Adam Fields (weblog)

This blog is largely deprecated, but is being preserved here for historical interest. Check out my index page at for more up to date info. My main trade is technology strategy, process/project management, and performance optimization consulting, with a focus on enterprise and open source CMS and related technologies. More information. I write periodic long pieces here, shorter stuff goes on twitter or


How I came to love Jamie Zawinski

Filed under: — adam @ 11:22 am

I now feel compelled to share this, since many people have now discovered Jamie’s writing due to that whole thing. But for me, it started long ago with just a single link. Time melts away in an instant when viewing web pages meant to be rendered in Netscape, and now it’s hard to believe that was 16 years ago. It’s a real gem, and for me it was one of my first exposures to both effective use of hypertext (as opposed to theoretical academic use) and internet oversharing.

Start here. Click click click.



First impressions of coffee joulies

Filed under: — adam @ 8:51 am

I backed the kickstarter project for coffee joulies, and my pack arrived yesterday. Initial reports have not been good. I used three of them this morning, in my normal Contigo West stainless mug, in lieu of the usual ice cube I normally drop in there to make it drinkable right away. The temperature change is definitely slight but noticeable. I use milk and no sugar. If I add no ice cube, it’s undrinkably hot for about 20 minutes. With an ice cube, it’s drinkable right away, and stays what I would still call hot for about an hour. With the joulies, it was still almost too hot to drink after a few minutes, but not quite too hot. Nearly three hours later, it’s still about at the temperature it’s usually at about a half an hour in.

More experimentation is warranted, but I think this is a thumbs up.



My problem with the Netflix restructuring

I can accept that DVDs are a dying business with no future growth and _escalating_ costs. I can accept that Netflix wants to get out of that business and move forward, even if the streaming product is still nascent and not competitive yet. I like Netflix, and I’ve been a loyal customer since before they had unlimited plans (I was the first person I knew to get a DVD player).

I accept that all of this might be necessary and painful to grow the business. But the thing is – it’s not our burden as customers to carry those costs, and it’s disingenuous to ask us to do so. The fact is, while DVDs are limited in growth, they’re still the better product with far more selection, and the DVD business you’re jettisoning is still profitable. If you want us to switch to a worse product that may be better in the future, great. Lower your prices to compensate. All of this brouhaha could have been avoided if you’d announced that everyone’s plan was a dollar per month cheaper until the streaming selection got better.

We’ll bear with you to make a difficult transition. Asking us to do so while giving us a worse experience and making us pay more for the privilege feels like taking advantage.

It’s not too late to change your mind.


Why all this mucking about with irrevocable licenses?

The Google+ Terms of Service include various provisions to give them license to display your content, and this has freaked out a bunch of professional photographers:

‘By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.’

I don’t even understand why this is necessary. Why can’t this just be ‘you give us a license to display your content on the service until you delete it’?



Get out there tomorrow and do what you feel you need to. This country has gone astray, and we need to fix it. The next four, eight, twelve years are important, and what you do tomorrow will dictate the path for those years. We need strong leadership who will listen to the concerns of our citizenship.

On that note, the Columbia Journalism Review has reported on a new map of political blogs that my company, Morningside Analytics recently produced for a study being conducted by Columbia’s Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting and the Berkman Center at Harvard.

Political Clustermap
(Click the image to read our blog post about it.)

I find this map extremely compelling, and it speaks volumes about the respective approaches that will follow one of these two men to the White House tomorrow.

John Kelly, our chief scientist and founder, sums it up:

“There are some groups of pro-McCain and anti-Obama blogs that are well connected to each other but not densely linked with bloggers in the longstanding political blogosphere, even those on the conservative side [...]. If these were typical political bloggers, we would expect to see them better woven into the fabric of the network.”

Cogitate on that, sleep well, and vote proudly.


Shifting the Debate

My company (Morningside Analytics) has just launched our Political Video Barometer, which tracks the movement of YouTube videos through conservative and liberal blogs:

The Barometer is updated 4 times a day and allows you to see which new videos are starting to break through within either the conservative or liberal blogs and which ones are breaking through to non-political audiences. We identify influential blogs through a unique cutting edge clustering approach – the underlying technology was also used earlier this year to produce this detailed report on Iran’s blogosphere for the Berkman Center at Harvard.

We are also running a blog at which will examine interesting findings from the barometer.

It’s always fun to launch a new product. We worked very hard on this, and I’m proud of it.



Why the Mac is better.

Filed under: — adam @ 10:16 pm

This is a list I put together for my father. I thought you’d enjoy it. Got anything to add?

I’ve been putting together a more detailed response for you. There’s a reason why nearly every computer professional I work with has switched to the Mac in the past few years.

This is the short list:

1. It actually is more stable. It is very very difficult to crash the OS entirely. The only time I’ve done it is when running Windows in a virtual machine, because of the trickery needed to accomplish that in the first place. When you kill programs that aren’t responding, they almost always die and can be restarted. This may not be a huge problem for you, since you only use about 5 applications. I use well over a hundred, and on Windows, this was a disaster – anything misbehaving could lock up the entire system. It simply doesn’t happen that way on the Mac.

2. It is >far< easier to maintain. This is actually a few thousand things of various severities, but some highlights:

- You know how when you get a new Windows machine, you have to reinstall everything and search around all over the disk for where your files and preferences might be? On the Mac, you don't have to do any of that. Everything specific to you goes in your home directory, and your Applications go in your /Applications folder. 99% of everything will work if you just copy those two folders. When you install software, there's usually no installer to run, you just copy the application to the Applications folder. This clean split between application preferences and user preferences also means that having multiple users on the same machine just works, every time. No weird "some other user accidentally modified the global settings".

- Moreover, you don't have to actually do that to be up and running quickly, because you can just make a copy of an existing drive and boot off of that. This won't screw up any hidden settings the way it will on Windows. (It may sort of work, but it'll never be "quite right".) You can keep a running backup of your boot drive that automatically updates. If anything happens to your boot drive, you pop it out, pop the backup in, buy a replacement backup, and it's as if you never left. Someday, you're going to have a hard drive fail, and when that happens, you're going to suddenly realize that there's a lot of stuff you had strewn around your drive that you never found to back up, and it'll be gone forever (or you can spend a few thousand dollars for a slim chance to recover bits and pieces of it in probably mostly unusable forms from a drive recovery service).

- You don't have to worry about viruses or spyware. Nothing runs with administrator privileges by default, the system is very well locked down, and there's no need to run anti-virus or anti-spyware software, because no software can install itself without your permission. Granted, it's not perfect and there are some security holes, but no system is 100% secure and it's orders of magnitude better than Windows in this respect.

3. Laptop sleep works. I've never had a Windows laptop that came back from sleep reliably. The last one sometimes took up to 30 minutes to restore. Unacceptable.

4. Creative programmers are drawn to the Mac. As such, there's a vibrant community of small-developer software that's incredibly useful, well-written, innovative, and for the most part, follows the same set of UI guidelines, so they all behave the same way, have similar keyboard shortcuts, etc... There are a few exceptions, but most of it is this way. There's an actual ecosystem, and when developers make something that's useful, often other developers will make their applications work with it if you have it installed. Almost all of it is available in downloadable form with 30-day trials. I've installed maybe three programs off of CDs, so that means no CDs to lose on the off chance you need to reinstall something.

5. Hardware support is just better. It's simpler and easier. Most things don't require drivers. When you switch ports around, things continue to work just fine. You can add and remove external monitors at will, and the system just compensates - no rebooting.

6. Apple cares about getting all of the little details right. You must watch this:

7. The OS itself has MANY MANY little enhancements that make life easier in lots of little ways (many of which may be difficult to appreciate without using them, but once you do, you'll miss them when they're gone):

- In the Finder, the Mac's version of Explorer (though Finder came first), you can highlight a file and press the spacebar to bring up QuickLook, which is a floating window with a navigable preview of the document. Press the spacebar again to close it. This makes flipping through files extremely easy. Many file formats are supported (word docs, excel sheets, pdf, most kinds of images, most kinds of videos, etc...). The built-in Mail program also supports this, so you don't have to save mail attachments to view them. You can also very easily toggle back and forth between full screen view.

