The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Slightly updated Weather Now

Because Microsoft has deprecated 2011-era database servers, my weather demo Weather Now needed a new database. And now it has one.

Migrating all 8 million records (7.2 million places included) took about 36 hours on an Azure VM. Since I migrated entirely within the U.S. East data center, there were no data transfer charges, but having a couple of VMs running for the weekend probably will cost me a few dollars more this month.

While I was at it, I upgraded the app to the latest Azure and Inner Drive packages, which mainly just fixed minor bugs.

The actual deployment of the updated code was boring, as it should be.

How's your week going?

It's just past 9am on Monday and already I'm reduced to this kind of blog post. Tomorrow I may have some more time to read these things:

  • Cranky Flier analyzes Malaysia Airlines' struggles.
  • Microsoft is building subsea fibre cables between the U.S. and Europe and Asia.
  • TPM explains exactly what Jade Helm 15 really is.
  • Missed Microsoft Ignite this year? Here's the Channel 9 page.
  • We're starting to set up JetBrains TeamCity to handle our continuous integration needs. Explain, however, why the user manual is all video? Guys. Seriously. I haven't got time for this.
  • So now that Illinois actually has to pay the pensions we promised to pay, what now? (Hello, 9% income tax?)

Four-hour design review session is imminent. I may post later today...or I may lock myself in my office and stare at the wall.

Things I didn't read while pulling apart an Include block

...and also preparing for a fundraiser at which I'm performing tomorrow:

And did I mention Apollo After Hours?

I have a break at 6:30, at least

With meetings and a new developer on the team occupying almost all my time today, I've put these things aside for the half-hour I have at 6:30 to read them:

Now to jot down some policies on our new Microsoft Surface setups...

Noted for later

Interesting things to read:

Before reading all of those I need to get a production deployment ready for this weekend. It would help if I were completely certain what's in production right now...

So many things to read, so little time

Well, little time today. Since I'll be on an airplane for 8 hours on Sunday, I will probably have time to catch up on these:

Weather Now gazetteer now really, really fast

I mentioned over a month ago that, given some free time, I would fix the search feature on Weather Now. Well, I just deployed the fix, and it's kind of cool.

I used Lucene.NET as the search engine, incorporating it into the Inner Drive Gazetteer that underlies the geographic information for Weather Now. I won't go into too many details about it right now, except that I was surprised at how much the index writer was able to crunch and store (in Azure blobs). The entire index takes up 815 MB of blob space. That's so small a fraction of a cent per month I can't even calculate it right now.

The indexing process took about 6 minutes per 500,000 rows. (The entire database has 7.25 million rows.) It helped that I ran the indexing process on an Azure virtual machine, because at one point during index optimization I clocked the data throughput at 200 Mbps. Yes, two hundred megabits per second. The entire index ran in a little less than two hours on a VM while I was doing other things. And once the index initializes in the Weather Now app, searches only take a second or so.

Go ahead. Try a search. Put in your ZIP code or the name of a prominent building near you.

I still have a lot I want to do with the application, including updating it to a responsive theme and MVC, but this is a pretty big leap.

Lucene coming to Weather Now

I have to dash off to a meeting in a few minutes, then to Wrigley. So this is more of a note to myself.

Lucene.NET will be coming to Weather Now, I hope in a few weeks. This will massively improve its piss-poor searching, and allow me to do a few other things as well given Lucene's amazing search capabilities.

Unfortunately, Weather Now ranks third in development priorities behind my employer and my long-suffering freelance client. At least it kind of runs itself these days.

What's going on with the Microsoft Azure blog?

For the last couple of days, I've had trouble getting to Microsoft's Azure blog. From my office in downtown Chicago, clicking the link gives me an error message:

The resource you are looking for has been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

However, going to the same URL from a virtual machine on Azure takes me to the blog. So what's going on here? It took a little detective work, but I think Microsoft has a configuration error one of a set of geographically-distributed Azure web sites, they don't know about it, and there's no way to tell them.

