XML editor: Xpontus

Just like Notepad++ I resort to this tool, Xpontus, frequently when I need to edit some code in a way that will help retain my sanity (i.e. not use Notepad…) It’s cross platform, free, and simple to use. Worth a minute to look at…


XPontus XML Editor is a simple XML Editor oriented towards text editing. It can perform validation(DTD, XML Schema, Relax NG, Batch XML validation), XSL transformations(HTML, XML, PDF, SVG), schema/DTD generation, XML/DTD/HTML/XSL code completion, code formatting and much more.”

Direct read/write access to NTFS formatted drives from OS X

Yesterday I had a need to not just read but write as well to an external USB NTFS formated drive. (I only run Photoshop on my Macs.) I found NTFS-3G to work, as usual, quite nicely. If you’re not familiar with it I would suggest heading over to their Q & A section for a few minutes.


The NTFS-3G driver is a freely and commercially available and supported read/write NTFS driver for Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, NetBSD, Solaris, Haiku, and other operating systems. It provides safe and fast handling of the Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 and Windows Vista file systems.
NTFS-3G develops, quality tests and supports a trustable, feature rich and high performance solution for hardware platforms and operating systems whose users need to reliably interoperate with NTFS.
The driver is in STABLE status since 2007. It is used by millions of desktop computers, consumer devices for reliable data exchange, and referenced in more than
20 computer books. Please see our test methods and testimonials on the driver quality page.

DeepEarth: Silverlight 2.0 + Virtual Earth + DeepZoom / Seadragon

DeepEarth, a new Silverlight 2.0 mapping control, provides developers with the ability to use the Virtual Earth mapping elements in their own web applications. So what you ask? Well tt has been combined with DeepZoom, essentially Microsoft’s Seadragon technology converted for use across multiple browser and platforms… For those not in the know, Seadragon aims to make browsing images, no matter how large or how many, a speedy, seamless, and smooth experience. Deep Zoom has been put to use by a few companies, like the Hard Rock Café Memorabilia webpage.

Version 1.0 of DeepEarth was recently released with the following:

  • Fully implemented map control with property and event model
  • Fully templated set of map navigation controls
  • Layers for inclusion of Points, LineStrings and Polygons (OGS)
  • Conversion library for geography to screen coordinate systems
  • Geocoding (find an address)
  • Reverse Geocoding (getting an address from a point on the map)
  • Routing (Directions)
  • Marque zoom selection (default Ctrl-click and drag or from menu toggle)
  • Map rotation
  • Provides imagery as tile layers, a robust Virtual Earth implementation supporting the
  • official token-based tile access and web services

Now if the above video fails to sway you scoot over to the working version of DeepEarth that you can try out if you have Silverlight installed. The DeepEarth bits are available on Microsoft’s open source website, CodePlex. You’ll also need a Virtual Earth Developer Account and, if you want to get rid of the “Staging” watermark, you’ll need to send an e-mail to the Virtual Earth Licensing Team. Version 2.0 is slated for a February 2009 release.

Hunting Higgs

A few months ago the LHC experienced some “technical challenges” that resulted in liquid helium getting vaporised, magnets heating up, and explosion. Total bill starting at $21 million…

An electrical connection melted during a test to make sure the equipment could handle the high currents needed to power the LHC’s huge superconducting magnets. That failure damaged the plumbing that pipes liquid helium around the system to keep the superconducting magnets at a chilly -271 °C. Large amounts of helium vaporised, causing several magnets to heat up and damaging nearby equipment with the sudden burst of pressure.

It’s not too often one gets to see exactly what that much damage looks like… CERN posted some pics of said damage for all to enjoy…

A CERN technician inspects the site of the electrical fault that caused the problems. An electrical connection melted during a test to make sure the equipment could handle the high currents needed to power the LHC’s huge superconducting magnets. That failure damaged the plumbing that pipes liquid helium around the system to keep the superconducting magnets at a chilly -271 °C. Large amounts of helium vaporised, causing several magnets to heat up and damaging nearby equipment with the sudden burst of pressure

Two of the most severely damaged connections carry electricity between separate cryostats that contain the magnets. These connections would usually be straight, but have been buckled by the helium leak. The cryostats contain a vacuum to help keep them cool. When helium rushed into that void, the burst of pressure caused some of them to move by half a meter.