- It includes Time Machine, which is an automatic hourly backup which saves as many past versions of a file (in a compact changes-only format) as your disk will support. Accidentally write over a word file you needed? Bring up Time Machine and restore it from earlier in the day. Time Machine also supports Quick Look, so you can easily check whether a particular version of a file is the one you're looking for.

- Expose is the window manager for navigating many open windows. I can't really explain this, so watch the video:

- The desktop includes the Dashboard. Press a hotkey and the screen is overlaid with useful widgets - weather, dictionary lookup, etc...

8. Screen sharing is built in. Need some help? I can log in to your machine remotely and securely, and check it out for you. No more waiting until I can come over to fix something.

9. Built-in calendar and address book that most applications share.

10. iPhoto is MUCH better for managing your photos than the Nikon software you have.

11. You can dual boot Windows if you really want, or run it in a virtual machine with VMWare.

No, it's not perfect. But it is a hell of an improvement. I'd say I have 1% of the number of issues I had with Windows machines, if not less.


The Google Chrome terms of service are hilarious

I’ve been very busy lately, but this is just too much to not comment on.

There are other articles about how the Google Chrome terms of service give Google an irrevocable license to use any content you submit through “The Services” (a nice catchall term which includes all Google products and services), but the analysis really hasn’t gone far enough – that article glosses over the fact that this applies not only to content you submit, but also content you display. Of course, since this is a WEB BROWSER we’re talking about, that means every page you view with it.

In short, when you view a web page with Chrome, you affirm to Google that you have the right to grant Google an irrevocable license to use it to “display, distribute and promote the Services”, including making such content available to others. If you don’t have that legal authority over every web page you’ve visited, you’ve just fraudulently granted that license to Google and may yourself be liable to the actual copyright owner. (If you do, of course, you’ve just granted them that license for real.) I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect that Google has either committed mass inducement to fraud or the entire EULA (which lacks a severability clause) is impossible to obey and therefore void. [Update: there is a severability clause in the general terms, which I missed on the first reading. Does that mean that the entire content provisions would be removed, or just the parts that apply to the license you grant Google over the content you don't have copyright to? I don't know.]

Even more so than usual, these terms are, quite frankly, ridiculous and completely inappropriate for not only a web browser but an open source web browser.

Nice going guys.


Cool photo roundup


Museum of Natural History:

400+ forms used by the NSA:

London Bananas:

How to make an inkjet print that will last 10000 years:


PS3s used for science

It’s just extraordinary to me what a boon the PS3 is to the scientific community.

“Overall, a single PS3 performs better than the highest-end desktops available and compares to as many as 25 nodes of an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. And there is still tremendous scope left for extracting more performance through further optimization. More on that soon.”

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Numbers is a nice idea with some usability disasters

Filed under: — adam @ 9:35 pm

I’ve put up a screen cast made with the very easy Screenflow.

This is me trying to reorganize a large number of tables with attached comments in Numbers, such that there is no overlap and no tables cross a page break.

As should be evident even without narration, this is pretty much a usability disaster. Numbers is a nice idea, but it does not live up to my expectations for what a spreadsheet with page layout capability should be able to do. I hope they fix this.

Some notes:

1) It is extremely difficult for me to figure out where to click to consistently for a bunch of different options – move a whole table, resize a table, grab a comment handle. This behavior doesn’t seem to be the same every time, and varies whether or not the white handles appear. For example, you can’t make a table smaller if there is content or a comment in a cell you’d remove. That makes sense, but there’s no visual indicator that that’s what’s preventing you from making the table smaller. Watch how often I can’t get the click right on the first try, all over the place.

2) Comment callouts do not move with their tables and are not selectable as a group! Also, they don’t scroll the page when dragged to the edge.

4) Distribute Vertically sort of works, if the tables have no comments, but with comments, all of the tables move and their comments don’t. There does not seem to be a standard way to add descriptions to tables without comment callouts.

5) When you shorten a table, everything below it moves up, and the space where the table you shortened took up IS NOW GONE. This screws up the layout for everything below it on the page, and there does not seem to be any easy way to reclaim that space.

6) When you insert a table in the middle, there does not seem to be a good way to reconfigure the layout of everything else to accommodate the space you need for that insertion. This is basically the same problem as #3.

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What the Apple Keynote should have delivered

Filed under: — adam @ 10:08 am

Here’s the thing. The past few years have overwhelmingly delivered a whole class of Apple devices I simply want. I’ve bought a number of them. Not so for anything announced this year. Here’s what we got, and what I would have liked to see Apple have announced instead:

We got: A new super slim but otherwise really limited laptop aimed at… who exactly? Not mobile creatives, executives, or cost-sensitive casual users, given the spec and upgrade limitations.

I wanted instead: Two new laptops – a super portable Macbook Mini, and a Macbook Pro upgrade (thinner, bigger drives/battery, more RAM, higher resolution screen in the same size package). Both thin and light. Touchscreen tablet versions would have been interesting, but even upgrades to the standard laptop package would have been good. The Macbook Mini would be roughly the size of three iPhones side by side (maybe 7.5″ x 5″ or so), running full Mac OS X.

We got: A $20 software bundle for the iPod, but only for the lucky customers who paid 15 or 20 times that already for the top of the line iPod only a few months ago.

I wanted instead: to be honest, I didn’t care much about this one, not owning an iPod Touch or an iPhone. Still, if I did, I’d probably be disappointed.

We got: A software upgrade to Time Machine masquerading as completely new hardware (Time Capsule).

I wanted instead: Allow Time Machine to work with something other than locally plugged in external drives, particularly external drives attached to existing (again only months old) Airport Extremes.

We got: Overpriced limited “movie rentals” and a minor supporting upgrade to the miscast living room product that no one bought last year and which is still a hard sell because it lags behind its competitors in features and doesn’t make up for it with anything that’s great about Apple products.

I wanted instead: Remove whatever restriction is preventing Netflix from doing Watch Now on the Mac. Treat movie rentals like digital media instead of overpriced restricted analogues to going to the video store. Why the 24-hour limit?!? Give me 30 days for a video rental so I don’t feel like I’m being ripped off. Give me TV shows in HD for less than it costs to buy the disc. Let me watch whatever I want to watch on the set top box. In fact, forget the set top box and morph the Mac Mini into the set top box. Anyone watching movies on an HD screen also probably wants to do computing tasks on that screen too. That’s why I have a Mac Mini attached to my living room projector. For not too much more than the Apple TV, you could buy a used Mac Mini and get 100 times the functionality. What I want to see here is making it easier to watch more kinds of digital media on the Mac Mini in a living room setting – Front Row is just awful and limited.

Bonus: Where’s OpenDocument support in iWork?!? Come on man, don’t be like Microsoft on this one. There’s no possible way that .pages and .numbers are going to become the dominant interchangeable file formats that will make people have to buy iWork anytime this century. People buy iWork because they like your applications, not because they have to in order to read a file someone sent them. It doesn’t hurt you to support the open standards, and it helps the users.

[update: I was thoroughly shocked to discover that, of all things, reads .odt files. There's also Quick Look support for them.]

After all, ranting about this stuff is fun, and I enjoy picking it apart, but sometimes it helps to be productive too. So, those are my suggestions for things I’d actually hand over some cash to Apple for this year.

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Disappointed in the Macworld Keynote

Filed under: — adam @ 4:54 pm

I’ve become a huge Apple fan over the past two years. I think they’ve done a number of wonderful things for desktop computing interfaces, and they’ve far surpassed Windows in usability, stability, and general pleasantness. I spend a lot of time in front of computers, and I try to make as much of it as possible in front of a Mac.

But I’m disappointed with a number of items in today’s keynote.

