that the KDE website posted to show off it's awesome new UI capabilities:

I expect KDE 4.0 to be a "work in progress" for a bit as all the applications catch up and use the new features available to them. It may well be KDE 4.1 final release or KDE 4.2 final release before we see a large number of applications show the same wonderful polish that a few early applications already sport. Here's another screenshot from the KDE 4 Application Examples page, showing off "Dolphin File Manager" application in particular:

And, just think, this softeware is Open Source Software and completely free! Look into Ubuntu (Kubuntu in particular) or OpenSUSE for some of the early Linux Distributions with KDE4.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Borland Stock: Did I Save You Money?

No sooner did I write a blog last week on January 3rd, 2008 about how I felt Borland (NASDAQ:BORL) was in a perilous position thanks to some really lame moves by their executive management team in 2007, than I read this CNN Money Article on January 4th about Borland workforce cutbacks in 2008.
"Borland to lay off 8% of workforce, close six sites, incur $8M-$10M charge...
There is a bit of coincidence here, but that is because it didn't take a Wall Street Analyst to see this stock, and company, essentially failing on many levels. Perhaps I prognosticated this, or more likely it was the result of actually looking into licensing volume, product prices, and financial results - see my original blog about Borland for details.

Maybe you read my blog in time and managed to sell before a further reduction in Borland stock value (new price today: $2.74/share; market cap: now just under $200 million). I have no idea what will become of this company (whose developer tools I really like for programming in Delphi especially!)

Here's the problem Borland (and many other firms need to take note also): YOU CAN'T CUT YOUR WAY TO PROFITS!

I also noticed this quote elsewhere on Computer Business Review:

Revenue for its last reported quarter (Q3) slumped 12% to $73m; though CodeGear only managed to pull in a paltry $12.5m.

OK Borland, that is just plain sad! ($50MM/year annualized) What are they doing? Oh, wait, I remember what they are doing, since I blogged about it already. They are essentially driving their otherwise loyal customer base away after instilling all sorts of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) back when they announced the whole master-plan of spinning off developer tools as "CodeGear". How could anyone be surprised by this outcome?

Give me that company and all those tools and I guarantee I'll sell more than $50MM of developer products per year (yes, I have an EGO - LOL!) In all seriousness, I'd take on the job of running that company without a salary. I'd do it for purely stock options (and free Borland products for life), since I am quite certain I could restore some shareholder value, and I know I can use their development tools. :)

Heck, just 20,000 full Enterprise-Edition licenses of any of their major tools would bring that level of revenue in. Just doesn't sound like much, especially if they can land just some larger development shops.

Speaking of development shops... I still think there is a challenge with getting certain copyright-avoiding nations' developers / programming-firms to pay for legal copies of software - and yet we, the USA, keep outsourcing more work to such places and then wonder why we can't sell development tools anymore. If I was in charge of Borland, I'd move quickly to "lock those tools down" and employ novel methods for doing so. Sure, hackers can crack security on nearly anything these days, but you don't have to make it incredibly simple for them to do so! Certainly there has to be a solution that can prevent rampant violations.
[interesting side story: I had a Borland person scold me on a Borland newsgroup once for suggesting that a copy of Delphi 2006 Enterprise I saw advertised on Ebay for $99 buy-it-now (indicated as "CD ONLY, but will come with a software key guaranteed to work") was likely to be illegal, when the product had just been publicly released and would cost 20 times that to purchase from Borland. Legal: Yeah, right!] Needless to say, Borland needs to crack down on that kind of thing!
Back to the issue at hand... the state of Borland as a company. This latest data tells me that, most likely, a BUYER could have that whole "CodeGear" division for probably 200-500 million TOPS, and probably a lot less. Maybe if I just wait long enough, I can just buy it outright. ROTFL (that'd take some serious drop in price yet!)

In the mean time, here we developers go with more angst and anticipation (over Delphi and other Borland products!) And, as always, this FUD will lead to a further erosion of Borland's customer base. I can almost picture all the development-team meetings going on where plans are being discussed as to how to best minimize risks associated with Borland going under!

