Monday, February 13, 2017

Going Serverless


I was just looking back over old files today and noticed a blog post I wrote from 2010  talking about the amazing advances in technology during the previous decade.  I knew at that time there was a new technology revolution on the horizon, but I could not have predicted how dramatically it would change our world in such a short time.  I am talking here about the API revolution and the evolution of micro-services.  Depending on what you do for a living, you may be deeply involved with the new reality this has brought forth, or you may not have even heard of it.  Either way, your life is different today because of it.  Easy to use APIs have transformed how we use software over the last decade and microservices are now taking that a step further by making functions that have been traditionally linked available as separately scalable services.  

Ten years ago I had a half dozen servers in my network doing a variety of tasks.  Some were for development, some were file servers, some were for communications, and the whole farm sucked up a tonne of power.  My office never needed to be heated in the winter because the heat from the servers was enough to keep the room cozy warm.  I took on the process of moving from physical servers to the cloud a few years ago and have not turned back. It has been an interesting journey and the deployment is constantly evolving with changes in technology.

The easy path for web and email migration was to use a hosting service.   I looked around a bit before taking that leap and found dotster.com which offered both Linux and Windows web hosting as well as a decent replacement for my Sendmail+Dovecot+SquirrelMail deployment.  Next I moved development and experimental work to VMWare VMs on my workstation, and finally I moved all the files, and bulk storage to dropbox and OneDrive.  That was five years ago.

The story does not end there, even though it sounds like it should.  Recently, I moved to G-Suite for documents and mail which moves most of my PC file storage into "the cloud" and many of the applications that were once on my local computer, now live in web services.  I am almost at a point where I can simply login to any web browser and have everything I need on-line.  The days of needing to access my own personal computer are nearing an end.  With the addition of Amazon Web Services (AWS), I can easily replace any of the experiments I was doing in VMWare with EC2 instances and scale the shape of the instance at will.

Last week I replaced a website that once consumed and entire physical server with an AWS CloudFront instance using S3 storage services that can scale independently.  I have an application running on one of my hosted servers that will be transformed into a set of Lambda triggered scripts over the next few months.  The concept of a computer server from a decade ago has been completely shattered.  You can now think in terms of functions and outcomes, building only the scripts and actions you need in the micro-services that you need for as long as they are required and in many cases pay for them by the event.

This is a completely different world from a time when you carefully planned the build of a physical server to include the CPU, RAM, network, and storage required for the current need as well as growth over the next few years.  Where that kind of thinking used to be a critical skill, no one even cares anymore.  It is irrelevant.  If you spin up an EC2 instance with too little RAM, or not enough CPU, you simply scale it up to your current need.  Did you build it with too much storage?  No problem, just reconfigure and move on.

I am currently reviewing all of my services and looking at options for efficiency improvements.  It looks very much like my digital future will be entirely built on distributed scalable services.  That is a crazy realization for someone who used to make a living building servers.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Who speaks for the ocean?


This makes me want to vomit. 

FYI, the URL on the whaler in the story below www.icr.org is for this Japanese "research" organisation who show a photo of themselves HARPOONING A WHALE on their own website. They were caught this month with a dead minke whale in spite of a worldwide moratorium on whaling. See that whole story here: http://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/world/sea-shepherd-finds-japanese-ship-with-slaughtered-whale/ar-AAlSC7o?ocid=sf 

When I was young, I fell in love with the ocean and had career aspirations of working on research projects to help us understand and protect marine life with a focus on marine mammals. My path ended up leading in a different direction, and I have not been able to spend much time anywhere near them. I read stories like these and have to wonder if I would have been able to make a difference had I taken a different path in life. Sadly, I do not own a time machine and cannot undo that now, but the work I have been able to contribute to in other technologies may have had some effect on getting the information out to the world faster and more efficiently. I am hopeful we can do more. 

With all of the focus in the media this past year on politics and oil and celebrity spotlights it seems that the oceans have fallen very far down on the list of concerns for the average person. We need to change that. We need to recognise that our own lives are dependent on the health of the oceans and without them, none of our other problems even matter. a-brewery-invented-edible-six-pack-rings-to-save-ocean-animals 

People still seem to think it is okay to release hundreds of balloons into the sky for their
celebrations, but we have pretty clear evidence that this is really harmful to our ocean dwelling friends. We are still finding animals with those plastic six-pack can rings wrapped around their heads and feet even though it has been a known threat for decades. There is hope though in some new technology making these actually edible if they end up in the ocean. 

There are still tons of floating garbage circling around in the ocean (literally) in spite of what you may have heard about it being a "myth". Dangerous headlines like this may have you thinking the problem is solved, but it is not. The reality is somewhere between a "clean ocean" and an "island of garbage the size of India" - both of which I have read and both of which are false. Thankfully there are some interesting ideas to clean up the mess that really is there to deal with. 

