Friday, June 20, 2008

Firefox 3 Browser Review : Awesome!

I just started using the new Mozilla Firefox 3 Internet / Web Browser yesterday, and I have already reached the conclusion that this version is simply fantastic, and oh my God is it FAST!

Speed, Speed, Speed...
The page rendering for most of the sites I commonly browse - both on the Internet and on my local Intranet / LAN network - is easily twice as fast if not faster. I have experienced page-loads and rendering so quick that I literally blinked and missed witnessing the page refresh; it was that quick, and this was on pages that were definitely no where near this quick to load in Firefox 2 or Internet Explorer (IE) 6 or 7!

Content Scaling...
When it comes to increasing and decreasing the size of text/graphics/layout-items, Firefox 3 is so far the best I have ever seen at "getting it right". By this, I mean that it keeps relative positions of text and layout items intact while scaling their size, and thusfar in my testing, it is the only browser to be consistently accurate. Even Firefox 2 had issues getting this right, and IE 6 had all sorts of problems, and IE7 had a few problems too (on the same pages). I give top marks to the CSS handling and overall page-rendering, at any scale, to Firefox 3.

"Live Drag-n-Drop"...
"Live Drag-n-Drop" - well, that is what I call it,... where you can see an outline of the text you are dragging around in the browser, like when I am editing this blog entry and highlighting a region of text (like a sentence) and dragging it to a different area in this edit window. Quite Nice indeed!

The URL-Bar Improvements...
I just love the new smart auto-completion feature that can locate relevant URL choices from my bookmarks, prior page-viewing history, and so on. As I start typing a word, the dropdown presents options not just with that word at the beginning of the URL, but anywhere within the URL (or, it seems, even with the word in the site-description / tags). Wonderful!

I like the concept of this drop-down control so much I can already imagine places I want to use it in my own software. I don't know how easy that control is to adapt, but I will have to dig into it a bit and find out.

Get Firefox 3 now, and don't look back...
OK, I'm not going to write abiout every last feature. Fact is, the new browser is wonderful. Just go to the Mozilla FireFox 3 Download Site and get it for yourself. Install it, try it out, and you'll soon see it will live up to my review and then some.

Enjoy! (hopefully as much as I am enjoying it!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

IBM RoadRunner SuperComputer

IBM is always at the cutting-edge of SuperComputer development, and things are no different today with the release of news about their new Roadrunner super-computer that is to be delivered to the US Nuclear Security Administration. This thing has absolutely insane levels of computing power, turning in over a Petaflop of computing ability (that is one quadrillion, or 1000 Trillion, operations per second!) As a comparison, figure that it would take between 50,000 and 100,000 of the fastest modern personal computers to equal that.

I find this type of quote (from Technology News Daily's site) really great for describing how far computing technology has come in such a short amount of time:
In the past 10 years, supercomputer power has increased about 1,000 times. Today, just three of Roadrunner’s 3,456 Tri-blade units have the same power as the 1998 fastest computer. A complex physics calculation that will take Roadrunner one week to complete, would have taken the 1998 machine 20 years to finish – it would be half done today! If it were possible for cars to improve their gas mileage over the past decade at the same rate that supercomputers have improved their cost and efficiency, we'd be getting 200,000 miles to the gallon today.
Isn't that just unbelievable? We have engineered computers whose processing power has outpaced prior generation's ability to complete a given task. So, it begs the question: why not just wait another 10 years for a faster computer before considering running more simulations or problems to solve? :) Well, the answer is obvious (I think), in that it is the current demand for computing power that drives the need for faster computers as we find more uses for the power. And, were it not for purchases of these computers, the R&D wouldn't be there to keep the pace of computing-power advancement where it is now. So, like all computers, their own success is what makes them obsolete.

Now, when the price of this power comes down from the current $100Million to something like $5,000, I'll just have to buy one for some really serious virtual-reality simulations!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

MySQL : not ready for critiical applications

I have considered MySQL a database option (of sorts) for low-priced web-hosting solutions where I need a simple rudimentary database available to data-driven dynamic web pages (typically from PHP pages). But, every time I start thinking about using it for more significant applications - especially anything to be considered "mission critical" business applications - I am constantly reminded of how much I still consider MySQL a TOY compared to the likes of Microsoft SQL Server database.

