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!

A tale of two tethers

Those of you using your Android phone as an internet connection may be paying more than you need to pay. Many phone companies here in the US charge extra to enable tethering capability, either by providing their own OEM tethering app or by enabling the phone to serve as a Wi-fi hotspot.

With some experimenting, I found that my Motorola Droid 2 Global from Verizon can be tethered just fine right out of the box, and without paying anything extra.

Recently I’ve been playing nursemaid to my ill mother, so I frequently take my work along with me on overnight shifts. I’ve settled on connecting to my main desktop machine via remote desktop, and using my 15″ laptop as the client.

The remote desktop connection works great. My 3G connection is noticeably slow, but it’s very workable. Since I’m working on my office computer, there’s no need to sync anything, and I can pick up from one place right where I left off in another. In a pinch I can even use my phone as a client (using an inexpensive remote desktop client from Xtralogic).

To get my internet connection, I installed Motorola’s drivers on my Windows 7 laptop, then enabled the Bluetooth controller on my phone and paired it with the laptop. Now I can connect my laptop to the internet via Control Panel simply by connecting to the phone as an “Access Point”, as shown below.

Connecting to my Droid 2 Global via Bluetooth

I don’t know whether this technique works for other phones or other carriers, but it has certainly worked well for me.

All your base are belong to us

Excited news stories this morning about how your computer is vulnerable to attack from a phone plugged into your USB port made me chuckle. This “novel hack” involves making an Android phone mimic a USB keyboard in order to send keystrokes to the computer. Cool, but why wouldn’t a hacker just use a USB keyboard in the first place?

This is a good example of the over-hyped threats that often generate headlines. Sure, it’s true that allowing potentially compromised USB devices to be plugged into your computer could be harmful, but opening your web browser is much more likely to result in damage. The only thing remotely novel about this “attack” is the notion that your own phone could be the source. That’s interesting, but hardly worthy of the breathless coverage it’s getting.

The bottom line is that most malicious attacks are the result of you doing something you know you shouldn’t do, such as opening an email attachment or blithely running downloaded programs without regard to their trustworthiness. Very few malicious attacks occur without your explicit permission.

This post reminds me of the one time my computer was infected with a virus. It arrived on a floppy disk that I received from, of all places, my local health department. I guess smart phones are the new floppy disk.

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.

Deelip Menezes Predicts a Cloudy Future

I had the good fortune of hearing Deelip Menezes deliver the keynote address at the Bricsys 2010 Conference in person. If you missed it, check out the video now at the Bricsys web site. The question and answer session after the speech is an excellent harbinger of the discussions to come if Deelip is correct in his prediction about CAD on the cloud.