May 2008 Archives

Up and Coming Album Upgrade

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Deep within the Zoomshare office resides a collection of servers running a duplicate copy of our application for development and testing. Within this damp lab the mad hacker/programmers, including yours truly, slave over every line of code, looking to improve performance and reliability.

About once a week a service bell rings summoning us from our dungeon to "The Meeting Place" where that week's directive is read to all within ear shot. For the past few weeks the directive has repeated, exactly the same, like a drum beat, over and over "Improve Photo Albums, Improve Photo Albums". Then with little warning we are pushed back down the stairs to our lab, deprived of sunlight and all but bread and water, until one day at the Sacred Council of Fogg the Stone of Wine declares "It is done!"

Eh, ok, maybe not quite like that. Yet, we do indeed work everyday on improving Zoomshare and indeed for the past few weeks within our lab environment we have been focusing on enchantments to photo albums and soon those changes will be seeing the light of day. That of course brings us to the big question: What in Photo Albums will be changing?

Album Changes: Navigation
First and foremost the biggest change to Zoomshare sites for visitors will be a new navigation scheme, designed to allow a visitor to easily move between individual images and removal of the awkward "pop-up window".

At first, navigating images within album looks the same; first a list of albums in alphabetical order, followed by a collection of thumbnail images representing the various sorted images within an album.

Thumbnail Album VIew
Thumbnail View

However, everything changes after the next mouse click. Previously when a visitor clicked on a thumbnail image a pop-up window would open with a full-size view of the image. Within the upcoming change upon mouse click the thumbnail view will disappear and be replaced with a new "mid-size" view of the image.

The new mid-size view has the following enchantments:

  • Mid-size view of image
  • Embed Codes for the image <-- More on this in a bit
  • Previous & Next navigation to view album images at the mid-size "level"
  • If a free site, a new ad space

Mid-size Album VIew
Mid-size View

To view a full or originally uploaded size, a simple mouse clink on the mid-size image will do the trick. However instead of a pop-up window, which most web browsers restrict these days, a "lightbox" effect is in place in which the image opens in a "modal dialog box". Simply put everything within the browser window is "grayed out" to draw focus to the image "on top of" everything else.

Full-size Album VIew
Full-size View

Album Changes: Embed Codes
With the addition of the mid-size view to photo albums another element the "Share" or "embed codes" have been added alongside each image to enable sharing of your images among visitors to your site and the web in general. Depending on the size of the image each image will either have a collection of Small & Original or Small, Medium and Large code for embedding the image into a web page or bulletin board.

In addition each image will include a URL to use in instant messages or emails as well as the embed code for the Zoomshare Flipbook Widget containing the whole album in which the individual image is a part of.

Use of these embed codes is similar to other codes found on the web today; the visitor simply uses their ever handy copy and paste abilities to select and copy the embed code they wish to use, then paste that code into the desired location as needed.

Selecting Embed Codes
Selecting Share Code for Embedding

Album Changes: Console
Don't want your images to be "shareable" by your site visitors? No problem, within console a new album setting allows a Zoomshare user to control which, if any, albums are "shareable". By default all albums are, so if you wish to limit which albums provide share information one simply needs to disable the feature as desired.

Enabling Embed Codes
Console Disable/Enable Share Information

Even if a Zoomshare user wishes to disable Share information for the outside world, within console the embed codes for any image can still be found for use within Zoomshare pages or elsewhere.

To access this new Share information within console two new features have been added to the Add & Sort Photos section of the photo album console. A "Share" link above each new image provides for that image's embed codes when desired. Simply click on the Share link to reveal the necessary information.

In addition to the Share link, the embed codes for each image are also provided in the Info section of each image, just in case.

Selecting Embed Codes within Console
Share Information within Console

Back to the Pit of Despair
As with all change it will take a little bit of time for the dust to settle. If anything seems amiss or if you have a suggestion, comment or feedback, please do send them our way at: customerservice at zoomshare dot com. But with any luck the Shared Wizards of Zoom will declare "It is Good."

