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Mark Allen

An online résumé, blog, biography and digital sandbox



Quixey - The Search Engine for Apps

Posted 2011-12-04 in Technology

Quixey is a start-up in Palo Alto which has created a novel technology for app search. It focuses on the functions performed by applications and allows the user to enter a natural language query describing the problem they need to solve… i.e. the functionality of an application. The result is a cross-platform listing of the applications which functionally solve the problem… which can be further filtered by platform, price and other criterion. Given the “one billion apps” (well, 500K or more) many platforms now claim, finding the app which does what you need it to do can be a serious pain. And finding it when you need it is just that much more difficult.

AuthorCollector Schema - Rendered in SVG

Posted 2011-12-03 in Web

In a recent interview, I was asked to sketch on a whiteboard the database schema for my AuthorCollector website back-end. I probably should have stood up and made the attempt, but it’d been two years since work on the website and I didn’t want to reverse-engineer my own work on the fly. As I was interviewing for a management position, I didn’t think it was a serious gaff… but I didn’t get the job and who knows… perhaps I should have at least tried.

Ubuntu Woes

Posted 2010-03-20 in Technology

In the last few months, I’ve updated Ubuntu a few times… always at the prompting of the Update Manager. Every time I’m left with a system which won’t boot… as Ubuntu 9.10 installs a beta version of GRUB2 which screws up my system every time I update. So today I’m working and the Update Manager is saying I should update… but first I’m going to post my “get well” information here in an article to minimize my downtime.

Getting my Ubuntu LAMP server running (part 2)

Posted 2010-02-09 in Web

This is part two of how I get LAMP server up and running again. In this article…

  • I’ll setup Apache to “virtual host” my three websites on my system
  • I’ll clone my sites from the web to my local system

Getting my Ubuntu LAMP server running (part 1)

Posted 2010-01-27 in Web

As covered in my last article, I was eventually able to get Ubuntu updated to 9.10 (Karmic Koala). Sadly though, I lost the applications I’d installed and more importantly the custom settings I’d generated for my LAMP (Linux, Apache2, MySQL, PHP) server. So in this article…

  • I’ll install “AMP” (as Ubuntu is the “L”) and associated utilities
  • I’ll install FileZilla so I can maintain my hosted websites
  • I’ll install phpMyAdmin to allow me to manage my databases

An Ubuntu Upgrade Nightmare

Posted 2010-01-18 in Technology

I’ve decided to spend a bit more time doing “web stuff” while in a lull waiting for the next version of the Lumilan touchscreen prototype to become available (I’m acting CTO for Lumilan… but basically a code-monkey). So I booted Ubuntu from my external disk last month… was running Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) and since Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) was available, decided to upgrade everything.

A huge mistake. The upgrade stopped at 80%, would not restart, “killed” my WinXP boot partition, and in the end I never did get a “good” version of Ubuntu installed. I did get to where I could boot WinXP and Ubuntu, but lost all of the apps and customization I’d done in Linux. I found I could not make the nVidia drivers work… so no bells-and-whistles graphics. And I’m pretty sure what I did end up with was booting an obsolete version of the system kernel.

This left a bad taste in my mouth and I set Ubuntu aside for a month. This journal entry is about my second try to get Ubuntu installed this last week.

Using SVG to solve a real-world problem

Posted 2009-10-24 in Technology

Modeling solar cell layouts with SVG

For six months in 2008, I was lucky enough to be the sole software engineer writing all layers of code for a prototype solar cell inspection and repair system. The software solution space was constrained only in that the code needed to be in MATLAB… other than that all choices were up to me. The system was required to locate and repair defects on solar cells… the defects would show up as dark areas in an LBIC image. In these LBIC images, there were two types of dark areas… those which were supposed to be there (expected pattern) and those which weren’t (defects). My challenge was to find a way to differentiate between the two.

Using SVG to render non-vector images

Posted 2009-10-23 in Web

Exploring the limits of SVG

While writing the last article, I wondered just how complex and arbitrary an image could be “handled” successfully by SVG. I didn’t want to get overly complex in my “introductory” article, so I’ve split the topic out into this second short discussion.

An introduction to SVG (scalable vector graphics)

Posted 2009-10-19 in Web

SVG - Scalable Vector Graphics

SVG is a language for describing two-dimensional graphics and graphical applications in XML. Scalable graphics have a few advantages over bit-mapped images… i.e. most image files you’ll find anywhere. Two big advantages which have been useful for me are…

  • The human readable, textual nature of the language allows one to describe complex geometries programmatically.
  • SVG drawings are scalable and therefore resolution independent, so images can be zoomed to arbitrary extent without loss (no jagged edges).

Choosing the Symphony CMS

Posted 2009-10-14 in Web

Choosing a CMS

When I decided to do another website, this time a “personal” site, I looked around for another CMS to use. I’d done the “hand coded” thing at Sparklegram and then very thoroughly explored Drupal while doing AuthorCollector. So I figured I’d explore something new. So I did a ton of research… there are many interesting choices available.

Creating a color scheme

Posted 2009-10-11 in Web

Finding a new look

So while I really like the structural aspects of Fluid 960 Grid System, I decided that the gray color scheme could use a little spicing up. Blue is my favorite color, so I thought I’d change the scheme to incorporate some blue into the palette.

A few words about my websites (part 2)

Posted 2009-10-10 in Web


AuthorCollector is a place to keep an online list of your favorite authors and keep track of existing and upcoming titles from those authors. I read a lot and have 25-30 favorite authors which I try to stick with (for the most part). I use Amazon to buy books (as well as many other things)… I’d log in and search for books and find myself overwhelmed.

  • I’d often have trouble remembering the names of my favorite authors. Sometimes I’d fetch past invoices just to remember author names. Very tedious.
  • Amazon’s search engine is very powerful, but can be very “general.” You can get 600 hits for an author who has published 10 books, and then spend time filtering these hits down to size.
  • Sometimes I’d let Amazon recommend books for me. I’ve never had good luck with this… as the online ratings for books are often spoofed by homers. So I stick to authors I know.

A few words about my websites (part 1)

Posted 2009-10-09 in Web

I’ve been programming a very long-time but only recently started dabbling in web development… as a hobbyist, as it were. I figured building some web skills while between contracts isn’t a bad idea… it keeps the mind busy and perhaps will lead to something more. I’ve done some web programming in the past, but entirely intranet applications… including a fully-featured software installer in JavaScript. That knowledge is really stale, however, so in the last year I’ve done a few internet (i.e. “public”) websites…

Sparklegram was my first site and AuthorCollector my second.

Website Credits | Symphony | Fluid 960 Grid System