The Macbook Air is certainly pretty, but when you look at the limitations, who’s this really aimed at? No firewire, only 2GB ram, 4200rpm disk – this rules out mobile creatives. No replaceable battery – this rules out actual mobile executives. It seems to be an upgrade for the regular Macbook users – mobile browsing, email, writing, maybe a little video and music, but it’s far too expensive for that. So, I don’t get it – who’s this aimed at?

I can understand that new hardware sometimes makes old hardware obsolete. But a few of the “hardware upgrades” announced here are really software upgrades in disguise, but which nonetheless are forcing you to buy new hardware to take advantage of the new features. The Time Capsule looks good, but it’s really just an Airport Extreme with an internal disk. Why isn’t this feature available on existing Airport Extremes with external disks?

Note to Apple: your existing customers generally love you. They love you even more when you go the extra mile and suddenly update the stuff they’ve already bought with new capabilities. This makes them more likely to buy new stuff, not less, and even much more likely to recommend that to all of their friends. Are you really going to sell enough $299 Time Capsules to make up for the hate you just scored with everyone who uses an Airport Extreme with an external disk and wants to back up their laptop to it, who now think you’re being greedy and trying to force a $300 upgrade for no reason?

Same deal with the multitouch gestures on the Macbook Air – why aren’t they being backported to the existing Macbook line? The trackpads are multi-touch capable, and this is a software update, to applications that are already running on those machines.

And then there’s the actual software update for the iPod Touch. I’m the last person to say that all software should be free (free software should be free, but that’s a discussion for another day), but these are people who just a few months ago paid a premium to buy your top of the line product, and now you’re fleecing them for a bit of extra cash.

I don’t expect a world-shattering new product line every year, but these “announcements” look like the actions of a company that’s scrambling, not one that’s innovating.

[ Followup: Some suggestions for what I wanted to see instead. ]

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All about audio options on HD discs

Filed under: — adam @ 7:35 am

Just to add to the confusion:

“On Standard-Def DVD, there are essentially only two competing sound formats to choose from: Dolby Digital or DTS.[...]The reality of the situation is that both Dolby Digital and DTS are capable of delivering very good, sometimes even exceptional sound quality on DVD.[...]The advent of Blu-ray and HD DVD has brought a dramatic increase in picture quality from Standard Definition to High Definition.[...]High Definition video deserves High Definition audio to go with it.”

And thus begins the litany of the seven different options for audio tracks on HD discs, and how they’re supported on HD DVD vs. Blu-ray.

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Dear Netflix

Dear Netflix:

I would very much like your website to stop redirecting me to a page that tells me that Im using an unsupported browser. I know I use Opera. I like it. I understand if you dont want to support it, but at least set a cookie so I can just tell you once that I dont care, instead of making me click through your tedious “only browsers we like are supported” splash page every time I want to check my queue.

Thanks. Have a wonderful day.

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The HD format war is lost by existing

[I've posted this as a comment on a few HD DVD vs. Blu-ray blog posts elsewhere, so I thought I'd put it up here as well.]

An HD format war is simply the height of stupidity, given the nice example of how quickly DVD was adopted by… everybody.

This happened for a few reasons, none of which are being replicated by the HD formats/players:

1) One alternative with no difficult competing choices.

2) Fit into existing home theater setups easily.

3) Clear, obvious quality advantages, even if you set it up incorrectly.

4) Significant convenience advantages – pause with no quality loss (anyone here remember VHS tracking?!), random access, extra features, multiple languages, etc…

5) More convenient and durable physical medium.

So – let’s look at what HD formats offer over DVD in these areas:

1) Multiple competing incompatible choices. Not just between HD DVD and Blu-ray, but also between different HD formats. 720p/1080i vs. 1080p, HDMI/HDCP vs. component. People aren’t adopting HD formats because they’re confusing.

2) Does not fit into existing home theater setups easily. If you had a DVD home theater, chances are you’re replacing most, if not all of your components to get to HD – you need a new TV/projector, you probably need some new switches, you need all new cabling, and you need at least three new players to do it right (HD DVD, Blu-ray, and an upscaling DVD player so your old DVDs look good). Not to mention a new programmable remote to control the now 7 or more components in your new setup (receiver, projector/tv, 3 players, HDMI switch, audio/component switch).

3) Clear, obvious quality advantages, but only if properly tuned and all of them work properly together. I can easily tell the difference between even HD movies and upscaled DVD movies. Upscaled DVD movies look fantastic, but HD movies really pop off the screen. But if things aren’t properly configured or you’re using the wrong cabling, these advantages disappear.

4) No significant convenience advantages, with some disadvantages. Pretty much the same extras, but most discs now won’t let you resume playback from the same place if you press stop in the middle, and they make you watch the warnings and splash screens again.

5) Indistinguishable physical medium. Maybe the Blu-ray coating helps, but we’ll see about that.

I’ve gone the HD route, because I really care about very high video quality, and I love tinkering with this stuff. Most people don’t, and find it incredibly confusing and expensive.

Is it really any wonder that people are holding off?

The HD format war is already lost, by existing at all, and every day that both formats are available for sale just makes things worse. The only good way out of it is to erase the distinction between the two formats – dual format players that reach the killer price point and aren’t filled with bugs.

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Why am I writing about HD home theater frustrations?

Filed under: — adam @ 12:21 pm

The consumer electronics companies really have their collective head so far up their ass they’re wearing their tongue for a hat.

So to speak.

I made the jump to an HD projector, which I have nothing but good things to say about. It’s a Mistubishi HD1000U. At this point, it’s a few years old, but that’s how you get a 720p projector at a sub-$1000 price instead of dropping a few grand. The picture quality is amazing, the contrast is strong, and it’s bright enough for me. We’re projecting onto a plain off-white wall instead of a screen, and the color is brilliant and rich. For the most part, we watch movies at night with the lights off, and I sometimes use it during the day with a computer for web browsing and email. For these purposes, it’s just fine. I’m very sensitive to picture artifacts, particularly the rainbow effect of DLP projectors (which this is), and while they’re still sometimes present, they’re MUCH less noticeable than on any other projector I’ve looked at. Big thumbs up to Mitsubishi here – this is a winner at this price point or cheaper. Two small notes on the setup:

  1. This projector has a weird throw angle which is noted in many reviews, so positioning is limited and they claim you’ll want to ceiling mount it or put it on a table in front of your seating. I put it on top of a high bookshelf behind the seating, angled down at about an 18-degree angle by putting it on top of a Roadtools Podium CoolPad at the maximum height. This is stable, allows plenty of air circulation under the projector, and is well within the 30-degrees of maximum tilt usually recommended for projectors.
  2. The native resolution for the projector is 1280×720, which my Mac Mini couldn’t do by default. It looked terrible at all of the choices, so I dropped a whopping $18.37 on SwitchResX, which let me set a native resolution of 1280×720, and which looks fabulous.

Set aside for the moment the fact that there’s an HD disc format war to begin with, which is the height of idiocy because DVD was the most successful consumer electronics uptake ever solely because there was one single format and everyone looked at DVD compared to VHS and said “oh, yeah, well, I’ll take that”.

It was the cheapest option and I might get a PS3 at some point in the future, so I picked up a Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player to check out some HD content. I got rid of cable a while ago (but would probably go back if I could just buy Discovery HD and maybe cartoon network and scifi), and Netflix, sans tonguehat, kindly offered to send me a bunch of stuff that was already in my queue in HD-DVD instead of crappy old regular DVD.

They’ve reproduced a bunch of the usability problems in the first generation DVD player which I bought ten years ago (which, now that I think about it, may also have been a Toshiba). The machine itself is big (same form factor as my 6-disc DVD changer). The machine takes a long time to boot up. Backward compatibility is weird – regular DVDs play in a tiny portion of the screen unless you manually set the machine to 480p mode before starting. The first round of discs don’t seem to support the “resume from where I stopped when I press stop then play again” feature, so if you press stop for a minute, you have to watch the FBI warning again. Why is there even an FBI warning in the first place?! Isn’t the overly invasive “copy protection” they foisted on me supposed to prevent me from copying it, even if I wanted to? Oh wait, that’s right… it’s just there to irritate me and not prevent anyone from actually copying anything. The warning I have to stare at every time I switch discs does that.

