PaaS for the hobbyist

Now that we’ve all gotten over our infatuation with SaaS (back from Wikipedia yet? Ok, let’s move on) it’s time to talk about PaaS (off to Wikipedia again aren’t you?!).

Platform as a Service is a great idea. Back in the good ‘ol daystm®© we used to share our time on the mainframe provided by the university/company/agency. Now computing resources are becoming commodities and anyone can buy time on a CPU somewhere. We’ve even got Folding@home and others that let us lend our own CPU power to others.

But how does this work out for the hobbyist? The guy like me who hacks away a few lines of Visual Basic or Java between mowing the lawn and changing diapers?

Most hobbies cost money, but PaaS continually costs money. When you buy your computer that’s pretty much it. You can develop and run your little applications all you want without having to pay another cent. When you deploy a cloud application you’ll be expected to ante-up for all the resources you consume each month.

There’s a few compelling reasons for the hobbyist to build cloud applications and deploy them to a hosted platform:

  • All the cool programmers are doing it! You want to be cool too, don’t you!?
  • There’s no Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux debate – you can target all those users since your target is the browser; and
  • The cloud is where things are happening now so there’s plenty of new ideas to work with.

There’s two issues that need to be dealt with though:

  1. How do you finance your hobby? and,
  2. Which Platform-as-a-Service provider do you use?

The issues are kind of chicken-and-egg: some platforms are more expensive than others so if you’re cheap you might want to consider financing first; but if you’ve got money to spend then take a look at the platform first.

Personally I don’t believe in free as in beer software (free as in speech I believe in quite strongly – I’ll post more on this later). I think people should pay for the value (or benefit) they receive. Cash isn’t the only or necessarily the best form of payment, but it is the easiest. So I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask people to pay for at least the resources they consume, even if they don’t pay for your beer (i.e.: you don’t make a profit).

So what about the platform? My biggest concern is vendor lock-in. Why? Because if the services packs it in, or the whole provider goes bust, then there goes all your hard work! Some providers are more likely to disappear than others. I think we’re all pretty confident Google’s App Engine, Amazon’s EC2, and Microsoft’s Azure are going to be around for a while, but it wasn’t long ago that Coghead, a popular and well respected platform provider closed their doors.

Amazon’s offering is pretty transportable, since you’re configuring your own environment, if they ever closed shop you could probably take all your code and run it on a similarly configured machine, possibly even a typical web-hosting provider if you kept your configuration basic and standard.

Google’s App Engine seems pretty safe too, especially since they’ve added Java to their platform now. Java has a habit of defining interfaces that hide the implementation details. So as long as your code sticks to the interfaces and you can find an implementation for your new host you’re good to go. The Python platform has a few Google libraries you would have had to work hard on to replace if you wanted to run your application anywhere else.

Microsoft’s Azure is obviously .NET based, but for all their talk of openness I don’t see much happening there. And the SDK’s all rely on Azure’s platform so if Microsoft did pack in Azure (which I think is more likely than Google closing up App Engine or Amazon shutting down AWS) you should probably just get it over with and Shift-Delete your source files.

But Amazon’s ability to tweak the configuration would probably lead you to do non-standard things, even if you were just using Perl or PHP. And Google’s choice of Python and Java means a basic web hosting package probably won’t work for you since most providers only offer those platforms at the business or enterprise hosting level.

So what’s the hobbyist to do? For the moment we can play around with Google’s App Engine since they do allow some minimal usage for free and have development server your can run locally. But you need to have an exit strategy (either from App Engine or from your status as hobbyist) if your application gets popular and you exceed for the free quota limit.

There are also other providers (add Zoho Creator to that list) that give hobbyists a lot of latitude before requiring you to pay for the resources you consume. The come with other constraints though, such as non-standard (i.e.: non-transportable, steeper learning curve, limited resources) programming languages and higher risk of deadpooling!

For the moment I think I’m going to stick with the old stalwarts: C/C++ or Java. If I’m really feeling the Web 2.0 itch I might try to put something up on my web hosting provider in either Perl (more likely) or PHP (less likely). And there’s always that pesky Adobe AIR that’s nagging me to give it a try since it builds on the JavaScript I already know, but some people are not quite sure about it.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads at PaaS for the hobbyist

New look for Cameron-Schultz

Although in place for a little while now I think I’ve got the major tweaks finished so I’m officially taking the cover off the blog’s new look!

So what do you think?!

It’s basically the TicTac layout by Dan Cederholm modified to be a stretch layout. I had to make a few compromises on Dan’s original design because:

  1. I’m not a very good designer; and
  2. Certain things relied on a fixed layout that I couldn’t reproduce in a stretch layout (like the graduated shading).

There’s still a few minor tweaks to be done (like making sure all the images have transparent backgrounds) but I feel like the pressure is off now.

Once those minor tweaks are done I’ll release my template on my website template project at Google Code.

No income, no trust

As you all know, I’m a rich and powerful investor.