Some of the magnet supports were even ripped from the ground by the burst of pressure. Release valves designed to let leaking gas escape could not let it out fast enough to prevent the damage

Microsoft BizSpark – Starting up Start-Ups

Recently Microsoft announced BizSpark, a new program targetted at start-ups. It gives you access to the latest and greatest versions of SQL, VS, and Microsoft Support for a very good price. Zero dollars. In order to stem abuse there is a need for “sponsorship”. Specifically you need to belong to one of the organizations listed during signup. Other than that requirement it is a suprisingly easy process. Once in you get for three free, yes 3 and free, years:


  • All the software included in the Visual Studio Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN Premium subscription Expression Studio (Version 2), plus VSTS Team Foundation Server Standard Edition – for the entire development team
  • Production license use rights, to deploy, host and support Startup’s “software as a service” applications for delivery over the Internet, using the following products: Windows Server (all versions), SQL Server (all versions), BizTalk Server, and Office SharePoint Server for hosting; and Systems Center for managing hosting server operations.


  • Guidance, resources and mentoring provided by Network Partners, active members of the global software ecosystem who are qualified to provide support and advice to Startups
  • Access to MSDN Premium: managed newsgroups, online library, online concierge, etc.
  • Two technical support Incidents per Startup


  • Each BizSpark Startup will have the opportunity to profile their company in the BizSparkDB, an online Startup directory, hosted on the Microsoft Startup Zone web site. Startups will get exposure to potential investors, partners and customers around the world.
  • Opportunity to be highlighted on the BizSparkDB as a featured company and be promoted as BizSpark Company of the Week on the Microsoft Startup Zone website.

    How to qualify?
    If you meet these three simple criteria, you can sign-up today:

  • Actively engaged in development of a software-based product or service that will form a core piece of its current or intended business[1],
  • Privately held, and in business for less than 3 years[2], and
  • Less than US $1 million in annual revenue[3].

To get in follow these steps:

1) Go to http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark/ and click “Join BizSpark now!”

2) Sign in with your Live ID or create a new Live ID

3) Click the “I Accept” check boxes, and enter your enrollment code (If you don’t already have a sponsor, contact Bill and he’ll help you get started! Btw, that’s where these steps came from!!!)

4) Provide some basic information about your start-up

5) Identify your primary contact

6) You’re done!!! Now you can manage your BizSpark account from here. Note your BizSpark Subscription ID, one of the things you’ll want to do next is activate your MSDN subscription using this ID. You’ll need to do this in order to start downloading the software.

7) To activate your MSDN subscription, visit https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/subscriptions/add/default.aspx and enter your name, email and the BizSpark subscription ID from the previous page, click the “I acknowledge and accept” checkbox and submit ‘OK’. (Note, it may take 4-6 hours for your MSDN subscription to become available after signing up for your BizSpark account. If MSDN doesn’t find your subscription, check back later.

8) Once you’re up and running you may want to find a Windows hoster who can work with you and your production use licenses to offer your low-cost, discounted hosting services. Through the BizSpark Start-up page you can click the “Manage Hoster Relationship” and find hosters in your country which are part of the program.

OpenSolaris 2008.11: Time Slider

Still suffering from lackluster reception outside of the Sun/Solaris community, OpenSolaris 2008.11 was released today. Leaving aside the fixes in since 2008.05 there is one exceptional feature worth spending a moment on. Time Slider. 

In my opinion ZFS is one of the most impressive computer technologies out there. Period. Amongst other things it has very advanced storage pooling and support for deep snapshotting. As with anything else, with a core technology you can only succeed when you expose it effectively to end users and this version of OpenSolaris shows that the developers are certainly heading in the right direction.