The first step in diagnosing a problem like this is to see if it's local. Is there something about the network I'm on that prevents me from seeing the website? This is unlikely for a few big reasons: first, when a local network blocks or fails to connect to an outside site, usually nothing at all happens. This is how the Great Firewall of China works, because someone trying to get to a "forbidden" address may get there slowly, normally, or not at all—and it just looks like a glitch. Second, though, the root Azure site is completely accessible. Only the Blog directory has an error message. Finally, the error message is coming from the foreign system. Chrome confirms this; there's a HTTP 200 (OK) response with the content I see.

All right, so the Azure Blog is down. But that doesn't make a lot of sense. Thousands of people read the Azure blog every day; if it were down, surely Microsoft would have noticed, right?

So for my next test, I spun up an Azure Virtual Machine (VM) and tried to connect from there. Bing! No problem. There's the blog.

Now we're onto something. So let's take a look at where my local computer thinks it's going, and where the VM thinks it's going. Here's the nslookup result for my local machine, both from my company's DNS server and from Google's server:

Now here's what the VM sees:

Well, now, that is interesting.

From my local computer, sitting in downtown Chicago, both Google and my company's DNS servers point "" to an Azure web site sitting in the North Central U.S. data center, right here in Chicago. But for the VM, which itself is running in the East U.S. data center in southern Virginia, both Microsoft's and Google's DNS servers point the same domain to an Azure web site also within the East U.S. data center.

It looks like both Microsoft and Google are using geographic load-balancing and some clever routing to return DNS addresses based on where the DNS request comes from. I'd bet if I spun up an Azure VM in the U.S. West data center, both would send me to the Azure blog running out there.

This is what massive load balancing looks like from the outside, by the way. If you've put your systems together correctly, users will go to the nearest servers for your content, and they'll never realize it.

Unfortunately, the North Central U.S. instance of the Microsoft Azure blog is down, has been down for several days, and won't come up again until someone at Microsoft realizes it's down. Also, Microsoft makes it practically impossible to notify them that something is broken. So those of us in Chicago will just have to read about Azure on our Azure VMs until someone in Redmond fixes their broken server. I hope they read my blog.

Microsoft's excellent usability and customer care

Last night I got an email from Microsoft saying the Windows Azure subscription that I got through work was disabled because it had run out of credits.

Some context:

  • The Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) gives developers access to all of Microsoft's software development projects, along with a monthly credit to use Windows Azure that can go as high as $150. Because West Monroe Partners wants to make sure all of us have the right tools, we get the subscriptions with the $150 credit.
  • I activated my MSDN subscription a year ago, and so far have used only $7.25 of Azure services.
  • Yesterday I spun up a JDK 7.2 virtual machine (VM), which, at 33c per hour, was unlikely to bust my Azure credit limit. Plus, I shut it down when I was done, having used only 2 hours of computing time.

Here's what I missed when I spun up the VM:

(Click on it to see full-size.)

Even at full size you probably didn't notice the little warning box lower-right that says, in 9-point type, "You selected an image that has special pricing information. Learn more." You also probably didn't realize that the special pricing image means Microsoft will disable your Azure account if you don't give them money once you spin up this VM.

I'll skip to the end. Here is the relevant part of the message I sent to Microsoft Customer Support after I resolved the ensuing hilarity:

All right, now that I’ve managed to re-enable my subscription after wasting an hour of my life, I have four serious complaints.

Complaint #1: Shutting down an entire Azure subscription without warning because it has a 34c balance—thirty four U.S. cents—is unacceptable.

Complaint #2: The Azure account portal ( does not work with Microsoft Internet Explorer 11. The login session does not propagate to the dialog box that takes billing information. I had to make the change using Google Chrome.

Complaint #3: The Azure account, but not the subscription, already had payment information available. Yet the portal prevented me from merely applying the existing payment information to the new subscription at the “remove spending limit” dialog box.

Complaint #4: If, despite all common sense and reason, a change to the subscription could result in the subscription being disabled without notice, a very small “Pricing Information” note is insufficient warning. The portal should have an unambiguous, impossible-to-miss step in the virtual machine configuration dialog box.

Is this looking a gift horse in the mouth? No. This is a benefit Microsoft provides developers so we developers can learn their products and sell them. So the horse isn't exactly a gift; it's a demonstrator. And for a few hours last night, mine wouldn't leave his stall.