Which brings me to inputs. I’m somewhat of an expert at setting up electronics, and I find this needlessly frustrating. The projector has HDMI and component inputs, but no output. Previously, I’d had everything wired through S-video and optical audio (TOSlink), using my receiver as a switcher. This worked pretty well. However, the receiver is older and has neither component nor HDMI in or out. I have a component switcher with TOSlink support which I’m using for all of the things that I used to use S-video for (DVD player and PS2), and the component video goes to the projector and the TOSlink goes to the receiver on a single input. But this totally breaks down with HDMI. They collapsed the audio and video streams into one cable to “simplfy things”, but that doesn’t change the fact that the two streams need to go to different devices. There seems to be no standard way to deal with this. There are HDMI switchers that will split out the audio portion to a TOSlink audio cable automatically, but they’re prohibitively expensive (hundreds of dollars). The solution seems to be to use separate switchers for HDMI and TOSlink, and program a universal remote to switch them at the same time. Hardly fun for the average person. It’s doable, but what were they thinking?!?. It makes no sense to put audio and video on the same cable unless all of the devices support that (they don’t) and you can freely move the signal around, which of course you can’t because the “copy protection” won’t let you.

On the other hand, the picture quality is quite stunning. DVD looks “really really good”. HD-DVD looks “better than film”.

A big thank you to Mitsubishi, Netflix, and the film crew on that BBC Planet Earth Documentary. The rest of you, please buy another hat.

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Will the iPhone experience be as good when winter rolls around?

Filed under: — adam @ 9:35 am

It seems to be a serious problem for those who live in places where it’s not warm all the time that the iPhone will be completely unusable while wearing gloves.

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I have been stunned into submission by Marc Andreessen’s new blog

Filed under: — adam @ 4:49 pm

It is simply great. Post after post is just captivating, interesting, and relevant if you have anything to do with tech these days.

Go read that for a while:

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The value of RAID0 for caching, paging, and temp

Filed under: — adam @ 9:50 am

I recently realized that I had a few extra drive bays in my desktop (with corresponding open SATA ports) and a few extra SATA drives lying around. So last night, I put them in and set them up as a RAID0 striped array.

I’d always avoided striping because of the instability concerns – if either drive goes bad, you lose the data on both of them. However, I’ve recently begun to feel the pinch in speed as my desktop has aged and I installed CS3. I maxed out the RAM a long time ago, and I’m not quite ready to replace it, although I certainly will in the next 6 months. So any little extra bit of speed I can get is welcome. A striped array has a significant speed advantage because the controller can read and write both disks simultaneously, roughly doubling your disk throughput. Also, you end up with one big disk that’s the size of the two put together.

While it is fragile if one of the drives goes, it performs much better. That makes it incredibly useful as a cache drive. I put the Windows paging file, all of my temp directories, and the CS3 cache and scratch files on it, as well as my browser caches. After not much testing, not surprisingly, I noticed an immediate speed boost across the board, and particularly in browsing directories with lots of photos in Bridge.

The setup was not very difficult, although there were some hiccups. I had to configure the bios to have the second sata controller (integrated into the motherboard) work in RAID mode, which took some fiddling. Then I had to switch the boot rom to it to boot into its firmware to actually configure the array, then switch the boot rom back to the other controller so I could boot my pre-existing Windows install (which is on a RAID1 mirrored array). After that, it was just a matter of installing the Windows driver for the RAID controller, formatting the new drive, and moving everything appropriate over to it.

Disks are pretty cheap. I highly recommend this configuration.

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The first rule of community

I have a personal mailing list for my very close friends, to which I often send a few messages a day. If I stop for a day or two, it’s not a problem. If I stop for a long period of time (a week, a month) without telling someone, I have a strong belief that many of those people will check in to see what’s wrong. This is a major aspect of community for me, and it’s missing from every other piece of online interaction I’ve ever had, including this blog. Part of it has to do with the requirement that everyone on the mailing list is someone I’ve met in person and decided to include – I do not invite people whom I’ve never met physically, and I do not accept solicitations to join the list. But it’s a very strong driver for me, and it’s the reason I still maintain the list even in the presence of so many “better” ways to communicate.

There’s really only one rule for community as far as I’m concerned, and it’s this – in order to call some gathering of people a “community”, it is a requirement that if you’re a member of the community, and one day you stop showing up, people will come looking for you to see where you went.

Incidentally, this quality has been lacking from some real world organizations as well, and it’s become a very strong barometer for me to tell just how welcome I feel with any given group of people. If I left and didn’t come back, would anyone care enough to find out why? It’s a very visceral question, and perhaps a difficult one to ask. But I think it’s an important one, as we move into these so-called communities where all of our interaction is online, and fluid.

I quite enjoy my participation in a number of sites, flickr and ask metafilter among them. But I have no doubt that if I suddenly go away, not one other member will really care, with the probable exception of the people I know from offline. From time to time, they may wonder, “huh, haven’t seen Caviar in a while” (and the use of handles instead of names is probably a big contributor to this), but it’s unlikely that anyone will track me down to ask why, if they can even find out a way to reach me. They’ll probably just assume I found something better to do, or switched to a different site. And therein lies a big piece of the problem – the loose ties go both ways. That guy who disappeared may have just found something better to do, or switched to a different site, but maybe he died, or just didn’t feel welcome anymore. If we don’t have the presence to find out these reasons, or even the capacity to tell when such an event has occurred, are we really building a useful analogue to the binding offline communities that exist, or is it all just a convenient fiction?

I’ve blogged before about some of the problems with online communities, but I think this is a bigger point. That post focused more on how to get online communities to be more outward facing and less insular. This is more about how to get online communities to be more inclusive and meaningful. I must admit that I’m only at the beginning of an answer, but I welcome any ideas on the subject. I’ll avoid the temptation to suggest that we should probably meet for drinks to discuss it.

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Brilliant DMCA side effect

Crappy DRM company says the DMCA forces you to buy their technology instead of building your own because not buying their technology is a circumvention of an effective copyright tool.

The thing is, I think they’re right. I mean, it’s stupid, but then so is the DMCA.

There are some other provisions (which seem to not apply), but the crux of it is:

“No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that–

`(A) is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of
circumventing a technological measure that effectively
controls access to a work protected under this title;”

It explicitly does NOT say “copy the work”, it says “circumvent the technology”. “Circumvent” is not the word they were looking for.

In fact, now that I think about it, convincing someone that DRM is bad is also a violation, as that may be interpreted as offering a service that is primarily design for the purpose of circumventing technological protection. Crap.

(via boingboing.)

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The Canon Pixma Pro 9000 is a great inkjet photo printer

Filed under: — adam @ 3:15 pm

I got a Canon Pixma Pro 9000 to replace my dead Epson Stylus 1280. Having not bought a new inkjet printer in about 7 years, I’m totally stunned by how far the technology has improved, even over the previous round which was pretty impressive.

First, it’s REALLY fast. While a letter size photo on the 1280 would take a good 5 minutes to print, the Pixma spit my first test print out in, oh, about 25 seconds. When it started to go, I did an actual doubletake – I was not really expecting that.

Second, the color is outstanding. With no adjustment at all, it got very close to my calibrated screen. Not exact, but close enough that you probably wouldn’t notice unless you held it up to the screen and looked at them side by side. On regular old Costco photo paper.

Third, the ink usage seems better designed. It has 8 separate ink carts, which are individually replaceable, instead of one.

Fourth, when you’re not using it, the paper path trays fold up and click into the case, which I expect will significantly reduce the amount of dust and stray hair that always seemed to get into the paper path on the old printer.

Fifth, it has more cleaning modes, to clean the print heads, deep clean the print heads, and also clean the bottom tray to prevent smudges. Also, the entire print head is replaceable if needed.

