Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is Down?!? lol

Ok so I don't think it's down, because the homepage does serve. But when I'm trying to use it I'm getting an error dump:

Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/base/python_lib/versions/1/google/appengine/ext/webapp/", line 507, in __call__
File "/base/data/home/apps/downforeveryoneorjustme/1.337010419190071564/", line 137, in get
File "/base/data/home/apps/downforeveryoneorjustme/1.337010419190071564/", line 103, in render_down
File "/base/python_lib/versions/1/google/appengine/ext/db/", line 1212, in put
keys = datastore.Put(entities)
File "/base/python_lib/versions/1/google/appengine/api/", line 179, in Put
apiproxy_stub_map.MakeSyncCall('datastore_v3', 'Put', req, resp)
File "/base/python_lib/versions/1/google/appengine/api/", line 72, in MakeSyncCall
apiproxy.MakeSyncCall(service, call, request, response)
File "/base/python_lib/versions/1/google/appengine/api/", line 266, in MakeSyncCall
File "/base/python_lib/versions/1/google/appengine/api/", line 111, in CheckSuccess
raise self.exception
OverQuotaError: The API call datastore_v3.Put() required more quota than is available.

I love the irony. It's working for sites that are up, like But I'm working on my sister's web site which is being hosted by my friend, and his site is down at the moment.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quicken install error 1721 resolution

After several days of exchanging emails with Quicken support regarding my installation issues, they mailed me an install CD. When that produced the same result, I did use their Online Chat. The website is lousy: when you go to support, and select the product Rental Property Manager, it doesn't offer chat support. But if you choose the product Quicken for Windows, and the version Rental Property Manager, chat is available. It took 20 minutes waiting in the chat queue, but then I had the complete attention of the support person who was able to slove this issue for me. I'll post the transcript here, in case it helps others (Google link bait):


Raj: Welcome to Quicken chat support. My name is Raj. Please give me a moment while I review the info you provided.
Raj: hI Stephen
Stephen Bywater: hello
Raj: How are you doing today?
Stephen Bywater: fine t
Stephen Bywater: ty
Raj: Good to know that.
Raj: If I understand you correctly, you are unable to install Quicken 2010 RPM, is that so?
Stephen Bywater: correct
Stephen Bywater: These things I have already tried, as suggested by email tech support:
Stephen Bywater: creating a new admin acct, deleting previous version manually
Stephen Bywater: running install as admin
Stephen Bywater: using the qcleanui util
Stephen Bywater: none of these solved the install issue. it quits reporting error 1721
Stephen Bywater: would you like the relevant part of the install log?
Raj: No Stephen, thank you for elaborating on the issue.
Raj: Are you installing Quicken using CD or Download?
Stephen Bywater: i tried the download. Then as a troubleshooting idea, support mailed me the CD. same error either way
Raj: Do you have the CD with you?
Stephen Bywater: yes
Raj: Lets try once more to clean Quicken once again and install using the CD by following some different steps. Do you have QCleanUI application with you?
Stephen Bywater: yes
Raj: Please run it once more and let me know if you are using HP Computer or Dell.
Stephen Bywater: Dell
Stephen Bywater: qcleanui
Stephen Bywater: sorry wrong window
Stephen Bywater: uninstallation completed successfully
Raj: Now, we need to follow some steps to delete the shared folders.
Raj: 1. Please click on Start button >> Computer.
2. On the Organize menu, select Folder and Search Options.
3. On the View tab, choose Show hidden files and folders.
4. Clear the Hide extensions for known file types check box.
5. Select OK.
Stephen Bywater: done
Raj: In the mean time, are you using 64 bit Vista or 32 bit?
Stephen Bywater: 64
Raj: Okay.
Stephen Bywater: i'm ready
Raj: 1. In the C:\Program Data\Intuit folder >>>> right-click the Quicken folder >>>>select Delete, and then confirm.
Stephen Bywater: done
Raj: 2. In the C:\Users\[your username folder]\Application Data\Roaming\Intuit\Quicken folder, select the Data folder, and then copy it to a safe location on your hard drive.

Note: You might not have a Data folder unless Quicken 2007 or Quicken 2008 is your first version of Quicken.