The Software Supply Chain Problem

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Last week a dust up occurred in part of the software industry relating to a security issue in a key software toolkit. Apparently two years ago, someone ran an analysis tool on the source code to the security toolkit OpenSSL in the Debian Linux distribution. The tool reported an issue within the OpenSSL package included by Debian, so the Debian team decided that they needed to fix this "security bug". Alas the solution broke a critical element of OpenSSL, its random number generator, (Long story short, a truly random number generator is critical to software encryption tools such as OpenSSL.) The end result is that for the past two years security applications on Debian and Debian related distributions have been "hackable" and need to be rebuilt.

Each side in the matter is blaming the other. A member of the OpenSSL team suggested that "had Debian [submitted its code changes], we (the OpenSSL Team) would have fallen about laughing, and once we had got our breath back, told them what a terrible idea this was." Debian developers on the other hand have noted that the email address provide by the OpenSSL team is incorrect and that overall documentation on the part of the OpenSSL team is lacking.

As with our own service issue from a few months back pointing fingures isn't as helpful as discovering where the chain broke and why. In both cases the issues are eerily similar, a break down in customer/vendor communication.

In Boston Ben Hyde deftly makes a connection between his local butcher's meat packing industry and his own and in the process wonders what might be the fallout of interdependent web applications circa 2008. Here in Chicago, the former hog butcher for the world, I think we are just starting to see questions and concerns of "quality control" starting to percolate into the public consciousness as the software supply chain between "suppliers", "vendors" and "customers" grows in sophistication.

Last Labor Day the Chicago Park District recently revealed a statue at the corner of Pulaski and Foster, just a short walk from my home here in the Albany Park neighborhood, in honor of the local park's namesake, Samuel Gompers. Samuel Gompers was an American labor organizer, union leader and founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Unlike some of his contemporaries, Gompers doesn't seem to have considered himself a Socialist, Anarchist, or even a Communist, which in today's political world would probably place him and his beliefs somewhere near the center of America's political spectrum. Although at the time he's ideals clearly fell progressively left of center.

Upton Sinclair, a junior contemporary of Gompers, was, no doubt about it, a Socialist actively advocating socialist views. In fact, while he gained particular fame for his 1906 novel The Jungle, which dealt with conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, in turn causing a public uproar that partly contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act in 1906, Sinclair himself felt the meaning of his work had been lost on the general public. His outcry wasn't about the conditions of the meat so much as it was about the human tragedy lived by the workers in the plants handling the meat.

And yet, The Jungle did ultimately bring about change. Perhaps not the change originally intended by its author, but change did come to the growing complexity of the American food supply chain of the early 20th century, a supply chain in which the quality control problems of the time started to get dealt with as regulations and greater customer awareness started to take hold.

A Zoomshare service outage, while problematic, is correctable. A security breach from improperly patched software from two years ago is a little harder to correct....

Recently TJX Cos., a discount retailer that operates T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and A.J. Wright stores started mailing notifications to customers about a recently arrived at settlement to a class action suit in relation to a January 2007 report that computers that handle customer transactions at a number of its chains were broken into.

What if - and this is just a hypothetical here - what if the TJX issue was related to the Debian/OpenSSL fiasco? Who would legally be on the hook? TJX? Debian? OpenSSL? All three?

What are the implications? We are already seeing customers and regulators react. Services such as Zoomshare post Privacy Policies and Terms of Service. States such as California have passed laws requiring immediate notification if customer data is compromised.

It seems easy to wonder if the computer industry is one Upton Sincalr expose away from greater public and governmental outcry. Even without a "man-of-the-people" individual looking to correct some of the inequities in the IT industry one can see changes are brewing as the overall complexity of our systems grow - along with our greater dependence.

Vid of the Day

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If you spent your time while watching the above "music video" trying to name all of the various software applications on that Mac instead of watching the lovely lady, you probably need to get out more.

