Friday, March 24, 2006

Rojo Slows Me Down

I've been using Bloglines for a while now and every once in a while I try out a new aggregator. I've limited this search to web based aggregators because I want to be able to check in with the blogosphere anytime, anywhere, and I don't want to necessarily rely on an installed package on one machine. So today's experiment was with Rojo. I've tried it in the past and didn't like it. I couldn't get used to the "River of News" format, where all the stories from all your feeds are displayed together (usually sorted by time). Over the months I've softened on that format and decided to give Rojo another spin. After using it for a few minutes I discovered something that would absolutely slow down my ability to read the modest 108 feeds I monitor each day. You have to actually click on a story in order for it to be marked read. Your only other option is to mark all feeds as read in one shot. This is really not conducive to quick scanning and it doesn't work for me at all. It's too slow to actually physically do something just to mark a story as read. With Bloglines when you click on the feed in the left, all the stories show up, marked as read, in the right in one scrollable pane. Now grab the scroll bar, pull down, and scan the stories. It's a very simple efficient workflow. So it looks like Bloglines wins again and will remain my aggregator of choice.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Buddhism and Science:

I found this quote absolutely fascinating, refreshing, and enlightened considering todays religious climate of intolerance and ignorance.
"My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were to conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the finding of science and abandon those claims." -- The Dalai Lama -- The Universe in a Single Atom : The Convergence of Science and Spirituality
The book is marvelous. A little light on the science but an amazing view into the synergies between Buddhism and the pursuit of knowing the nature of the universe, but then again I'm learning every day that they seem to be one in the same. I've been interested in Buddhism for many years but recently this interest has peaked. I find myself draw to its simplicity yet daunted by its implications. I keep thinking of the old joke where the guy walks into the doctor and says, "It hurts when I do this.", as he raises his arm. To which the doctor replies, "Don't do that!". Could it really be that easy?

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Sun's Grid, Failure to Launch?

This morning after reading Jonathan Schwartz's latest blog entry on the much anticipated $1/CPU hour compute grid, I browsed over to and actually got the sign up page to come up. Too bad I didn't take a snapshot because right now it's showing signs of being swamped or it was just prematurely launched at 5am. Ah well, a few more months wait won't kill me. Once released the new Sun Grid will probably expand the whole mashup concept. S3+Sun Grid = S4G? Might be fun to hack together.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dyson's Defense of Goodmail is Weak

I just read through Esther Dyson's New York Times op-ed article on Goodmail and I find a few of the points she makes about Goodmail to be flawed. First off, Ms. Dyson claims that Goodmail is a "potential (and partial) solution to the problem of spam and fraud on the internet" this is inaccurate. As I understand how Goodmail functions, it allows a bulk mailer to pay some fee to circumvent spam filters already in place to guarantee the delivery of their bulk mail. So assuming a company has enough money to pay the fee their bulk mail will get through to your inbox regardless of the spam filters your ISP has put in place to protect you from unwanted mail. Goodmail claims that there is a feedback mechanism that allows users to mark the "certified e-mail" sent by their customers as unwanted and that if there are too many negative responses that the bulk mailer will loose their ability to send mail in this manner. This seems sensible enough except for the fact that I now have to perform an explicit manual action to assure I don't get email from this "certified e-mail"-er. What's the level of negative feedback that has to be received before Goodmail cuts off the malicious bulk mailer? What if the bulk mailer agrees to pay more to appeal? I'm not sure that a for-profit company will always make the right decision when it comes to a potential loss of profit. I much prefer the cold hard logic of my bayesian spam filter. Many people have criticized Goodmail because it creates a two-tiered internet, one that is free and has some set of functionality and the other that is paid which has more functionality. They, and Ms Dyson start off with the mistaken assumption that email is free and that Goodmail is an assault on the free (as in beer) Internet. Email is not free. It consumes bandwidth (a limited resource between two points) that the ISPs run through there equipment which must be maintained. I pay over $40 dollars a month for this service in my home. It's not the only service I get for the fee but it is part of why I pay. Some people also pay additional money for spam filtering. The same spam filtering Goodmail's customers will be able to circumvent. On the subject of money, who will pay me for the time I loose filtering this unwanted email? These messages are supposed to stand out. Who will pay for my time weeding through Goodmail to get to the messages I want to receive?Like most professionals these days a significant amount of messages in my inbox are work related. If I have to deal with Goodmail expressed email in my inbox my mail volume could easily balloon and once again it becomes useless. Advertising budgets are huge. Companies who have to pay a few pennies to guarantee bulk email delivery will step up in a heartbeat to use this service. I don't think may Goodmail supporters realize just how much "Goodmail" may end up in their inboxes. We'll all have to deal with it. It will be the new spam. I think Goodmail is a bad idea. To the bulk emailers of the world: If I want bulk email messages, marketing announcements, pleas for donations, etc. from your organization, I'll *ask* for them. Give me a way to ask for them and then leave me alone. I get email from organizations I have explicitly asked to keep me updated. Everyone else is spam, unwanted, a nuisance, trash. Here is the sad thing. I run my mail through a local spam filter which I control. I'll probably never see a piece of Goodmail because I'll train my filters to spot it and remove it. People who aren't technically savvy enough and depend on their ISP or mail provider to do the filtering will be out of luck. The Internet will become (or remain) a two-tiered system, one for the techno-preisthood that can still manage to route around damage and the other for those who can not.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

MySpace The Movie

My daughter just showed me this cinematic monument to that colossal waste of time that is MySpace. Very funny if you've ever been there.