I'll try to remain optimistic and hope Borland soon gets a plan in place for projecting strength and longevity, and giving people a reason to buy their products (aside from just the technical merits of Delphi, JBuilder, 3rdRail, etc). But, I'm sure there is a rocky road ahead for the company, and the stock.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


I have been a huge fan of various Borland software development products for years. In particular, I love the Delphi programming language and RAD IDE that Borland currently markets under it's CodeGear sub-company. And, even though I am not necessarily a Ruby on Rails developer, I think that what Borland has created in their 3rdRail Ruby on Rails IDE is looking quite nice and has potential to become a leading Ruby IDE.

I would like to say my enthusiasm for their wonderful programming and software design tools extends to their Stock (NASDAQ:BORL), but it is a bit difficult to get excited about that which has plummeted over the past year.

This Borland Stock chart says a lot:

To begin with, Borland's executive leadership should removed - blanket action, and no huge payouts for their departures. Let me answer the question of "why? with another question:
What BONEHEADS publicly announce to the world they are going to spin off their flagship development tools (like, Delphi, JBuilder, etc.), try to market the spinoff company (now known as "CodeGear") for acquisition, fail, put everyone in a state of doubt over the future of their products (especially their customers), and further reduce their own ability to sell their products when their (apparently only) plan falls short of the target?
Just search the web for quotes and opinions from developers after the announcment. I have! And, I keep reading entry after entry on developer blogs were people say things like "I really like Delphi, but since Borland dumped it, I'm switching to Java", etc. Borland didn't "dump Delphi" or other products, but that was the overwhelming impression and information out there.

The idiots that came up with this business plan at Borland really, truly, deserve to be fired en masse, unless their objective was to drive the stock down to near nothing and then suddenly announce they are going private (i.e., managment insiders taking it private once the purchase price is low enough to be to their liking)! This is the ONLY way their moves make sense. And, if this is the case, instead of being fired (if and when a plan like this surfaces), they will all need sued - individually I'm talking, not corporate - and make them pay for screwing investors.

Next, something just doesn't add up with their financials in respect to product deployment claims. I was reading the marketing hype on the Borland VisiBroker page (a CORBA Environment), when I came across this quote:
Borland® VisiBroker® is the most widely deployed CORBA ORB infrastructure product on the market, with more than 30 million licenses in use.
OK, sure, they may be 30 million licenses in use, but is anyone paying you for them? The company's total annual revenue is only ~$300 million for all the Borland products and services! Had Borland just been able to get a mere TEN DOLLARS per year per supposed "in use" licenses of VisiBroker, they would have that $300,000,000 in sales with just one product.

So, OK Borland, tell me this: how many paying VisiBroker customers do you really have? Either you are distorting licensing "facts" or your company has absolutely no business acumen if you can't make money off your products. Which is it? Obviously, VisiBroker is essentially given away for near nothing, and/or the license count is otherwise meaningless.

Borland's entire market capitalization based on today's current $2.83/share price is barely over $200 million. So, you are telling me that once again, those installed licenses of VisiBroker are not even worth a 7 bucks each towards Borland's market cap? Again, this just seems wrong, unless those "licenses" mean nothing.

With some of their higher end tools for application life-cycle management and such, they boast rather "healthy" product prices. Caliber Analyst is listed at US$3000 per named license, ... Maintenance and technical support is 20% of the license cost fee as well. From their own "Technology Audit" PDF, I got the following:
Typically, customers begin with implementing one of the LQM point solutions (e.g. functional testing with SilkCentral Test Manager, Caliber DefineIT, and SilkTest) and undertake some process improvement services with some business users, and training courses, graduating later to a full lifecycle quality platform. For individual named user seats of the LQM products, prices start at between US$1,700 and US$2,000. The total cost of deployments is considerably variable, as a range of solution scopes can be implemented. Small scale projects may cost less than US$20,000, while large scale projects [...] may easily be over US$500,000. In most cases licence cost is the most significant part of total cost. Borland provides support and maintenance at a standard typical rate of 20% of license cost annually.
So, I dug deeper into that same report and uncovered what (limited) deployment statistics I could find with regards to some of their upper-end development related products. I found the following interesting information.