The only drawback I can see so far is that it’s gigantic. That’s kind of a side effect to being able to print on big paper, but even though it’s physically slightly bigger than the 1280 was, it seems more intelligently designed to take up as little space as it can and still do what it does.

I got it for $439 at Amazon, which is about $100 less than I paid for the 1280 originally:

Highly recommended.

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Microsoft should release XP for free

Filed under: — adam @ 3:47 pm

It is well known that free products are used more widely than products that people have to pay for. If Vista is so much better, then people will still pay money for it, and having more installations of XP around to keep people using Windows apps instead of switching to Mac or Linux can only be a good thing for Microsoft, whose continued success depends not only on agreements with PC manufacturers, but also on the continued existence of Windows-only software that people need to run. This benefits Microsoft, and will result in more sales of Vista (and subsequent versions), as other software vendors evolve into the same “The XP version is free, but if you want the premium version, you need Vista” pattern. Essentially – XP becomes the shareware limited demo version of Windows, and you pay if you want the full version.

This obviously benefits the consumer, because free is good, and there are plenty of places (VMs, especially), where it would be useful to run XP, but where the current price is cost prohibitive. Making XP free would open up the Windows market to those potential customers.

Anyone who’s switching to Mac or Linux has already made the decision to do it, and isn’t turning back because they can’t run Windows in a VM… because they already can. This would just make everyone’s life easier, and generate a LOT more goodwill for Microsoft than they have now.

Microsoft, despite being ridiculously profitable, is in danger of losing relevance. This is one way to combat that.

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New social networking features on Confabb launched today

Filed under: — adam @ 2:41 pm

I’m extremely proud of the Confabb site, and it’s nice to see it evolving past the limited feature set we were able to squeeze in before launch. There’s a LOT more great stuff coming. The development team has been working very hard for the past few months, and a bunch of new social networking features went live today.

From the press release:

New Logged-in Homepage

Log in and check out ‘your new homepage.’ Above ‘your conferences’ is the new ‘your network,’ a bird’s-eye view of bulletin board messages from within your network (more on that below), your online Confabb connections and any messages sent to you by those within the Confabb community. Click on ‘My Account’ to see the full range of search and connection possibilities. Post your own messages for everyone to see on “your bulletin board,” which will be broadcast globally—Confabb pings no fewer than 68 of the major alerting services—or have a one-on-one discussion with other Confabb members. You can also see what others are talking about and invite new people, either from within or outside of Confabb, to join your network.

New Search!

There are two new forms of search on the site (you’ll all remember that the search function was Confabb’s Achilles Heel when we launched). There is now an advanced search for conferences which drills down into multiple parameters such as location, keyword, location, category and when the show date starts and stops. That nullifies one of the biggest knocks we got at launch. People will love it. We’ve also added a “User Search” which lets Confabb users search for and connect with other Confabb community members. Of course that sets us up for connecting people within the community and that’s the best part.

MY Connections (or “buddy lists”)

Just as you keep a list of people with home you correspond daily, the “My Connections” tab is your gateway to the personal contacts you’ve made within the Confabb community–people with whom you’ve connected before and want to stay in touch with going forward. This is your personal network; friends, colleagues and other contacts whose whereabouts and doings you want to follow as they prepare for and an attend events. Attendees can view a list of other conference participants, check out their profiles, invite them into their personal network and email them directly through Confabb’s personal messaging feature.

Personal Messaging

This is the Confabb community’s personal email service. We respect everyone’s right to privacy so messaging within the community is handled by us; simply use the “contact” link to jot a note to the person of your choice and we’ll send the message to the email that person has registered within our system. Responses are handled by us as well so your information is never revealed unless you choose to do that outside of the community.


This is cool. “Media” is just that: everything that interests you from across the web, from text-based articles and links to photos, RSS feeds for breaking information and even full blown videos. The content comes from the web’s leading sources of open information, including Technorati, Google and Yahoo!, Feedster, Flickr and YouTube. Simply click the “Media” tab at the top of the navigation bar and find information on just about anything by searching for the subject’s name or the subject’s tag in the desired content source. The Media tab lets you experience the conference through everyone else’s eyes, and they experience it through content you create, find and share with them.

Bulletin Boards

Confabb now provides all of its users with their own personal blogs, or bulletin boards, from which they can share their thoughts, opinions on the issues and experiences. This is the community member’s space; it’s intensely individual, consisting of the member’s content and comments from their readers. People can also read the musing of others within their network by clicking on the “Bulletin Board Posts within My Network” tab, which shows what others within their network are saying too.

Each board–the individual blog and the personal network bulletin board–are completely searchable by the major search engines. You will build traffic from within the community as well as anyone from around the globe with an interest in what you have to say!

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Google has just bought a lot of browsing history of the internet

I pointed out that YouTube was a particularly valuable acquisition to Google because their videos are the most embedded in other pages of any of the online video services. When you embed your own content in someone else’s web page, you get the ability to track who visits that page and when, to the extent that you can identify them. This is how Google Analytics works – there’s a small piece of javascript loaded into the page which is served from one of Google’s servers, and then everytime someone hits that page, they get the IP address, the URL of the referring page, and whatever cookies are stored with the browser for the domain. As I’ve discussed before, this is often more than enough information to uniquely identify a person with pretty high accuracy.

DoubleClick has been doing this for a lot longer than Google has, and they have a lot of history there. In addition to their ad network, Google has also just acquired that entire browsing history, profiles of the browsing of a huge chunk of the web. Google’s privacy policy does not seem to apply to information acquired from sources other than, so they’re probably free to do whatever they want with this profile data.

[Update: In perusing their privacy policy, I noted this: If Google becomes involved in a merger, acquisition, or any form of sale of some or all of its assets, we will provide notice before personal information is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy. This doesn't specify which end of the merger they're on, so maybe this does cover personal information they acquire. I wonder if they're planning on informing everyone included in the DoubleClick database.]

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Remember when DoubleClick was pretty universally reviled and sued for privacy violations a few years back?

Oh yeah.


Open letter to Apple asking for help improving medical design

Filed under: — adam @ 3:22 pm

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New in Photoshop CS3 – “Quick Selection Tool”

Filed under: — adam @ 11:07 am

They took the best of the magic wand, color range selection, magnetic lasso, and channel selection, and rolled it all up into a new kind of brush – the quick selection tool.

You paint with the brush for broad strokes to define your selection, then you have a dialog box to refine the edge with radius, contrast, smoothing, feathering, and contrast selectors, with 5 kinds of masked preview. (Also, it appears that the Refine Edges dialog is also available on all of the other selection tools.)

This alone is worth the price of the upgrade.

Documentation is non-existent in the beta, but I found this tutorial:

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The end of DRM is nigh

The iTunes store is about to start selling the entire EMI catalog DRM-free. It’s slightly more expensive, but also higher quality.

This completely destroys the rationale behind having any DRM at all. It can’t be because they’re afraid of the higher quality recordings getting out, because those are the ones they’re releasing without DRM. All that remains is shafting the customer, which is of course all that DRM is actually good for.

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Does your old PS2 play dual-layer DVD games?

Filed under: — adam @ 5:21 pm

I have an old Playstation 2 (30001 series). It has never played dual-layer DVD movies – it plays the first layer, and then freezes. Everyone I know with this model has the same issue with it. It was never a problem, because all of the games on DVD that I had were single layer. But now they’ve started releasing games on dual-layer DVD, notably God of War 2. And, of course, it won’t play on my old player. The official word from Sony is that this is a problem isolated to my machine (which also, incidentally, has stopped playing the purple CD-ROM games too), and they want me to pay $45 for a refurbished machine of the same old model. Before I do that, I’d like to locate some corroborating opinions.

Do you have an older PS2? Can it play God of War 2?

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ISPs apparently sell your clickstream data

Apparently, “anonymized” clickstream data (the urls of which websites you visited and in what order) is available for sale directly from many ISPs. There is no way that this is sufficiently anonymized. It is readily obvious from reading my clickstream who I am – urls for MANY online services contain usernames, and anyone who uses any sort of online service is almost certainly visiting their own presence far more than anything else. All it takes is one of those usernames to be tied to a real name, and your entire clickstream becomes un-anonymized, irreversibly and forever.