Stephen Bywater: Access is Denied
Raj: Are you login in as administrator ?
Stephen Bywater: to /{user}/Application Data
Stephen Bywater: yes, my acct is in admin
Raj: Please close all windows except this chat window and try to delete that Quicken folder once again.
Stephen Bywater: ok I was able to copy \AppData\Roaming\Intuit\Quicken\Data to new location
Raj: 3. In the C:\Users\[user]\Application Data\Roaming\Intuit folder, right-click the Quicken folder, select Delete, and then confirm.

Stephen Bywater: note I am deleting C:\Users\[user]\AppData\Roaming\Intuit\Quicken...
Raj: Yes.
Stephen Bywater: Application Data is not accessible, but AppData is. ok deleted
Raj: 4. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each Windows user.
5. In the C:\Program Files folder, right-click the Quicken installation folder, select Delete, and then confirm.
6. Empty the Recycle Bin.
Stephen Bywater: done
Raj: Please open this link and run ENU (vcredist_x64.exe)
Stephen Bywater: installed it
Raj: Now, please insert the CD and don't auto run it. just browse the CD.
Stephen Bywater: ok
Raj: Do you see 'Disk 1' and 'Custom' folder there?
Stephen Bywater: yes
Raj: Please copy both folders and paste them to the desktop.
Stephen Bywater: cone copying
Stephen Bywater: done copying
Raj: Now, please open that Disk1 folder and double click on the Quicken 2010. MSI to start installation.
Stephen Bywater: ok... just accept all defaults as normal?
Raj: Please add 2010 just after Quicken and the location will be C:\ Program Files\Quicken2010 then continue the installation.
Stephen Bywater: installing to custom location now
Stephen Bywater: woot! installation is asking to check for updates! never got this far yet
Raj: Good news
Stephen Bywater: does install window disappear checking for updates?
Stephen Bywater: or is it all done?
Raj: Did you get any pop-up, like, done, or Use Quicken, like this?
Stephen Bywater: it gave the option to check for updates at the end of install, i clicked that, and window is gone now
Raj: Please wait for 2-3 minutes.
Stephen Bywater: ok brb
Raj: Okay.
Stephen Bywater: bak
Stephen Bywater: no indication that it is still updating
Raj: Okay
Raj: Do you see a Quicken icon on the desktop?
Stephen Bywater: no
Stephen Bywater: there is a Quicken 2010 folder in start menu, but it's empty
Raj: Please go to Start---->>all programs and check if there is any Quicken 2010 folder there,
Raj: Do you see any Quicken folder there?
Stephen Bywater: a Quicken 2010 folder, empty
Raj: Please go to C:\Program files\Quicken2010
Stephen Bywater: its in (x86), ok
Raj: Okay.
Raj: Do you see other files related to Quicken? or it is empty?
Stephen Bywater: Quicken 2010 dir has many files
Raj: Please keep that Quicken 2010 folder open and be on the desktop and open Disk 1 folder.
Stephen Bywater: ready
Raj: Sorry, please close that Disk1 folder and Open the Custom folder, open the AU_AD_Q folder, and then open the SKU folder.
Stephen Bywater: np got it
Raj: Open the folder for your version of Quicken. For example, if you are using Home and Business, open the HaB folder.
Open the Custom folder.
Stephen Bywater: RPM for me
Raj: Yes.
Stephen Bywater: ok there
Raj: Right click the splash.png or splash file and select Copy.
Stephen Bywater: copied
Raj: Now, go to that C:\Program files (x86)\Quicken2010 folder. Right click there and paste. Paste that splash file there.
Stephen Bywater: pasted
Raj: Now, double click on qw.exe file there and check if it opens Quicken.
Stephen Bywater: it says "There is a problem with your Quicken installation... Please uninstall Quicken, and install again."
Raj: Okay.
Raj: Please click on Start-->Control Panel-->Programs and features (Uninstall program)-->Locate Quicken and remove it.
Stephen Bywater: uninstalled
Raj: Now, try to install Quicken once again using autorun from the CD.
Stephen Bywater: installing...
Raj: Keep every setting default.
Stephen Bywater: it dropped icons on desktop this time
Stephen Bywater: install wizard is downloading latest Quicken updates...
Raj: It seems to be working this time, right?
Stephen Bywater: yes, progress
Raj: Lovely !
Stephen Bywater: indeed
Raj: Yes.
Stephen Bywater: Updating Quicken...
Stephen Bywater: Installation Complete! Launching
Raj: Okay.
Stephen Bywater: yeah. its giving me option to convert data to 2101
Stephen Bywater: 2010
Raj: Wonderful !!!!
Raj: You did it.
Stephen Bywater: yeah! Thanks so much for your help! :D
Raj: My pleasure...
Raj: Were we able to resolve the issue(s) that brought you to chat today?