Writely Now Part of Emerging Google Office, Who Looses?

As I was catching up on what was going on outside the ETech microclimate, I came across this gem. Google has purchased Writely. For those of you who may not know Writely is a web based word processor. So this adds another application to the emerging Google Office offering. So the next move, besides launching a calendar, should be to buy or develop a spreadsheet. If and when Google launches their calendar and storage they are well on their way to competing with other office suites. This is a great thing especially since google can offer the tools for free, using Adsense to pay for it all. I have one concern. Much in the same way Linux hurt other UNIX companies more than Microsoft in terms of market share, I think the emergent Google Office may knock the wind out of efforts like OpenOffice. Why download the Open Office distribution and install it, when you can just browse to a few URLs? Too easy, right? I mean if you are going to start using another office suite wouldn't you rather have one that is essentially a zero-footprint service as opposed to yet another fat application clogging your hard drive, requiring maintenance and upgrades? Once the issue of using these tools while disconnected is solved, I think it's curtains for big software suites that don't have an online strategy. Microsoft knows this which is why they are launching Office Live. What they are going to do about existing MS Office revenue lost to Office Live and Google Office is a mystery but Office Live is clearly a sign that they don't want to become roadkill. I can't be so optimistic for Open Office who while they have been showing more promise lately may end up a knight in shining armor showing up on a battle field filled with lightly armored crossbow men, dead meat in a can.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Flock Talk at Etech

Just got out of the flock talk at Etech. I've played with flock in the past and gave it up mainly for two reasons. First the initial developer releases were crashy. Second, Firefox and all descendent browsers don't take there connection setup info from the system on OS X. I've written about this in the past. One feature of flock I hadn't really played with much was the shelf which is a kind of temporary clipboard where you can temporarily stick stuff that you want to blog about. That and flocks intergrated blogging support make it a real nice tool to tackle the basic blogging workflow (read, sample, add value [hopefully], blog).

On the flip side flock has some nice aggregation features tied into the bookmarking/favorites capability. Start with a site, book mark it, and flock auto discovers the feed. View the favorite in the favorite manager and you see the contents of the feed. Flock let's you group bookmarks/favorites into collections, then view the aggregate posts as a feed. (Try it. You'll see what I mean. ) Tne one feature I'd like to see is the capability to create a "smart collection" based on tags. I'll have to explain why in a different post.

If you're an early adopter you should give flock a spin. If you missed the talk at Etech check out their site. You can find a fair amount of text documenting their design philiosophy and business model.

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I attended Alex Russel's Etech talk entitled "After AJAX: Low-latency Data to (and from) the Browser". (Slides posted here.) The premise was pretty simple. Now that we have client initiated asynchronous event and data exchanges between the browser and the server we should extend that work with something that can be initiated by the server. We'll the server, for various reasons, can't just make an http request back to us because we're not technically running a server in our browsers. So what would Mr. Russel have us do? Open a connection to the server and leave it open for the length of our browser session and use that as a communications channel the server can pump down XML messages. He's named this technique Comet. The technique is not fundamentally new since you can do this with a number of other techniques, HTML frames, image SRC attributes, hell even hidden Java applets will work on some browsers, but the problem I have with the technique is the cost you pay on the server side. Ajax is successful because it is a client-side technology that does wonders for user interaction but it doesn't require any fundamental server side change. Comet on the other hand, and most of these techniques that require a long-lived browser connection stress the web server in ways it was not meant to be stressed. A web server, and the HTTP protocol, was meant for client initiated requests for information. (client: Give me this. server: Here you go. Good-bye.) So by using these techniques you essentially gum up the works of standard web servers. So to effectively use the technique you've got to either modify the web server your using or have you client code connect to a completely different type of server. That's kind of a high price to pay. But I guess if your application really needs these types of real time updates this technique may work for you. In the past I've seen people solve this with Flash, using the proprietary server, or with a Java applet communicating back to a server written in Java or any other language. So again not much new, or emerging about the technique or the implementation other than it's done in javascript.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Multi-Touch Interaction Interface

This was without a doubt the coolest thing I saw at ETech today. It was way better than anything dreamed up in the movies.