I’ve talked about the dangers of breaking anonymization with leaking keys before:

Short answer: It is not enough to say that a piece of data is not “personally identifiable” if it is unique and exists with a piece of personally identifiable data somewhere else. More importantly, it doesn’t even have to be unique or completely personally identifiable – whether or not you can guess who a person is from a piece of data is not a black and white distinction, and simply being able to guess who a person might be can leak some information that might confirm their identity when combined with something else.

This is also completely setting aside the fact that you have very little direct control over much of your clickstream, since there are all sorts of ways for a site you visit to get your browser to load things – popups, javascript includes, and images being the most prevalent.

Preserving anonymity is hard. This is an egregious breach of privacy. Expect lawsuits if this is true.

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Google to purge some data after 18-24 months

Filed under: — adam @ 6:33 pm

Well, that’s a nice start. Good for them.

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Confabb is hosting the Personal Democracy Forum 2007 site

Filed under: — adam @ 11:39 am

Exciting! — Confabb is hosting the site for Personal Democracy Forum 2007.

The science of politics is changing, and these are the people who are doing interesting things about it.

You can browse information about the conference (news, events, sessions, speakers, and more), and register from the site. You can use your existing Confabb login, if you have one (OpenID is coming, but not yet).

(Disclosure: I’m one of the co-founders of Confabb.)

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Followup commentary on Windows Vista

Filed under: — adam @ 12:29 am

Perry said “I think you held back too much. Tell us what you really think.”

Okay. I think Windows is rotten to the core and always has been. Between Windows 3.1 and XP, there were no serious contenders. With Win2K and XP, it’s at least had the benefits of:

1) it being reasonably possible to hammer it into sufficient shape to be usable and secure “enough”.

2) running on significantly cheaper hardware.

3) being reasonably open for a closed-source product, and at least focused towards providing a good user experience, and aimed at the needs of the end user.

4) providing a mostly effortless hardware compatibility experience. Most of the things I’ve plugged into my XP box have simply worked, without too much trouble. Sure, I’ve had to install the driver, but there are a number of things where you have to do that with OSX, too.

5) having software exclusives, and existing in the world where virtualization/emulation on other platforms was at the end-user performance level of “barely usable, if you really need it”.

All of that seems to change with Vista and the fun 2007 world it inhabits:

#1 might have been good enough with XP, but I fail to see why none of those lessons have been learned, and we have to do it all over again with a new OS, especially one which otherwise seems to provide marginal benefits.

#2 the hardware requirements for Vista seem like simply an excuse to sell more hardware for overly bloated and inefficient software, because…

#3 they’ve totally sold out to the content industry and everything has been reoriented towards content protection, all of which eats hardware resources and diminishes usability, because of which…

#4 they broke the unified driver model and so we have to start all over again with hardware compatibility, and…

#5 now there are cheaper, better alternatives for running the same software, which actually seem to work this time around.

We’ve known this all along – Unix in any flavor is superior to Windows. We’ve finally reached the complexity point in operating systems where that difference is unmistakable even if you don’t have advanced degrees in Computer Science.

I’ve been a Windows user and defender for a very long time, because of the list of five advantages above. My primary desktop still runs XP. I expect that to be the case until I need to replace it, at which point I’ll probably get a Mac, for the five same reasons. Obviously, I haven’t hit all of the reasons, but this is a big chunk of why I have little interest in Vista. It’s the same reason I got tired of manually assigning SCSI ids to all of my disks. Tinkering is fun. Sometimes, tinkering is fun even when it’s mandatory and things don’t work unless you tinker. But after a while, you just want things to work.

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Treo 700p Text Messaging Problems

Filed under: — adam @ 1:46 pm

My Treo 700p has many problems, but one of them is completely infuriating, so obviously the result of a bug, and so invasive that I can’t imagine that everyone with the same phone hasn’t seen it.

When Palm introduced the 700p, they replaced the SMS application that was used on the 600 and 650, to a new centralized messaging application. Setting aside the fact that it couldn’t import the sms messages from the old application, it obviously suffers from some sort of indexing bug, because if I have more than a handful (maybe 20-30) of messages saved on the phone, EVERY time I send a text message, the phone freezes for some amount of time before it responds again. The more messages I have saved, the longer it hangs. I’ve timed it at over 2 minutes with a lot of messages. Purging all of the existing saved messages completely fixes the problem, until a sufficient number of messages accumulate again.

This is a real pain – I often refer back to old text messages, and I feel like the phone is robbing me of some of my history by forcing me to delete them.

And it can’t just be me – with Verizon support, I tried a brand new phone with none of my programs or data installed, and the problem recurred after sending and receiving a bunch of text messages. I can’t believe that Palm hasn’t fixed this already.

Do you have a Treo 700p? Does it exhibit this problem?

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Daylight Savings Time updates this weekend

Filed under: — adam @ 5:45 pm

Congress changed Daylight Savings Time, and the changes take effect this weekend.

Most Windows and Mac machines will auto update if allowed to do so. If you have a unix box, you probably already know about this.

Don’t forget to also update your Palm and other handhelds that are DST-aware.

If you have a network-aware Palm device, you can do this over the air, with this:

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Leopard has support for ZFS

Filed under: — adam @ 8:06 pm

I’m probably a bit behind in hearing about this, but very cool nonetheless.

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My Windows Vista “review”

Filed under: — adam @ 10:23 pm

I haven’t run Vista. I have no intention of doing so. Here’s my “review” anyway:


What a total embarassment.

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It is time for the distinction between Mac software and PC software to go away

Filed under: — adam @ 6:21 pm

I’ve been thinking about the issue of Mac software vs. PC software a lot lately, particularly with the cross-platform beta and coming production release of Adobe CS3.

I’ve only been a recent convert to the Mac, and the thing that was holding me back was that certain software that I absolutely needed was not yet available on the Mac. Until recently, things I needed to do my job wouldn’t run on OS X, or wouldn’t run well, or would run perfectly well under Windows and OS X but would require me to buy another license (and a full price non-upgrade license at that) to run what was essentially the same software as I was running under Windows.

But with the conversion of the Macs to Intel chips and the consequent advent of Parallels (and eventually VMWare Fusion, which is not yet ready for prime time in my limited tryout), this distinction essentially evaporated. I could run all of the great software I wanted natively for Mac, and anything else that wasn’t available or would cost extra for the Mac version I could run under XP on Parallels. Since then, I haven’t bought any new Windows machines. Virtualization technologies existed before, of course, but the difference this time around is that Parallels works.

And now, Adobe, I’m looking squarely at you. Your license permits me to run a copy of CS2 on my desktop (which is still Windows), and one on my laptop (which is OS X). I’m not going to buy another full $1000 copy of CS2 for the Mac, so the question now is this – the license permits me to run it on my laptop, so why are you making me run it under Parallels? You’re letting me preview the beta version of CS3 on the Mac, but now you’re just teasing me, since you’ve said that there won’t be a cross-platform license available for the full version. When CS3 comes out, I’ll have no option but to buy the Windows version. Notwithstanding the fact that I already own the Windows version, that’s the only option that will let me run it on both my desktop and my laptop, there being no way to run OS X in a virtual machine. But that’s a degraded user experience for me, for no gain for you.

So why are we still dealing with this inconvenient fiction?

Here’s my call to arms to all software developers: where you’re making a Mac and Windows version of the same software available and currently require two separate licenses, collapse and simplify. Don’t make me run the Windows version under Parallels. It just makes me love you less, and the extra love goes to Parallels instead. I want to love you more.

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Jim Gray is missing, help find him

Filed under: — adam @ 2:59 pm

Jim Gray, an influential computer scientist, is missing at sea. Amazon has provided satellite imagery and is using the distributed Amazon Mechanical Turk system to enlist the public to sift through the massive amounts of data to help find him.