Time Slider is literally enabled with a click in the Administration menu. Once enabled Nautilus has a slider representative of points in time and it just works.
More details can be found here: http://opensolaris.org/os/

Take note that there’s a live cd as well!!!

Other fixes/updates…

  • ZFS Time Slider and Songbird 
  • Suspend/Resume and CPU power management 
  • Distribution Constructor and Prototype Automated Installer 
  • WebStack with 64-bit MySQL, CherryPy, and DTrace for Ruby 
  • GNOME 2.24, OpenOffice 3.0, and Firefox 3

ZFS: A gathering of quotes and links

A placeholder for stuff that I have found that was useful with some ZFS issues I have been facing.

pulled from: http://zfs.macosforge.org/trac/wiki/whatis

ZFS is a new kind of filesystem that provides simple administration, transactional semantics, end-to-end data integrity, and immense scalability. ZFS is not an incremental improvement to existing technology; it is a fundamentally new approach to data management. We’ve blown away 20 years of obsolete assumptions, eliminated complexity at the source, and created a storage system that’s actually a pleasure to use.
ZFS presents a pooled storage model that completely eliminates the concept of volumes and the associated problems of partitions, provisioning, wasted bandwidth and stranded storage. Thousands of filesystems can draw from a common storage pool, each one consuming only as much space as it actually needs. The combined I/O bandwidth of all devices in the pool is available to all filesystems at all times.
All operations are copy-on-write transactions, so the on-disk state is always valid. There is no need to fsck(1M) a ZFS filesystem, ever. Every block is checksummed to prevent silent data corruption, and the data is self-healing in replicated (mirrored or RAID) configurations. If one copy is damaged, ZFS will detect it and use another copy to repair it. ZFS introduces a new data replication model called RAID-Z. It is similar to RAID-5 but uses variable stripe width to eliminate the RAID-5 write hole (stripe corruption due to loss of power between data and parity updates). All RAID-Z writes are full-stripe writes. There’s no read-modify-write tax, no write hole, and — the best part — no need for NVRAM in hardware. ZFS loves cheap disks.
But cheap disks can fail, so ZFS provides disk scrubbing. Like ECC memory scrubbing, the idea is to read all data to detect latent errors while they’re still correctable. A scrub traverses the entire storage pool to read every copy of every block, validate it against its 256-bit checksum, and repair it if necessary. All this happens while the storage pool is live and in use.
ZFS has a pipelined I/O engine, similar in concept to CPU pipelines. The pipeline operates on I/O dependency graphs and provides scoreboarding, priority, deadline scheduling, out-of-order issue and I/O aggregation. I/O loads that bring other filesystems to their knees are handled with ease by the ZFS I/O pipeline.
ZFS provides unlimited constant-time snapshots and clones. A snapshot is a read-only point-in-time copy of a filesystem, while a clone is a writable copy of a snapshot. Clones provide an extremely space-efficient way to store many copies of mostly-shared data such as workspaces, software installations, and diskless clients.
ZFS backup and restore are powered by snapshots. Any snapshot can generate a full backup, and any pair of snapshots can generate an incremental backup. Incremental backups are so efficient that they can be used for remote replication — e.g. to transmit an incremental update every 10 seconds.
There are no arbitrary limits in ZFS. You can have as many files as you want; full 64-bit file offsets; unlimited links, directory entries, snapshots, and so on.
ZFS provides built-in compression. In addition to reducing space usage by 2-3x, compression also reduces the amount of I/O by 2-3x. For this reason, enabling compression actually makes some workloads go faster.
In addition to filesystems, ZFS storage pools can provide volumes for applications that need raw-device semantics. ZFS volumes can be used as swap devices, for example. And if you enable compression on a swap volume, you now have compressed virtual memory.
Sun just announced a series of open source storage appliances that use OpenSolaris and the ZFS file system. While the hardware includes some interesting options including solid state drives (SSD) for improving both read and write performance, the most alluring features are the file system and the analytics made available through SNIA-standard RPC calls, using the DTrace fault tracing system included in OpenSolaris. These features are not limited to Sun hardware, making it possible to duplicate the functionality with virtually any hardware.
[ Read the Test Center review of ZFS and view a screencast demo. ]Among the ZFS goodies are an interesting feature called Hybrid Storage Pools, which integrate DRAM, read-optimized SSDs, write-optimized SSDs, and regular disk into a seamless whole. The SSDs are intended to replace small, expensive, read and write caches with higher-capacity 18GB write-biased SSDs and 100GB read-biased SSDs to get exceptional performance at a cost that should be competitive with more basic storage systems.
Sun has done considerable work on the SSDs to avoid the typical issues of limited life spans, over-provisioning the storage and optimizing wear-leveling algorithms to ensure that the SSDs should last a minimum of three years. Given how quickly SSDs are dropping in price, this seems a more than adequate lifetime.
DTrace is used to make all sorts of performance data available. The admin can drill down by file system, type of data, type of interface, and other parameters, finding which application is using the most I/Os, or the most bandwidth — even the life left in the SSD drives in the system, which enables extremely granular optimization. No partnerships have been announced yet, but Sun is working with many storage, virtualization, and systems management vendors to ensure that data interchange works well.
Between the management capabilities, the clustering capabilities of ZFS, and the data services such as snapshots, cloning, mirroring, replication, compression, thin provisioning, and support for iSCSI, CIFS, NFS, HTTP, and FTP protocols, the Fishworks storage system offers a lot of potential. The Sun hardware should provide good capabilities at a good price. But the best part is that the software magic is also available through the open source OpenSolaris and ZFS, as long as the hardware