Stephen Bywater: yes, definitely
Raj: It's always a pleasure to help our customers and I am glad I was able to resolve the issue for you.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Quicken 2010: Intuit still making buggy software

Quicken sent a promo today to current owners of Quicken Rental Property Manager 2010 (which is essentially the same as normal Quicken with a few added features). I have a need/hate relationship with Quicken -- there is no love involved -- that I've blogged about in the past.

Since I've griped about problems with their software, I wanted to give their latest software a fair shake, and of course I had to pay $129 for the privilege. But the installation failed citing an Exit Code 1721. There is a button on the Install Wizard failure notification for "Online Help" but it only opens a browser to the Quicken homepage. Searching the Quicken website for exit code 1721 leaves no results.

Apparently Quicken doesn't play nice with Vista User Access Control. Even as an Administrator I can't uninstall the old version, or now, the new one. Quicken does provide a utility that cleans up the registry, but it doesn't delete the install directory. And, again even with Admin rights, neither can I.

So now can I not install the new version, I can't reinstall the old version, and I'm out $129 bucks.

Intuit doesn't offer live chat support for this product, so I've open up a ticket via email. They promise a response within one business day. Quicken, why do you suck so bad?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hopefully Intuit Won't Shelve

Intuit, the makers of Quicken, announced they are buying web 2.0 darling I wrote about my concerns for last year, and apparently did a good job answering those. Congrats to Mint!

My concern now is that Intuit bought them just to shelve the Mint technology and eliminate a promising competitor. I use Quicken for all my finances, and love it for what it does: give me immediate insight into total net worth, track spending by category, and manage my rental properties. Nothing else out there can do that.

But there are some things about Quicken that just plain suck. They are infamous for regularly launching buggy software. For example, I'm running the latest release of Quicken Rental Property Manager on 64 bit Vista Home Premium, and the software never remembers my preferences. And it says I have 3 reminders, with a "View Reminders" button that, when clicked, brings me to a calendar view with no reminders on it.

I just tried to use Intuit's live chat for tech support for assistance with the above, and after forcing me to pick a support category even though my problem didn't fit any of them, it launched an IE window (even though Firefox is my default browser) that did not connect to anything. Support for Quicken is typically done through its user forums, which can be hit or miss.

So although it is the best thing out there for my specific needs, it is still an unsatisfying user experience, and I'd love for something better to come along. Apparently that won't be Hopefully Intuit will incorporate the best of Mint's quality technology into their own, instead of smugly shelving it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to Survive Authorize.Net Outages

I was inspired to write this by the recent heavily reported outage. Credit card processing is one aspect of web site development that you have no choice but to out-source (unless you happen to be a bank). There are several out there, and is one of the biggest. No matter how robust the system is, there are bound to be periodic problems. Over nine years of business, and multiple processors, we saw many of them. Some outages were over in minutes, some lasted hours. Your customers, ready to make a purchase, don't want to hear that your credit card processor is having problems. It is possible to code your website to stay in business during an outage.

At (RHW), we were doing tens of thousands of dollars a day in credit card sales of help wanted advertising, none of which we wanted to lose during an outage by the processor. In the US, our credit card processor was In Canada, it was Verisign. (We used separate services because we ran the businesses as separate companies.)

On, the problem was similar: we were selling online dating subscriptions; I think our processor was iPay.

In both cases, we were selling electronic services, but the method we used to survive a payment gateway outage with minimum business interruption is applicable to online businesses that are shipping tangible goods.

On your website, your customer should not receive any kind of error message saying that there is a problem with the payment system. The customer does not care about your problems, even if you are not to blame.

When is down, typically your web application will time out when trying to connect to them to make a sale. In a minority of cases, the connection will not time out but will give an invalid response, one that does not fit the normal specification. I don't remember any cases where a processor outage occurred and the processor sent back a valid response with a valid error code like "We're down! Try agin later!" In all of these cases, your web application should behave the same way:

- Capture the order information, and store it for later processing.
- Give the customer a success message
- Use an asynchronous process to retry these transaction until they are completed.

