Service Interruptus

The ManuSoft web server has been humming along steadily for the last 7 years on an old Compaq server running Windows 2008. You may have noticed that it’s currently offline. Actually the server is still humming along just fine – it’s just that nobody can connect to it.

I had some connections with the IT guy at a local printing business, and for practically no cost I had been using two static IP addresses over their T1 connection. Unfortunately the IT guy has since moved on, leaving nobody there with the ability to manage my connection. My sweet deal was destined to collapse eventually. That’s exactly what happened last week when they had some configuration changes made to their network.

I’ve now moved this blog to the cloud (Windows Azure), and I will be moving the rest of the services to the cloud over the next week or two. Wish me luck!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Although my blog has become relatively stagnant, the rest of my life has been changing — and there are even bigger changes ahead.

My children have been growing into adulthood one by one, and my parenting time has been shrinking as a result. To take up the slack, I bought a bike a few years ago and started riding it on the many local bike trails. Initially cycling was a way to get healthy and enjoy the outdoors, but it has turned into much more. Riding a bike is great exercise, but it’s also a fantastic social activity when you do it with friends, and I have made many new friends in the very large and growing cycling community here in Ohio.

The last few years I’ve also been racing my bike competitively in the many amateur bicycle races held during the spring and summer. I never played organized sports as a kid, so this has given me an avenue to explore an unfamiliar side of myself.

While cycling has changed my life in many ways, even bigger personal changes are on the horizon. I’ve been divorced (or as I often say, “married to my bike”) for many years, but even that will be changing later this year — unless she changes her mind before we seal the deal.

In addition to the many personal changes, I’m also making some professional changes. I’ve accepted a contract offer to join the software development team of Belgium based Bricsys, maker of BricsCAD. I will continue my philanthropic work, including work on the OpenDCL project and my participation in online ObjectARX, AutoLISP, and C++ programming forums. I will continue maintaining and supporting ManuSoft software products. I will even continue blogging here and writing for upFront.eZine, but maybe my focus will shift a bit.

I’m looking forward to all these new challenges, and excited to see where this new road leads. Thank you for travelling with me!

RoboCache for Windows offline files cache management

I’ve written before about RoboCache, a command line utility I wrote for managing the offline files cache in Windows Vista, Windows 7, and now Windows 8. After using the utility internally for a few years, I decided that I might as well clean it up and make it available to the rest of you. RoboCache is now available at the ManuSoft web site. There is a shareware version available, and you can purchase the registered version at the ManuSoft store (cost is 25 USD for a single user license).

It’s nothing fancy, but it works great for my needs. The command syntax is modeled after the ROBOCOPY command, and is designed for handling an entire directory tree recursively, filtering files and folders by wildcard. My typical use case is running it from a batch file to pin remote Visual Studio project files on my laptop before travelling. Visual Studio project folders contain a lot of temporary build files and output files that don’t need to be (and therefore shouldn’t be) included in the cache. The goal is to pin only the necessary files, ignoring the ones that are not needed or will be recreated when the project is built. Here’s a sample call to recursively pin all files in the ‘Build’ folder (this is all one line in a batch file executed from the laptop):

ROBOCACHE Build /op:pin /s /xd debug* release* x64 Win32 .svn _* obj bin ipch /xf *.log *.tlog *._ls *.ncb *.user *.suo *.aps *.ilk *.pch BuildLog.htm *.err *.dmp *.pdb !*.bat #*.bat *.chm *.dia *.aps *.lnk *.Res.dll *.zip *log.txt *report.txt *.winmerge *.sdf *.opensdf

Programmers might notice that the /xd (ignore directories) and /xf (ignore files) wildcard lists look very similar to what one might encounter in a Subversion commit script. In fact, when I created the batch file I just copied and pasted from my SVN ignore lists. For me, the benefit of using RoboCache in this way is that only the minimum needed files are cached. After working on the cached files while I’m out of the office, my changes automatically sync to the folders on my desktop when I return to the office. I do use Subversion repositories for all my projects, and could just as well commit my remote changes to the repository, then update my desktop from the repository; however by using the offline files cache, the syncing all happens automatically and I never have to think about it.

RoboCache can do more than just pin and unpin files. It can perform any of ten operations on the target files (or any of four administrative functions on the files cache itself), including some operations that are not exposed through the Windows user interface. Below is a list of all currently supported operations (captured from the help screen, and not showing the available command line options for each operation).

/OP:cmd :: OPeration to perform (default is /OP:info).
:: info : display status info about the target(s)
:: pin : assure offline availability
:: unpin : unpin the target(s)
:: sync : synchronize cached files with remote files
:: rename : rename cached item (requires reboot)
:: delete : delete cached item
:: suspend : suspend the target folders (ignores files)
:: unsuspend : unsuspend the target folders (ignores files)
:: online : transition to online state
:: offline : transition to offline state
:: enable : enable offline files cache (ignores target)
:: disable : disable offline files cache (ignores target)
:: encrypt : encrypts offline files cache (ignores target)
:: decrypt : decrypts offline files cache (ignores target)

The installer simply adds RoboCache.exe to your system folder; no folders are created and no other changes are made. The shareware version of RoboCache displays a nag notification balloon in the system tray, but is otherwise completely functional. There is no separate documentation, however ROBOCACHE /? displays syntax and command options.

Infinite Computing: Bah, Humbug!

At Autodesk University, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass introduced the term “Infinite Computing” in an attempt to define Autodesk’s perspective on “the cloud” from a unique angle. I think the term is a brilliant and effective use of terminology because it focuses an otherwise nebulous concept and it radiates a sense of real and immediate purpose.

Infinite computing is not really infinite, of course, and it’s certainly not infinitely accessible. However the metaphor is apt, because like the physical universe, as long as the virtual universe keeps expanding it is essentially infinite. [I can’t resist having some fun and taking the analogy a little bit further: at some point, Moore’s law will encounter relativistic effects, and we’ll realize that every transistor warps the virtual space-time continuum in proportion to the square of its clock speed.]

So why am I bearish on the prospect of infinite computing?

Let’s say you buy a computer with multiple processors for, say, AutoCAD. Two processors can produce a nice performance boost, because AutoCAD can utilize 100% of one processor while the operating system uses the other. But what happens if you quadruple your capacity to eight processors? Unless you’re running independent programs that can use the extra processors, they offer very little benefit and are essentially wasted.

The moral of the story is this: an infinite computer is ineffective and inefficient unless it has an infinite number of simultaneous tasks to perform. It costs computing power to manage parallel tasks, so the practical limitations of “infinite” computing make it obviously unrealistic for all but highly specialized tasks. Even if we give it a more accurate name like “massively parallel computing“, such a system is hardly “sustainable” (to use another modern term of art) due to the inherent inefficiencies.

A compromise is necessary. There are new ways to look at old problems that enable a more parallel approach to finding solutions, and I have no doubt that many engineering problems can be restated in a way that makes them amenable to parallel processing solutions — but that’s hardly a revolutionary concept, and it certainly does not require an infinite computer for its implementation.

In the final analysis, “the cloud” is going to be about individuals connecting to each other and to their data seamlessly and in a location-agnostic way, and the “infinite computer” will be what they use to do it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Free Confidentiality Agreements

It’s not too often that lawyers give away their work, but Gene Quinn of IPWatchdog.com is doing just that by providing some free sample confidentiality agreements. If you can afford to pay an attorney for simple agreements like this, more power to you; otherwise you may want to grab these free agreements while you can. There is of course a disclaimer, but thankfully it’s short and simple just like the agreements.