Borland’s Lifecycle Quality Management (LQM) - LQM 1.0 - January 2007 figures:
  • EDS has approximately 5,000 user licenses (and that is a growing number)
  • British Telecom (UK): Approx 3000 user licenses, deployed in more than 6 locations in the UK
  • Hewlett Packard (OpenView Division, Germany): 200 Deployed licenses in at least 4 countries
  • Jaguar Cars (UK): Approx 200 licences, mainly deployed at HQ in the UK. Departmental Deployment
  • NOKIA (Finland): Approx 200 licenses, mainly deployed in Finland. Departmental Deployment.
  • ING Direct (Benelux) – Global deployment
You can see that these are not inexpensive products. But, the real question is, how many people are actually purchasing them, and how many are paying anything near their published "list prices"? I have to wonder how deep of discounts Borland extended to EDS or BT, etc, in order to "land them" as clients and be able to boast about these installations.

If each of those installations listed above had paid the nearly $2,000 per individual product that is supposedly where product pricing starts, that short list of (example) clients would have given Borland nearly $20million in revenue, and would contribute $4million/year in maintenance and support thereafter.

The big problem is that I suspect this list of example clients 1) represents the largest installations, and 2) didn't pay nearly full price. Also, did you notice how few USA-based firms are on the list? Borland seems to be better able to sell its products outside of the USA (this, of course, could be a positive thing).

Next, I looked at their CodeGear RAD Studio 2007 U.S. Pricing and Availability announcement (quoted below), and tried to figure out how many installs of these products there would have to be to produce the company revenue levels reported in their financial statements.
The Professional edition is $1199 for new users, with special upgrade pricing of $549 for customers using earlier versions of Borland Developer Studio, Delphi, C++Builder or Turbo Professional products. The Enterprise edition is $2499 for new users and $1699 for customers upgrading from earlier versions of Borland Developer Studio, Delphi, C++Builder Enterprise or Professional. The Architect edition is $3299 for new users, $2499 for customers upgrading from earlier versions of Borland Developer Studio, Delphi, or C++Builder Enterprise or Architect editions.
Again, these are not inexpensive software products. With an "Architect Edition" license costing $2,500 per seat, every thousand licenses would generate $2.5million in revenue (sold directly to customers - not taking out a cut for resellers). So, it would take 100,000 licenses of such product(s) to generate $250million/year revenue (i.e., essentially Borland's entire revenue). But, how likely is it they can sell even half this many licenses of such expensive products?

With more software development moving out of the USA and into countries where intellectual property laws are, should I say, a bit "relaxed" (or unenforced) compared to ours, I can't help wondering how many of the overseas places developing software using Borland's tools have actually purchased their products from Borland. I'm sure some do. But, I really question this when I have looked on some of these rent-a-coder web-sites where I see a project requiring Borland Enterprise Edition products (as well as Microsoft Desktop and Server products) that I know would cost me a $5000 investment, but yet the "bidding" overseas coder says they have all the required software tools and can do the entire project for $100 or such. It certainly appears obvious that in such circumstances, some overseas (and USA too I'm sure) developers are not encumbered by the inconvenience (i.e., COST) of needing to purchase the Borland product, as they have acquired it via other means (copied, cracked, hacked, whatever). This is really hurting Borland (and other technology firms) in a big way.

Another problem I see is that when I search job sites for languages that are essentially "locked up" or "proprietary" to Borland (read: Delphi), I find little to no job postings. And, the trend has been downwards for quite a few years. Couple this with the final nail in the coffin I mentioned earlier - management announcing they'd spin off CodeGear, which was self-induced FUD [Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt] (what morons would do this!!?? - usually they leave that task up to Microsoft) - and you get a company that has nowhere to go but down!

Borland, wake up and save yourself! (if you care to) Fire all top executives involved in this CodeGear fiasco. Publicly come out and admit that it was a mistake... and give clear indication that you are committed to your products. But, has your own stupidity made that a useless move - nobody will trust you now. Managers are not fired for buying into Microsoft, IBM , or Oracle platforms, but they will be for buying your tools if you go under.

Funny thing is, the best chances Borland has for "success" is if someone decides to buy them out while they are dirt cheap. I'd say that Borland is ripe for acquisition, and it would be barely a "blip" in the acquisitions department finances for someone like IBM, Oracle, or Microsoft. Even if they paid a 5x premium over the current stock price, it'd only be a $1 Billion acquisition on a cash-basis, and as a stock-based acquisition, it'd be a mere nothing to absorb.