Capture the order information
On RHW, we let users opt-in to storing their credit card information to speed future orders, so we had already done the work necessary to do this safely and securely. On, the whole business was built on reoccurring billing, so same deal there. Your Terms of Use must allow you to always retain order information for enough time to process that order, even if the user does not opt in to longer information retention. While your at it, log any response that you did get from the payment gateway, scrubbed of any security sensitive info like credit card number, as it might help with forensics later.

Give the customer a success message
Error messages are the opposite of user friendly. Tell the customer that you have the order information, that it typically only takes a moment to process and that they will receive an email its done. And then let them be on their way.

On, we'd let the user start using the site with all the privileges of a paying member. If they sent any messages to other members, those messages would be queued until their order was successful.

On RHW, we would post the help wanted advertising. If it later turned out that the credit card was rejected, the ad would be removed. But this also could have been setup so that the ad was not posted until the credit card was accepted.

Process the transactions asynchronously
Queuing is a great way to handle any work that the user should not have to wait around for. You could use it just when there is a connection timeout or for every single transaction. was a .net application, so it made sense to use Microsoft Message Queqing (MSMQ) for this functionality. The web application writes a message containing the order ID. A queue runner reads the queue, using the order ID to select the order and payment info from the database. It attempts to process the order. If times out or returns an unexpected response, the message is sent to back of the queue. It is trivial to build a time delay into the queue runner, otherwise you may find yourself making hundreds of attempts per minute for the same transaction. And it's not nice to kick your credit card processor THAT often when they are down.

RHW was a ColdFusion application, and now it is very easy to do queuing in ColdFusuion too. Our need pre-existed this functionality, so we used MSMQ. We wrote the queue runner in VisualBasic, and the connection to was done as a CF web service.

Once the payment is either accepted or rejected, do make sure you follow up with the customer. On RHW, if a card was declined after waiting in the queue because of a gateway outage, we would call the customer and try to receive alternate payment before we removed their posting.

The queue runner needs to also delete the payment info unless the customer authorized retaining it.

That's it. Once we had that coding in place, outages (or Verisign or iPay) were non-events to the development team. There was some alerting built in so that we'd know if the queue was building up, otherwise we might not even know that was down. That is, until the accounting department came over and complained that they couldn't log into the payment gateway.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dell still doesn't grok Ubuntu

I'm selecting a laptop for my kids. Mostly because they keep pestering my wife for her laptop. I'd love to get them Ubuntu because I'd love to teach them computer programming, and I like Ubuntu as an environment for that. I also like if for kids as it is less succeptible to spyware, viruses, and malware in general. My kids play Wizard 101 online, and according to one user, that works well under Wine.

So I'm configuring a laptop on Dell, going through their twenty page configuration process. On page one I specify Ubuntu. Eight or so pages later, Dell is asking me if I want Norton Internet Security 2009, Computer Associates Internet Security Plus 2009, and QuickBooks Pro 2009. Hello, none of them run on Ubuntu as installed. I'd love it if Intuit offered Linux software, especially Quicken which I use religously. So unless Dell is going to be including Wine configurations for each of these Windows applications they are selling with Ubuntu, they really are doing a disservice to their customer. An uniformed purchaser is going to assume the apps run on the computer they are purchasing, right out of the box. After purchase, do you think Dell is going to let the customer "return" this software?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Web Site is Lousy (To Be Polite)

My wife was surprised this week when I told her has been charging her $14.95 every month for almost a year. She checked into it and realized she had signed up for a monthly subscription without even know it. That's a problem right there. Before closing the account, she wanted to redeem six book credits her account had accumulated. We decided to divide them evenly.

When it was my turn to select books, I was expecting an experience similar to First of all, the web site is very slow. Not snappy like, or any other website I use by choice for that matter. Seconds lagged each time I clicked a link.

Secondly, the category navigation is not very intuitive.

Thirdly, it looks like the site is quite different depending on if you are signed in or not. The site is more appealing when they are trying to lure you into registration, and frankly it's faster too. Tolerably fast. offers fewer categories, perhaps to remove clutter and reduce load times.