I am sure there are plenty of developers that will try to argue that MYSQL is a great database, and that it compares favorably to SQL-Server. But, when I constantly encounter (accidentally) errors like the following when just browsing web sites on the Internet, I really have to wonder how stable the product, and the data it is storing, is. I have run into this same "table is crashed" junk on multiple sites over the past few months; and, these are sites I go to regularly that are usually just fine. I had this happen on the site recently too (and, that is a BIG NAME site to say the least).
DB Error Blog Flux Topsites: mySQL Error on Query : SELECT * FROM `weblog` WHERE weblog_ID='95849'
More Information:
  • Mysql Error : Table './infor/weblog' is marked as crashed and should be repaired
  • Mysql Error no # : 145
  • Date : June 4, 2008, 8:30 am
  • Referer:
  • Script: /sitedetails_95849.html
When I encounter errors like this, I can't help wondering how utterly screwed up the underlying data-integrity is throughout the entire affected database. And, I can't help wondering why it seems to take people ages to become aware of the issue (I have seen this type of error persist on large sites for up to a week - apparently undetected, though perhaps just not a priority for anyone to fix). Better yet; if the database "knows" a repair is needed, why can't it repair itself or something?

I have never encountered a "crashed table" in Microsoft SQL Server 2000, 2005 or 2008, and I have relied on SQL Server for serious mission-critical applications with hundreds of tables and tens of gigabytes of data with many users simultaneously hitting the database. All this with no issues aside from an occasional log-file that needs shrinking. The only serious SQL-Server crashes I have encountered have been due to hardware failure like a RAID-Backplane cooking out and taking the data and/or log drives with it. But, even that is usually easy for me to correct by simply restoring a backup or a hot-spare (kept available via log-shipping or such).

The bottom line for me ever considering MYSQL for production is simple: until I stop seeing all these "table is marked as crashed and should be repaired" messages at random on the Internet, there is no way in heck I'd stake my own software developer and database administrator reputation on the line for such a product. When it comes to something as important as your database, and the critical data it contains, there is no compromising data-integrity and stability for "cheap" or "free" products like MySQL (and yes, I realize there is commercial version of mysql also -- which actually amplifies my concern).

Here's hoping the product becomes more stable over time, though it seems like it has been around long enough to work out most of these issues already, so I am not very encouraged about this prospect.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Comprehending Linux Developments

One of the primary problems, or challenges, that Linux faces is being able to clearly communicate the state of the Linux Operating System (especially the core, or "kernel") software development to those who would like to know what is going on. I am one of those interested in keeping track of the progress that Linux makes (mainly against Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX features), since Linux is a FREE alternative operating system.

Linux has made incredible advancements over the past months and years, and the latest kernel series (2.6.25.x) brought with it a lot of great features and improvements. But, even though I am an experienced software developer and technologist, that doesn't mean I want to look through the cryptic release-notes that are hosted on the Linux foundation's web page (which are essentially source-control code check-in notes made by developers) and try to figure out exactly what those improvements and changes were.

So, I am quite pleased to report that I have found an awesome resource for understanding, in plain English, what recent updates have been made to Linux at:

A quote from that website states an objective for the website which I certainly find incredibly useful:
[The website is] A comprehensible changelog of the Linux kernel, this page shows a summary of the important changes being added in each Linux kernel release - support for new devices, features, filesystems, and subsystems as well as important internal changes. While this text is aimed to be readable (unlike the full changelog), its primary audience is those who know a fair amount about how a kernel operates.
The site appears to live up to this objective, as I was able to quickly comprehend what is new and improved in Linux 2.6.25, and I will be here reading about the Linux 2.6.26 changes soon too I'm sure.

In addition, the same website has what they call a "Linux Kernel Glossary" of various terms and acronyms related to the Linux kernel, in a nicely organized alphabetically-indexed and hyperlinked resource. This is most welcome, as I get quickly overloaded with the zillion++ acronyms in the technology world. Even though this web page is the "Kernel Glossary", many of the terms described here are applicable to Windows, PCs in general, etc. also - so it's a great resource all around.