My hope is that I can help raise awareness and contribute to advance technology solutions that will help preserve the oceans that are vital to our survival.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Time for a refresh

The first week of January has always been a "reset" time for me.  While it can be argued that January 1st is just an arbitrary date on the timeline and should not be considered some magic time to cast personal resolutions for change, the changing of the calendar is a great excuse to pause, take stock and reset.

I always take some time in the first week of January to assess where I am, where I need to be, and what it will take to get there.  Maybe I should do that more often.  Maybe that will be something I do this year.  It reminds me of the Vorlon five questions from the amazing series Babylon 5 from the late 1990's.  

Who are you? Really, who ARE you?  Beyond your name and address, past your occupations and title, what are the things that make you, you?  

Where are you going? Not physically, but metaphorically - where are you heading to in your life and career?  What are the decisions and actions active in your life now leading you to?

Where have you been? Contemplate the situations and experiences that have compounded to make you the person you are today.

Who do you follow? The people you admire, emulate, aspire to be can say much about you. 

Whom do you lead? Even if you don't consider yourself a "leader", there may be people who look up to you, admire you, and try to emulate you.  Be aware of of your actions and be aware of those who may see you as a leader even if you don't.

I kick off 2017 with a revamp of my websitesnew social presence and a renewed effort to create awesomeness.  I'll be doing my best to divide my blog efforts to separate technology posts from the political rants as well.   I plan to focus a whole lot more on helping kids adopt technology which is something I did a great deal of in the past, but have been quite lax in recent years.

Whether you make New Years resolutions or not, take the time this week to assess where you are in life and where you want to be.  If you don't like what you see, make an effort to change it.

Be awesome, change the world.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Canadian CASL


On July 1st the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation act (CASL) will come into full effect and you are probably not aware it even exists. 
How appropriate that the world's toughest legislation against unsolicited email would come into force on Canada Day.

If you are not aware of the CASL project, here is a little light reading for you.
 - The gov.ca website dedicated to CASL: http://fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/eng/home
 - The specific regulations governing CASL: http://fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/eng/00273.html
 - The actual full text of the law: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/E-1.6/index.html
 - A great report from Deloitte on the impact of CASL: http://www.deloitte.com/...

There is a great deal more to tell, but first you may be asking why you might care.  Well, you know those annoying SPAM messages you keep getting in your email, even though you have clicked "unsubscribe" 20 times?  Now you can take strong legal action against any one of the people or companies that send those to you.  This is real and the Canadian government is very serious about protecting Canadian mail boxes.

Even better, this does not just affect people *IN* Canada, it applies to all Canadian citizens regardless of where their email inbox lives.  That means that if you live in Toronto and you use a Hotmail inbox in Seattle, you are still protected.  If you live in Vancouver and your mailbox is in Florida, this law still applies to you.

This is the scariest thing to happen to spammers in 40+ years of email history.  It may also be the most progressive thing to happen to netizen rights in the history of the Internet.  You may have noticed that in the last week or so, many of the mailing lists you subscribe to have been sending you a small reminder to confirm your request for their mail.  Any responsible sender who knows you are Canadian, has been reaching out to make sure you are ok with their newsletters and marketing messages.  No one wants to get caught on the wrong end of this big stick.

This is great news for Canadian citizens.  This is the first time in history that Canadian citizens have the power to directly and financially impact an offending SPAM sender in an impactful way.  If you skipped over that link above to the CASL website, you may want to go back and take a look as there are good resources for individuals to help identify spam as well as how to enforce the act.

The history behind CASL goes back several years and really owes some lineage to the CANSPAM project [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAN-SPAM_Act_of_2003 ] enacted in the US in 2003. While the rules have good intention, and all responsible senders do their best to follow them, active spam senders are aware of how difficult it is to actually enforce them and penalize the offenders.  By the time CANSPAM was put into place, it had become a list of standards of good practice as opposed to an enforceable law. The good news is that the responsible senders who follow CANSPAM make it very easy to join and remove yourself from a mailing list.  CANSPAM was the first kick at controlling SPAM and has been effective with legitimate senders, but has been relatively "toothless" on actual illegal senders.  Relatively few (less than 20?)  known "spammers" have be affected by any real penalties or jail time.

CASL is an actual law that is enforceable, and that should have known spammers thinking twice about sending Canadians any unsolicited mail.  The people and companies named on the Registry Of Known Spam Operations list (ROKSO) should be especially worried.  CASL has real penalties that hurt where it counts. 
"The maximum amount of [cash penalty], per violation, for an individual is $1 million, and for a business, it is $10 million."
CASL FAQ 

This means that if a spammer refuses to take you off their list 5 times, they can be fined up to $50 Million CAD.  Don't be that guy.

Time will tell if CASL has more threatening teeth than CANSPAM.  It will be interesting to watch this play out.


Oh.. Happy Canada Day :)