The only thing I personally fear about Borland being acquired or bought out or whatever is that the acquirer / purchaser may not feel as strongly as I do about how wonderful the CodeGear Delphi and RAD Studio Tools are. But, it shouldn't take too much hands-on time with these tools to convince someone that there is still inherent value there to be extended, leveraged, and used to generate revenue (certainly more revenue than Borland seems capable of squeezing out of these products). In fact, with the right "brand name" on them, I could see an acquiring company quickly getting a nice ROI (Return On Investment) as people start buying the products that they otherwise would not for fear of Borland going under or such.

One more thing to note recently is how Borland filed to sell $200,000,000 worth of 2.75% Convertible Senior Notes due in 2012. This further tells me they are in operational peril perhaps. Only time will tell. Who knows, maybe Borland is poised to grow immensely soon, and I just can't see how? I guess that loan could be just to hold them over until a suitor buys CodeGear or all of Borland out? I still find it amazing when companies can get loans equal to the entire market capitalization of their stock - but that is another story, and another blog.

So, is Borland a "BUY" or a "BUST" (sell)??
I don't know.
I do consider it a gamble, with upside potential being solely dependent on Borland getting purchased by Microsoft, Oracle, or IBM or such.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Netscape Browser Obsolete - Officially!

Thank God! The end of an era as AOL officially retires Netscape Browser!

Why do I say "thank god!"? Well, as a software developer that has to write HTML-based web sites, I welcome the fact that there will be one less "mainstream" browser to test my websites with. Honestly, I have considered NetScape hardly worth verifying web layout / rendering with for at least a year or two now, but this gives me an official reason to not concern myself at all with it.

I can not even imagine the countless millions of man-hours wasted creating "cross-browser compatible" web sites. Billions and billions of dollars are wasted every year with this ridiculous complete waste of time - making a web page or web site "look the same" and "behave the same" in multiple browsers. Talk about a futile effort and one with zero net benefit to humanity! What a waste of time!

Everyone takes the web for granted, and viewing of web sites in their browsers for granted, but with the current mess of incompatibilities and inconsistencies that exist between the way HTML and CSS code is rendered, web development is still a complete nightmare. I'm sure you have hit web sites that "don't look right" in your browser. Or, you have seen sites that look fine in one web browser (perhaps Internet Explorer, or FireFox, or Safari, or Opera) that don't look right in another. Or, better yet, the site looks fine at the "default" or "normal" text-size, but if you dare to increase the zoom-factor, you suddenly face a web-site with tons of overlapping and garbled text and images!! Heck, just change the FireFox minimum-text-size options and start browsing the web and see what you run into - the web becomes a total disaster!

HTML is an absolutely lame way to present a user interface with any consistency, simply because the rendering engines in various browsers are as varied in their implementation (or should I say: interpretation) of underlying "standards" (CSS / HTML) as they are in the ways developers attempt to code to these varied behaviours. To this date (and for years to come I presume), I can't believe that people put up with this mess!

Why the hell can't all the major browser vendors at least use a single standard rendering engine for CSS / HTML!? For god sakes, you vendors can still do whatever you want to customize the browsing experience in addition, while still using a single, standard, rendering engine. I am of the personal belief that one engine needs to be chosen (maybe the Gecko engine used by FireFox) and an independent development group funded by anyone that wants to create derivative works (read: customized browsers) should be responsible for ensuring complete adherence to the published HTML / CSS W3C standards (including XHTML) and producing this sole HTML / CSS renderer.

Such action, though logical and quite possible, will never happen because of the egos that drive the splits between these various browser implementations. Microsoft will never give up their need to be completely in control of everything, and it is probably unlikely that the projects for FireFox, Safari, Opera, etc would ever all "play nice" together completely regardless.

So, we all pay for it. And yes, YOU pay for it too in ever product your purchase online too (web-site development costs are much higher thanks to browser incompatibilities, and you pay for it in your products!), in fact, even if you buy products at "brick and mortar" locations, you are still covering the cost of online retail sites - so there is no escaping the consequences of the browser-inconsistency-induced software development costs!

At least, for now, there is soon to be one less "major" browser to worry about. Thank God! And, I can only hope a few other "marginal" players drop soon, or at least follow my logic above and use a common rendering engine! Competition is good, but not at the cost of mega-billions in hidden (software development) costs spent trying to make something as simple as a web-site appear consistent in all of these browsers. We all pay for it. Don't forget that fact. Demand change, and welcome the day the browser (certainly the rendering engine) is seen, accepted, and adopted as the commodity item that it is!