Once you log in, its the slow site. Clicking on "Science Fiction & Fantasy" now and you can feel the delay before the page loads. You get to a page that displays, among other sub-categories for fantasy etc:

# Sci-Fi: Classic (217)
# Sci-Fi: Contemporary (555)

That is not a great number of titles. It gets more frustrating after clicking around twenty pages or so, the amount it took me to figure out "Contemporary" means anything since 1980. There is no way to browse with multiple filters, for example all "contemporary" sci-fi that was also on the New York Times best sellers list. The closest thing offers is all 555 titles, sorted by how often they are sold on

I clicked on that link, got frustrated at how long the page was taking to load and was able to type "I'm composing this" before the page loaded.

Suffice it to say, now that has entered the audio book market place, you web site needs a huge overhaul to be competitive:

1) Speed. The competition is a click away.
2) Breadth of content: I understand sci-fi may be your weak area, but if you don't have what I want for all my audio book needs, I'll go elsewhere.
3) Navigation. Browsing a book store is easy and pleasurable. You're website needs to be even easier. Let me go to sci-fi, and then narrow down to New York Times best sellers. Then let me sort by newest first. By letting me narrow in, and showing me what path I am on, you would let me feel like I am getting closer to the perfect purchase. Otherwise I'm lost in the woods, and leave.

Friday, March 20, 2009

No ESAPI in Python yet?

I'm considering Python for my next big project. I've been doing ColdFusion for the last 10 years but am liking the karma from open source. So I've been digging into the Python documentation, finished reviewing the Python Standard Library and the Django tutorials.

Next, I wanted to look at some reference implementations in Python as a way of further familiarizing myself with coding best practices. I had stumbled across an implementation of OAuth in Python last week but wasn't ready yet. Specifically, I wanted to look an a reference implementation of ESAPI, the Enterprise Security API from the brilliant folks at OWASP.

Surprisingly, all OWASP offered was the referece implementation in Java, plus some "under construction" pages for .Net and ColdFusion. Elsewhere on the web I found an implementation in pHp, but nothing in Python.

So I know the whole idea of open source depends on the community effort, but I'm not thinking ESAPI can be my first Python app. I'll work on gaining l33t Python skills, but in the mean time it'd be great to see ESAPI in Python. Django community, I nominate you guys!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Google, why do you hate SEO so much?

See the post on GetClicky blog re:Google's new Ajax-powered search results breaks search keyword tracking for everyone.

In a nutshell, the referrers you get from Google SERPs may no longer have the keyword phrase on the query string. So good luck trying to figure out how your customers are finding you!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Web Developers: Don't Reinvent the Non-secured Wheel

I'm thinking about beginning another web project. Before one gets coding the fun part of any web application, though, there is tons of core code that needs to we written: login, user management, session management, user registration, logout etc. But writing secure applications can be tricky, and any attempt to roll your own is likely to have security flaws. Open source can solve both of these problems: the code is already written, letting you get onto the fun stuff; and if it's been vetted by a large developer community already you get the security benefit of past mistakes fixed.

One might think that reference implementations would be readily available for these in all web languages, and that we would all be using them by now.

Kudos to OWASP for developing it themselves, in their Enterprise Security API (ESAPI) Project. It details all the functions that a secure application needs. Much more, though, they also offer reference implementations in Java.

I'd love to see the web development community support this project by developing reference implementations in pHp, ColdFusion, and .net. Implementations in each of the popular frameworks would go a long way toward making the web a safer place, and would make the development of every new web application that much easier.

Saturday, January 3, 2009 dies instantly, for lack of a smart CTO

Hearts out to anyone who blogged on The service is dead now, in a heartbeat, because they did not back up their data. Ever, apparently.

Hard to believe a website can remain popular for six years, whilst its IT team merrily whistle through their work day without once stopping to think about data backup.

Maybe I'm myopic, but I've seen this happen with companies started by business and marketing people without a technical stakeholder, albeit no implosion has been so instantaneous. Not everyone can be technically minded, but if you aren't, and you are starting a dot com, better hire someone who is, give them a stake in the company, and listen to them about things like contingency planning.

So, what would you do if your data was lost? This question applies to home users and business people alike. As a CTO, this question should keep you up at night, in many different manifestations:

- What if a HD in the database server goes?
- What if the whole database server blows up?
- What if your web server blows up?
- What if your data center goes off line?
- What if the CEO looses his laptop?
- What if someone hacks into the development environment?

There are hundreds of variations on this theme. Good sleep is for the naive, and the retired, and those that have worked very hard for high availability, disaster recovery, and security.