good detail here: http://www.techworld.com/storage/features/index.cfm?featureid=2744

great article herE: http://www.tech-recipes.com/rx/1446/zfs_ten_reasons_to_reformat_your_hard_drives/


Now if you’re interested in trying it out (and who after reading what it can do is not?) try the following links:

  • OSX – http://zfs.macosforge.org/trac/wiki
  • FreeBSD – FreeBSD 7.0 now has excellent ZFS support
  • Windows – oh boy… start reading again from the top.

Integrating Visio 2007 and SharePoint: Task list items as a PivotDiagram

A nice way of presenting the contents of a task list with Visio 2007 is as a PivotDiagram…

To start you, or rather your end users, need either Visio or the Visio Viewer from here: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=d88e4542-b174-4198-ae31-6884e9edd524&DisplayLang=en

From the tasks list “Actions” -> “Create Visio Diagram”. Wait for the file to open, build, and then save to an appropriate document library.
When the visitor clicks on the link to the file it will/should load in an IE browser with tabs, zoom, and other Visio niceties

Caveat: the file will not update its display on task list item change as it is essentially an import into Visio. In my next Visio article I will explain how to overcome this hurdle.


I have an old server at home that I wanted to use as a NAS (2TB) device. For basic home NAS use I have found FreeNAS to be satisfactory. It is limited, but has some really nice features such as support for Dynamic DNS which periodically updates DNS servers with the NAS’ IP address, a great feature for small home office users who use normal residential internet service which usually has a dynamic IP address…
If you have not heard of it, FreeNAS is a free NAS (Network-Attached Storage) server, supporting: CIFS (samba), FTP, NFS, AFP, RSYNC, iSCSI protocols, S.M.A.R.T., local user authentication, Software RAID (0,1,5) with a Full WEB configuration interface. FreeNAS takes less than 32MB once installed on Compact Flash, hard drive or USB key. The minimal FreeBSD distribution, Web interface, PHP scripts and documentation are based on M0n0wall. (Which is another solid solution…)

Trove info

Underlying operating system: FreeBSD 6.4
Hardware requirements: 128MB of RAM minimum
Language: Mostly PHP
Licence: Modified BSD