This is pretty extraordinary.

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Cisco owns the trademark on “iPhone”. Apple was apparently in negotiations to license the term, but had not actually completed doing so prior to the product announcement. Negotations would not seem to be going well, as Cisco has filed a suit against Apple for trademark infringment:

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The water’s GOOD, come on in

Filed under: — adam @ 1:01 am

Last week, we relaunched the GOOD site, with the very first round of new community features. We’ve got a lot planned for the next few months – this is just the beginning. But now, you can register with the site, comment on articles and posts, and vote for your favorites.

Check it out!

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Confabb is a conference portal and social networking service

Filed under: — adam @ 2:13 pm

Over the past six months, in addition to all of the other things going on in my life, including several exciting other projects, I’ve been working as the lead architect for Confabb, a comprehensive conference portal and social networking service. It’s a testament to the magic of rails and modern business practices that we’ve been able to pull this together with an entirely distributed team, some of whom have never met each other, in our spare time, with an outlay of cash measured in hundreds of dollars. On that note, the incredible rails deployment team at EngineYard deserves our unqualified thanks.

Check it out!

If you’re at all interested in conferences, we should have something interesting for you. On top of the large conference database, we’ve got features to help you track conferences you’re interested in, review and rate conferences and speakers, plus some treats for speakers and conference organizers.

The application has been an interesting ride. It fills a real need, and provides solid, useful features. After 10 years of building CMS and intranet systems for clients, I’ve spent the past few years on viscerally owning the projects I’m working on. This is the first of those launches, but it’s not the last. Stay tuned in the next few months to see what else I’m working on.

Techcrunch covered our launch today:

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Dyson Root 6 is a bit of a marketing disaster

Filed under: — adam @ 11:21 am

So… wow.

I have a Dyson upright vacuum, and it is quite simply far far better than any other vacuum cleaner I’ve ever owned. I bought the newly released Dyson Root 6, the handheld model.

The only handheld that doesn’t lose suction… while it has charge.

It’s outstandingly good from a cleaning perspective – it does actually work very very well. But what they don’t tell you is that while the battery does charge faster than others (3.5 hours), it only lasts for 5 minutes on a charge. As a result, it’s really only good for spot cleaning, and not as a general purpose dusting vacuum, which means it misses an entire big use case of a handheld vacuum – carrying it around while cleaning the house to use for dusting shelves, surfaces, ledges, nooks, crannies, etc…. When I did this, I very quickly found that I had a completely dead battery, and I had to charge it again for 3.5 hours before being able to use it again.

What’s happened here is that, like Apple, Dyson has decided that they’re going to focus on one usage pattern (keep the vac in the charger and pull it out occasionally for spills and then put it right back in the charger) and optimize that pattern, completely ignoring any other possible uses that the customer might want to put the device to. Unfortunately, in this case, I think they’re going to be hard pressed to find many people willing to shell out $150 just for spot cleaning. Because of the real-world mechanics of lithium-ion batteries, the expected usage pattern of the vac (keep it in the charger most of the time so it’s always ready for short bursts) is at odds with the strategy for maximizing the life of the battery (drain the battery completely, then recharge fully before using again), and in a year, the effective run time will be 2.5 minutes, not 5. The value proposition would be a lot better if they included a spare battery or two that you could leave in the charger and swap out with the dead one, so you could at least rotate them and have some expectation of having a live one if you’re actually using the thing. Arguably, it has advantages over, say, a dustbuster, but at at least 3-5 times the cost for less than half of the usage pattern, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

I might have been more receptive to this idea if they’d said outright – “look, we made it work for 5 minutes, but for those 5 minutes, it’ll work much better than any other handheld vac”. But they didn’t. They completely glossed over this glaring design failure, and it’s kind of a surprise. Judging from the tone of voice of the customer service tech I called to find out if this was normal, they’ve been getting this question a lot, and it sounds like they’re a bit insulted that people would harp on something that they don’t consider to be a failure while overlooking the substantial advantages that they have produced. It’s almost a case study in misunderstanding the requirements of your audience. A 5 minute battery life is not an acceptable feature for a handheld vac, and if there’s a good reason why it should be, Dyson should have made some effort to educate people instead of just throwing it out there and letting people figure it out for themselves. I suspect that there isn’t, and this is just a design flaw that they haven’t been able to fix and one they’re trying to ignore. The users of the device, unfortunately, aren’t granted such a luxury, and the failings of it are far more evident than the successes.

That said, it’s certainly an open question about whether to return it or not, because those five minutes definitely suck as much as they should.

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Smack about the Finder

Filed under: — adam @ 10:58 am

Following on my Ramblings of a Switcher post, someone got me started on what’s wrong with the Finder. Here’s a short list just off the top of my head:

1) Why is there no option to display folders first? Descending into the file tree is a decidedly different cognitive action from looking at the files in the current directory. This is an extension of the “you shouldn’t care where your files live and I’m going to make it difficult for you if you do” problem. Sort by kind is not an option if I want the files in the directory sorted alphabetically.

2) I like the idea of the multi-column file browser, but why do I have to resize each column separately, and why is that control so obtuse? If I extend the last pane so it’s wider and I can see what’s in it, but then I descend another level, why do I need to resize again? Why does making the whole window bigger not automatically resize the last pane? Why is there no sort-by control for multi-column view?

3) Why can I not browse network shares directly from the Network tab? Why do I have to mount them first and then go back to the root and find the share I just mounted?

4) When I make an alias to a directory in the left hand quick links, why can it not have a different name from the directory itself? If I have clients/x/projects and clients/y/projects, and I drag them both to that bar, they both show up as projects, and renaming the alias renames the directories. Gah!

5) Why do I still get new windows open in icon view when I have the “Open new windows in column view” preference item checked?

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Ramblings of a Switcher

Filed under: — adam @ 12:24 pm

Having moved my music and my primary laptop over to Apple machines in the past six months, there’s a lot to like, but also a lot of hate.

There are certain pieces of software that are Mac-only that I really prefer to anything available on Windows. TextMate stands out for development – while it’s not perfect, I can’t imagine doing rails coding without it anymore. Delicious Library has proven to be immensely useful for keeping track of what storage boxes I put things in when they’re rotated out to the storage space, a function I didn’t even really realize was missing until I had it. Dashboard works FAR better than anything equivalent on Windows.

On the interface side, while there are some improvements, many things are different for no apparent reason, without actually being better. This doesn’t really bother me, but it did take a little getting used to.

But what really gets me is that there are a bunch of things that are just wrong, for no apparent reason. They’d be easy to fix, but someone made an active decision that the platform was going to behave this way, and yes, I think they’re outright wrong. Some of these are problems with Apple software, some of them just problems with the general paradigm encouraged by Apple, and some problems with the specific pieces of software I’ve chosen (but which seem to be very popular in the Mac community).

  1. There are number of general interface oddities that make no sense. Why must windows only be resized from the bottom right corner? Why can’t I universally maximize windows? There’s that little green button on the interface. Who knows what it will do? Sometimes, it will maximize the current window to be full screen-ish, but just as often it does something completely useless. A particular failure of this function for which I blame Apple directly is what happens when you press this button when viewing PDF files in Preview. When reading a PDF file, I almost always want to, you know, be able to read the text on the page. The only way to do that is often to have the file fill the whole width of the screen, so the letters are large enough to be legible. There’s manual zoom in Preview, but no way to make the page fill the width of the screen. This makes reading documents in Preview unnecessarily frustrating. Hearing Apple apologists try to rationalize this away is amusing. “Oh, the Mac OS is based around the concept of having multiple windows open at once, so there’s no reason to maximize a window.” Uh, sure. Oh, I forgot, if Apple decides that it wasn’t important, I’m missing the point if I want it.
  2. There’s far too much clicking and insufficient use of keyboard shortcuts. Just about every piece of Mac software I’ve used suffers from this, but some are worse than others. For example, Omnigraffle – generally not a bad interface (although I have a list of other things that are specifically wrong with it), but there’s no way to edit the text of an item without double clicking on it. To add insult to injury, this function is even listed under the Keyboard Shortcuts section of the help.
  3. Don’t even get me started on the Finder.
  4. There’s plenty wrong with iTunes. Why is there no “currently playing” playlist? When you select an album and play it, then go look at another album, then jump to the next track, iTunes stops instead of playing the next song in the album you were listening to. There does not appear to be any way to play an entire album in the background without first making a playlist out of it. Which brings me to….
  5. iTunes management of external music folders is completely broken. There’s no way to synchronize the iTunes library with an external music source folder. If the folder is on a network drive and the network goes away for some reason, iTunes “loses” all of those tracks – they’re still listed, but they can’t be found until they’re individually played, one by one. Adding the external folder again causes all of these “missing” tracks to be doubled, and they only way to clear that out is to dump the entire library and re-add it, which also throws away all of the static playlists. iTunes, inexplicably, gives me the option to display duplicate tracks, but mysteriously no way to remove them automatically. That really helps when you’re dealing with thousands of tracks. Yes, I tried the Remove Duplicates Applescript. No, it didn’t work.