Well, okay, I’m an investor. Like most Canadians my wife and I have RRSP‘s and an RESP for the kids. And like most Canadians I’m not a guru, wiz-kid, or a day-trader. I make my contributions every pay cheque and put the money in some boring fund or blue-chip company and wait for retirement to come along (the sooner the better).

But those boring funds and blue chips got a lot more exciting on Hallowe’en in October 2006. Up until that time, and during the previous election in which the Stephen Harper’s Conservatives received their first minority mandate, we had been assured that their government would never raid senior’s nest eggs.

But then Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty introduced the Tax Fairness Plan – a rather ironic name for a piece of legislation that no one (except the foreign equity funds that snapped up Canadian trusts at rock-bottom prices) considered fair – changed all that. The boring old income trusts that I was saving my money in suddenly lost almost 25% of their value!

That’s when I joined the Canadian Association of Income Trust Investors, headed by Brent Fullard.

Brent recently had an article published in Canada’s chain of Sun newspapers. I’ve put a copy of it below, or you can find it at the CAITI blog.

No income, no trust
By: Brent Fullard
Guest Columnist
Sun Newspapers

Lie. Conceal. Fabricate. That was the theme our association used in billboards across the country in the aftermath of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s broken income trust promise.

You would think someone as litigious as Harper would have sued our association for libel. Especially for the full page newspaper ads we ran under the headline of: “Jim Flaherty, your tax leakage analysis is fraudulent.”

The reason these public statements did not invite a libel lawsuit is because the best defence against claims of libel is the statements being made are true.

After all, Harper did lie, conceal and fabricate when he broke his election promise to “never” tax income trusts, with his demonstrable lie that income trusts cause tax leakage.

An argument he fabricated by leaving out all of the taxes that are paid to Ottawa by the 38% of income trusts held in RRSPs, and concealed within his 18 pages of blacked out “proof.”

Meanwhile our claim that Jim Flaherty’s tax leakage analysis is fraudulent is derived from the definition of fraud, which is “an intentional deception made for personal gain or which causes damage to another.”

Based on this definition, Flaherty’s income trust tax is a fraud since it was based on the intentional deception of his fabricated tax leakage claims, and the policy resulted in Canadians permanently losing $35 billion of their hard-earned retirement savings.


These events have enormous relevance to today and the financial scandals that have been perpetrated on an unsuspecting public by the likes of the AIGs, Bennie Madoffs, and Bear Stearns of this world.

The income trust tax and the enormous havoc it created in Canadians’ retirement savings, and the massive number of takeovers that ensued (worth $108 billion), mostly by foreigners such as Hong Kong billionaires and middle eastern oil companies, is the real scandal Canadians should make themselves aware of.

Unlike the present day financial meltdown Harper assured us during the last election “would have happened by now” if it was going to happen at all, or the raging debate over how much Harper is responsible for the financial calamity all around us, the damage caused by the income trust tax is something that is the sole consequence of a decision Harper made.

Today’s financial meltdown has, no doubt, sensitized a larger number of Canadians about what it actually means to lose half of your retirement savings or to lose the very basis for one’s retirement income.

The trust takeovers to date by foreigners have caused Ottawa and all taxpayers to lose more than $1 billion in annual tax revenue, a number that will soon climb to $7.5 billion. And for what? The privilege of having foreigners own more of Canada and the privilege of imposing enormous losses on Canadians saving for retirement?

Unlike today’s other financial meltdown, this is an outcome Harper owns, lock, stock and barrel, based on his policy of lie, conceal, fabricate.

Please support CAITI‘s cause by joining the association, by writing your federal MP, and by boosting our question at the federal Liberal party‘s Ask the PM forum.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads at No income, no trust Feedback Forum – ask Stephen Harper a question

The Liberal party of Canada recently (today?) opened a new web site, where they are discussing their ideas and have a Feedback Forum called Ask the PM where they state

Send your questions and comments to the Prime Minister and help us make sure that he’s listening.

So I added a question regarding the taxation of income trusts, which is currently ranked number six and rising steadily.

Here’s what I had to say:

The Tax Fairness Plan (which is anything but) includes a 31.5% tax on Income Trusts that has never been properly justified (the argument of tax leakage was never substantiated and independent analysis shows there is none).

The Prime Minister needs to come clean on Income Trust taxation and ultimately repeal the tax.

The Income Trust investment vehicle is available under many forms but in this form it was most accessible and beneficial to average Canadians (other forms, such as Flow Through Entities, are more complicated to participate in – although the Finance Minister himself benefits from his partnership in an FTE).

In the previous election Stephen Harper berated the Liberals for “raiding senior’s next egs” by taxing income trusts (after public consultation) and yet no sooner was he in office that he imposed without consultation a punishing tax on income trusts.

I call upon the Prime Minister to repeal the income trust tax and review the entire Tax Fairness Plan.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads at Feedback Forum – ask Stephen Harper a question