The CDnow Data Center, Circa 2000


The CDnow Data Center, Circa 2000 Credit: Phillip Pollard

A former co-worker uploaded this panaroma of the CDnow data center in Fort Washington. This data center holds a spcial place in my heart, as it was the first “proper” data center I ever had access to. Prior to that, I’d been running servers (mainly AIX and SGI Iris Indigos) out of offices on Penn’s campus.

CDnow's Home Page, April 13, 1998

CDnow’s Home Page: My First Project to Implement at CDnow, April 13, 1998. Click through to read about how it was “painstakingly designed to serve the customer”, and have a good laugh at early UX on the web.

It was quite a beauty for its day. CDnow started off as a Telnet store, back in the days when people did not even consider the danger of sending your credit card details without encryption. When the CDnow web site was developed, there were not many mature web servers available, so the founders wrote their own in C, called “mserver” (or, Matt’s server, after Matt Olim, co-founder). On top of C, Matt started a language called SDK (Site Development Kit), a scripting language tied to Oracle which did many things far ahead of its time.

It was a fun time, being able to contribute your own functions to a language that was constantly growing and evolving. Eventually, the language was converted to a CGI running on Apache Web Server, httpd. All of this was powered by this data center, and CDnow went on to become one of the early pioneers in E-commerce, years before anyone had heard of Amazon.

The data center featured a lot of Sun machines. We had a suite of E4000s running Solaris 5.1, some Linux machines that served as caching servers (and their two related functions, “codeInclude” and “cacheInclude” in SDK), and our work horse server, a Cray-Cyber Sun Starfire E10000. The initial servers were named after obscure characters from the original Beavis and Butthead (Jodie, Tanq(ueray), Lolitta [sic], McVicker, Daria, and Anderson to name a few), with future servers going the Transformers route (Megatron, Starscream, etc).

With all that said, what really made CDnow was the environment and the co-workers. We had a drum set in the lobby, our own cafeteria with short-order cooks, a gym, showers, and much more. All of the conference rooms were named after famous musicians; I think the Bob Marley room was the most popular, and the data center, with glass on all sides, was dubbed the fish bowl. It was quite an adventure ensuring the site remained up during Hurricane Floyd – the last two employees out had to be taken to their spouses by canoe!

Just last year, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the end of CDnow (the sale to Amazon), about 70 of us gathered back in Philadelphia at Frankford Hall to celebrate, share old tales, memories of several friends who had passed, and remember one of the best work environments we ever experienced. The fact so many of us stay in touch after so long on a regular basis is a testament to how wonderful a company it was.

My Cousin Gordon on Science and Religion

So I must share this; my mom’s cousin Gordon is kind of a genius. I felt this passage from his blog was particularly cogent:

The science of natural selection concerns the features of replicating entities which affect their differential fitness—their reproductive success in a competitive environment. To understand the evolution of religion, we must consider two kinds of replicators, one of which is biological—the human animal—the other being the religious memes (beliefs and practices) that replicate in the environment of human minds. The question, “How did religion evolve?” has two sides. Not only should we ask what is the impact of religion on human evolutionary fitness, we must also ask what features of religious memes impact their reproductive success.

jQuery UI is Awesome: Datepicker Functionality Explained Easily

I have used jQuery UI for quite some time now, including the wonderful Datepicker. However, I just recently starting using a lot of the options and methods available, and thought I would show an example of how extendable it really is. Check out this jQuery:

	$(function() {
		$( "#my_date" ).datepicker({ 
		dateFormat: "mm/dd/yy",
		defaultDate: "01/01/1970",
 		minDate: "01/01/1925",
		maxDate: "12/31/2011",
		changeMonth: true,
		changeYear: true,
		yearRange: "1925:2011",
		onClose: function(dateText, inst) {
			var validDate = $.datepicker.formatDate( "mm/dd/yy", $('#my_date').datepicker('getDate'));
				$('#my_date').datepicker('setDate', validDate);

Then, place the text input element into the HTML:

<input name="my_date" id="my_date" type="text" value="01/01/1970" />

Let’s talk about what this actually does.

  • $( “#my_date” ).datepicker({ invokes Datepicker on the element with id “my_date”, the text input area.
  • dateFormat: “mm/dd/yy”, tells Datepicker to use the date format consistent with 07/28/1974. Yes, “yy” means four-digit year, and “y” means two-digit year. I wasted a lot of time figuring that one out!
  • defaultDate: “01/01/1970″, tells Datepicker to open with January 1st, 1970 as the default selection.
  • minDate: “01/01/1925″, and maxDate: “12/31/2011″, create the selectable valid date range. Users would not be able to select any date before 1925, or after 2011 in this case.
  • changeMonth: true, includes a drop down menu for users to easily change the month without having to click and click and click.
  • changeYear: true, includes a drop down menu for users to easily change the year without having to click and click and click.
  • yearRange: “1925:2011″, sets the range of years available in the downdown menu for changing the year.
  • onClose: function(dateText, inst) { … } checks the date entered after Datepicker closes. This ensures that if a user manually types a date in using the keyboard, and it isn’t valid, it will restore the default date. Also, if the user puts in a date which can be interpreted, such as “3/1/89″, it will reformat the typing in the input box to be populated with “03/01/1989″.

    I hope this example helps, as I pieced a lot of this together from different Google finds.