Yes, I was playing "name that app" the first time I watched it, but I'm married....;-)

Via Thought Palace

Part IV: All Really is Well

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Previously on pdw @ zoomshare:

Recently we moved zoomshare into a new home.

We scheduled an overnight maintenance window to move the necessary zoomshare equipment.

Each new home has its own little quirks and idiosyncrasies to them. But as time goes by one learns how to navigate the little quirks in a new home. They can become reassuring where originally they were unsettling.

As I closed in on being awake for 24 hours I knew I didn't have a taxing day ahead of me, I had planned my schedule accordingly at least. However, I still had some work to do and tops on that list was a check-in with zoomshare in a few hours, so I set my alarm for 9 am and closed my eyes.

I don't remember the alarm going off.

10 am. I could have used some more sleep, but that could wait just a few minutes. A quick check-in on how zoomshare was handling the morning traffic and then a few more hours of shuteye.

I don't think I even got in my chair, let alone logged into my computer.

I had voicemail. In fact I had a voicemail from kree10 that was just a few minutes old.

Not good news.

Not good news at all, in fact. He was on his way back to the colocation facility. No one from the office was able to connect to any zoomshare site, verifying in turn that everything was in working order. Moreover, it was looking like a good percentage of our users were having issues as well, which meant it wasn't localized to just one network connection or path.

In the case of zoomshare one of the connecting pipe's had a pin-size leak. When the "water pressure", network traffic, was low some droplets of water, network packets, escaped via the leak. Annoying, but manageable. However, when the pressure was turned up the leak started to turn into a flood, more than half of the network packets never made it to their destination.


And Now The Conclusion...
Troubleshooting computing issues can be difficult, more so when systems and services are divided up by different providers. Consider for example the problem most users have with their own system. A user encounters an error while using a specific piece of software, they call up the software provider's support number, navigate their overly complicated phone system only to be told, once they've gotten hold of a real person, described the problem and tried restarting the system that the problem is not with their software package and is obviously a hardware issue and recommend calling the hardware company.

A second call later, this time to the hardware company and the user is nowhere closer to a resolution since the hardware company's tech support blames the issue on the software provider. All long the user of course doesn't care about who's fault it is but simply wants the problem fixed so can get on with their task.

Alas, even us tech folks have to navigate the labyrinth of voicemail hell and deal with providers and support technicians who can be less than forthcoming with assistance when "its not our problem/fault".


The Root of the Matter
Zoomshare moved into a new co-location facility in which a company provided space and power. Another the network connectivity to the Internet. Three parties had entered the dance.

Our network connection was experiencing a "leak" and we had to pinpoint that leak in our new home for zoomshare. After two days of testing our equipment we suspected the issue was elsewhere. But our new "landlord", who tested their own setup suspected the issue was elsewhere and our Internet Service Provider (ISP) at first couldn't even confirm any network issue, let alone the "leak" we witnessed every time we turned up the "water pressure."

We had run ourselves ragged trying everything we could, different equipment, different configurations. No one knew find the location of the leak, but eventually everyone was able to acknowledge a leak did exist. By the morning of the third day it was time to call a meeting of the brain trust with all three dancers together.

During the course of this third crunch day - as if all the other days hadn't been crunch time - we retested all the integrated systems. First our networking equipment and wiring. Next, with the landlord the wiring leading up to our cage. Lastly, some testing with the ISP. The different this time? Instead of playing he said, she said, we all had repersentitives present physically all talking with each other, not at each other.

Eventually Holmes' maxim - "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth" did lead us to the source of the network leak. We eliminated the possible points by testing each segment of the pipe, from "water main" to "faucet". Alas we had an added complication, navigating and coordinating support procedures of various service providers, something it seems Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson never had to concern themselves with.

By the end of the third day for our Zoomshare users at least, all really was well again.

About the Author

Paul is a technologist and all around nice guy for technology oriented organizations and parties. Besides maintaining this blog and website you can follow Paul's particular pontifications on the Life Universe and Everything on Twitter.

   
   


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