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playsh turns out not to be so fun afterall

I was really hoping that the playsh talk at ETech would be more enlightening but it wasn't. The idea of hooking up an OS environment with a Mud/Moo interface was definitely not a new one so I was kind of hoping they would have a new twist but there wasn't. I used to think this was a good idea but after seeing an environment like Second Life using something like playsh seems like a huge leap backwards. Granted the collaborative, multi-user, shared editing was fairly cool. To add a bit of insult to injury I thought the talk was by far the lowest quality session I attended this afternoon. The presentation was fractured and rambling. What I thought were the more interesting bits, like the shared editing/coding, were glossed over. Matt Web and Ben Cerveny seemed to be talking from a disjoint set of slides.

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Etech Net Meltdown

The network in the main auditorium has just about melted down at Etech. Every other seat in this large auditorium has a laptop. I'm guessing there are about 300+ laptops going in here and I'm sure it's giving the conference net admins fits. I'm not live blogging the talks so this net hiccup isn't really a big problem. Although it is curtailing browsing to URLs that the speakers are tossing out like beads at Mardi Gras.

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Attention Gesture

So when you're at a tech conference, or any conference for that matter, where people are wearing badges around their necks or pinned to their lapels, most people's gaze is focused about a foot and a half below your face. It's unsettling and not that unfamiliar as the same thing happens on a daily basis to most women whether they are at a conference wearing a badge or not. How's that for an attention gesture? I think this has a lot to do with men sizing up their competition or looking for the alpha males. At a tech conference where the trend is towards a body type that is slightly pudgy, somewhat pale, and not at all what one would need to bring down a mastodon, name recognition matters. It's easy to spot folks like Ray Ozzie but most alpha geeks require text search.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

The Internet of Things

Etech 2006 got off to a roaring start with Bruce Sterling delivering his keynote on "The Internet of Things". I've never seen Sterling speak in public but I have heard his talks via podcasts and I am a fan of his science fiction novels. Seeing him in person was quite a treat. He has the air of some kind of futurist preacher bringing down glimpses of what could be with the authority of the almighty. The talk focused on the future of physical objects and more importantly our relation to them. These future objects, or spimes, will start and end as data. The actual physical object will only be the physical projection of the objects design on the internet. Spimes will be trackable, searchable, and linkable. There is a growing body of discourse about this topic and an increasing number of manifestations of the technologies that will make spimes a reality. RFID, search engines, 3-D printers or personal fabricators, ubiquitous data networks and communications are all the initial threads in the tapestry that will tell the history of spimes in the future. Imagine the scenario where you have a need for some useful object. You search for it on the internet using a Google-like search engine. You find the design, buy it, download it, and print it out from your fabricator. You never worry about loosing it because you can search for it and its geo-location features let you find it. Then when the object no longer serves its purpose you look up how to properly dispose of the object. How to break it down so it doesn't end up in our biosphere as rotting, rusting junk. Along the way he explained that he made up the spime noun as a though object that could essentially be linked to, discussed, and debated. He emphasized the importance of language in a field where engineering doesn't give us the proper vocabulary to exactly specify what needs to be discussed. Interestingly enough he stressed the notion of keeping the language as loose as possible positing that the language around Artificial Intelligence may actually have set computation back a few years. After all we are realizing that the goal of making an intelligent machine was essentially misguided and there may have been man-centuries of effort wasted when we could have been trying to solve real problems. Controversial and inspiring, Sterling was riveting. What a great way to kick-off the conference.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Also of Note: Hell Hath Frozen Over

One other quick bit this afternoon. Hell has officially frozen over. I have used NetBeans 5.0 for a small project and actually enjoyed the experience. I'm not switching from Eclipse, I don't use Eclipse, I'm an Emacs/JDE kinda guy. (All you Eclipse vs NetBeans trolls, stop getting excited!) I'm not sure if this is farewell to Emacs. How could I abandon a tool that has saved my bacon more times than I can number? But I got to tell ya, this NetBeans thing has improved. It almost makes me think IDEs may not be all that evil. Yes, I know what your saying, "The code curmudgeon is going soft!" To which I can only reply, maybe. But using the IDE helped me keep more of the project in my head at any one given time, which is something I've been having trouble with lately. So maybe IDEs can help cut down the "load" time for us old hackers. It's either that or we've got to switch to BPM tools. Ugggh! This is enough change for one week. As always I'll keep you posted.

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Off to Etech

I'm off to etech on Monday. I'm pretty stoked. It's going to be tough to see all the talks so I'm going to spend some time planning this out. Can't wait to soak up the brainwaves and spread a few of my own thoughts out there at this shin-dig. I'll be sending dispatches from the front via this corner of the blogosphere but I'm not planning on "live blog" the keynotes and sessions. We'll see. It's my first time at etech. I'm praying that it doesn't suck and realize that I have as much to do with that as O'Reilly.

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