  • Interview About the Women In Tech Summit; A Y-Chromosome Perspective

    I helped host the Philly Women in Technology Summit during Philly Tech Week. In this video clip, I was interviewed by WomenCentric, a global directory of women professionals, about the role reversal I felt being the only male at a 200 attendee technology conference:

    Diversity on a tech team always means better ideas, better solutions, and a more comfortable environment.

    PANMA Event: 2/23/3012: SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, etc: the Future of IP on the Web

    SOPA and PIPA were recently shelved, but not defeated, and their international cousin ACTA is still gaining momentum. Find out why the fight is not yet over, as well as a back in intellectual property and how they apply to technology.

    On Thursday, February 23rd, 2012, PANMA had a lively discussions about this topic.

    Cory Doctorow’s Talk & Discussion at The Wharton School, November 17th, 2011

    Cory Doctorow held a lecture and Q&A Session on November 17th, 2011 at The Wharton School in Jon M. Huntsman Hall. It was open to the general public.

    Cory’s Biography: Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing ( and the author of Tor Teens/HarperCollins UK novels like FOR THE WIN and the bestselling LITTLE BROTHER. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London.

    PANMA Event: 10/20/2011: #whywelovephilly: The Awesome Philly Tech Scene!

    Philadelphia has an amazing, diverse and ever-active tech-creative community. Web designers, graphic artists, developers, videographers, content strategists, people in marketing, social media and game development all find a home here. There’s so much going on, it’s easy to miss things you’d like to know about, and here’s your chance to find out what is happening and how to join in and be part of the community!

    On Thursday, October 20, PANMA had a fast paced update on the far reaches of the Philly tech scene. Hear some of the most active participants in our community talk about the many activities, groups, opportunities and social events going on!

    TechFast Presentation: The Magic Circle, Realistic Expectations for Virtual Worlds

    Note: Silverlight Required for video!

    On Friday, August 5th, I was lucky enough to give a presentation to Wharton faculty and staff as part of the TechFast series. It was an exploration and history of Virtual Worlds entitled: The Magic Circle: Realistic Expectations for Virtual Worlds.

    The talk covered a lot of history, and a lot of ground, including:

    • The history and evolution of virtual worlds
    • A tour of some of the more ambitious digital virtual projects
    • Describe the successes and challenges of our virtual campus

    The presentation lasted about an hour, followed by a very interesting question and answer period.

    Philadelphia Jury Duty (Center City): What You Can Bring, Electronics Wise

    This won't hurt a bit!

    I recently received a summons for jury duty. That really didn’t take long: I’ve been back in the city for less than a year, and already, I’ve been “randomly selected.” During my five years in the suburbs, somehow I never ended up getting selected. I can’t complain, however; if frequent jury selection is the price for not living on a soulless cul-de-sac in the suburbs, I’ll take that trade off any day of the week.

    I checked around Google to find out if I could bring my phone, PDA (a Blackberry), and my laptop. When I was called in 2005, when I last lived in the city, I was allowed to bring in a laptop with an EVDO card. However, these devices weren’t nearly as prevalent as they are now, and there was a plethora of conflicting information on Google.

    So, I decided to go to the source. Here’s the email I sent to the court system:

    I have jury duty coming up. I’ve checked online and have found conflicting advice about whether or not laptops and mobile devices are allowed during the jury selection waiting period at 1301 Filbert Street. Last time I had jury duty at this location in 2005, I was allowed to bring my laptop, but they’ve become much more prevalent since then. So, a few questions:

    (1) Are laptops allowed?
    (2) Are Blackberries / iPhones allowed with the phone service turned on?
    (3) If not, are Blackberries / iPhones allowed with the phone service turned off (silent mode, for playing music, for example)?

    I was very impressed when I received a reply within an hour from Gail T. Blair, a Court Administrator Officer; I was even more pleased when I read the content of the reply:

    Yes, laptops are permitted and may be used during your down time.

    Yes, Blackberries/iPods are permitted and may be used doing down time.

    Yes, cell phones are permitted but must be turned off.

    There’s the response, from the horse’s mouth. It sounds like you can’t talk on your phone, but can keep it silenced, and use silent PDA operations (texting, Twittering, browsing, listening to music through headphones). It doesn’t sound like they have any problems with laptops, either. This should make jury duty much more bearable.

    Another tip: the days of donuts, coffee and bagels being put out are gone as well. Bring snacks, as the perks of donuts, coffee and bagels for jurists was slashed during a round of city budget cuts.

    Can I Afford the Book I Helped Author?

    Just a quick post to provide a link to a book I helped write a chapter in, although I must admit, I had a bit of sticker shock!

    Here’s the description:

    The future success of education depends on technological and pedagogical innovation. Unbridled by the physical constraints of both time and space, virtual spaces transcend many limitations of the typical classroom, where learning depends on presence and physicality.

    Multi-User Virtual Environments for the Classroom: Practical Approaches to Teaching in Virtual Worlds highlights the work of educators daring enough to teach in these digital frontiers. Instructors will find cutting-edge teaching ideas in the theoretical discussions, case studies, and experiments presented in this book. These insights are applied to variety of subject areas and pedagogical contexts, including learning foreign languages in virtual environments, examples which encourage educators to design and develop new worlds of learning inside the university and beyond.

    The part I authored focuses on the 3-D training I put together while working for Crompco, LLC.