I complain, because I’d really like it to be better, and I’m surprised that it’s not. Don’t get me wrong – using the Mac is generally pretty pleasant. But these glaring flaws stick out like a sore thumb, and cast an avoidable and visceral pall over an otherwise happy experience.

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Privacy is about access, not secrecy

There’s a very important point to be made here.

Privacy in the digital age is not necessarily about secrecy, it’s about access. The question is no longer whether someone can know a piece of information, but also how easy it is to find.

If you take a bunch of available information and aggregate it to make it easily accessible, that’s arguably a worse privacy violation than taking a secret piece of information and making it “public” but putting it where no one can find it (or where they have to go looking for it).

This is a very important disctinction when you’re looking at corporate log gathering and data harvesting. Sure – your IP address or your phone number may be “public information”, but it’s still a privacy violation when it’s put in a big database with a bunch of other information about you and given to someone.

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Google has your logs (and all it took was a fart lighting video)

The non-obvious side of Google’s purchase of YouTube: Google now has access to the hit logs of every page that a YouTube video appears on, including LOTS of pages that were probably previously inaccessible to them. MySpace pages were probably going to get Google ads anyway, because of the big deal that happened there, but many others weren’t.

Add this to AdSense, the Google Web Accelerator, Google Web Analytics, and Google Maps, and that’s a lot of data being collected about browsing habits, and the number of sites you can browse without sending some data to Google has just dropped significantly.


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Songbird media player looks pretty cool

Filed under: — adam @ 12:03 pm

This looks VERY promsing.

Open source, cross-platform, extensible media player based on Mozilla to browse, collect, and play web and local media files. Sure.

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400D support is out with ACR Camera RAW 3.6

Filed under: — adam @ 11:17 am

It’s a beautiful thing. I downloaded the ACR 3.6 update (still beta, but seems stable), and the output on the 400D shots is very very good.

As predicted, with a decent RAW converter, the evident noise is strongly diminished, and the noise that remains is very very fine and can be easily removed with Noise Ninja.

Here’s a shot I took at ISO 800 with no flash:

Get the update here:

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Step by step instructions on how to set up a webcam for security monitoring

With an open source monitoring program – Dorgem.



The state of Adobe RAW processing for the Canon 400D

Filed under: — adam @ 5:01 pm

Camera RAW 3.5 doesnt support it. Camera RAW 3.6 will be out “soon”. My results with the Canon DPP processor have been pretty dismal. Lightroom Beta 4 is out, which does support it, but I haven’t really played with it yet, as it got a bit choked up (but hasn’t crashed yet) when I threw my 30,000+ photos into its library.

Some comments from Thomas Knoll (the man):

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Amazon Unbox is a travesty

I was going to write something about this, but Cory beat me to it.

Amazon Unbox has the worst terms of service I’ve seen in a long time. Like Cory, I’m a longtime Amazon supporter, and I think their customer service is outstanding, and this is a travesty. Way to fuck over the people who won’t actually read the terms because they just want to download a movie.

I only really have one thing to add with respect to the “if it has value then we have a right to charge money for it” proposition. Does the MPAA reserve the right to charge more retroactively if you enjoy a movie more than you expected to? That’s hidden value, right? This madness has to stop.

Mr. Bezos, you should be ashamed of yourself, and also whoever you put in charge of this.

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Why Johnny Can’t Code

Filed under: — adam @ 9:19 am

Interesting article by David Brin from Salon today on the lack of an educational consensus on what constitutes “the learning language”, or indeed >any< learning language at all.

It used to be BASIC – textbooks of other subjects had BASIC programs in them to try out, and it was installed everywhere. Even my Intellivision, one of the early game consoles, had a BASIC module.

Sure, it’s not good for teaching you about any modern programming concepts, but that’s less important in the beginning than understanding how computers fundamentally work.

There’s been a lot of ranting recently about how kids these days can’t program because all they learn is Java and they never get near the guts of the computer itself (because why should they learn something they’re never going to use?), but I think I agree with Brin’s point – it’s deeper than that. The prevailing opinion is that languages that force you to understand what they’re doing are not only useless but obsolete. The analogy to eating your seed corn is apt – we’re cutting off an entire generation from the hacker tools they need in order to learn how to do interesting stuff with technology instead of just put other people’s pieces together (and people who have never learned the basics are far more likely to be stumped when something doesn’t behave as they expect).

I’m not sure what the answer to this is, really, but it’s definitely worth discussing.

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Wikipedia refuses to censor in China


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Who writes Wikipedia

Filed under: — adam @ 10:46 am

Aaron Swartz, as part of his bid to join the Wikimedia board, has done some fascinating research into the posting habits of Wikipedia users. He’s come up with some patterns of how entries get created:

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Open letter to John Warnock

Filed under: — adam @ 11:36 am

‘Please consider releasing eight to twelve core fonts into the public domain. The amount of revenue lost from a small core set of fonts surely can’t have a significant impact on Adobe’s bottom line. And the gesture of releasing such a set into the public domain would have many positive ripple effects for years to come.’

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[Update: I've been informed that John Warnock is no longer the CEO of Adobe.]


AOL releases “anonymized” search data for 500k users

This is a serious breach of user privacy, and I can’t imagine there won’t be lawsuits over this.

Either they didn’t think this through, or this is the best way they could think of to raise a public outrage.

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This is a great video of the ZDNet Executive Editor explaining what’s wrong with DRM.

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Putting Comments Out of Our Misery.

Dante: You hate people!
Randal: But, I love gatherings, isn’t it ironic?

I hate comments. But I love conversations. As I peruse the web, I find myself (as many of us do) drawn to leave comments across the pages that other people have written. But it’s an incomplete puzzle – a comment as it exists now is an endpoint. It may lead to something else, but it’s up to someone else to figure out what that thing may be, or even if that evolution will happen at all. Comments tend to follow one of two patterns, neither of them productive:

  1. The comment thread trails off as people get disinterested, and nothing really comes of it.
  2. The comment thread gets so long that it’s impossible to follow, things get repeated, and the people commenting on the last page aren’t really talking to the people on the first page. Nothing really comes of it.

The process isn’t helping us out here. We haven’t even gotten into vanity comments, flame wars, or any of that stuff that’s detrimental.

Working on ORGware, we’re revamping comments. We’re starting with two major changes, and there will be others. The first big change is that every comment you leave on someone else’s post also gets posted on your own blog, and it will have to be positively rated before it appears anywhere else. If you want to blather on about whatever, you’re free to do that, but you won’t be allowed to join the discussion unless some threshold of other people think you have something useful to say. That’s a relatively minor one, but it’s important. It shifts the focus of the comment from the commenter to the discussion, and it makes it possible for the community to weed out (passively, by ignoring) the irrelevant wanderings.

The second change is far more interesting, and it deals with how the comment thread metamorphosizes into something else entirely – a discussion with usable output. Right now, you post, people comment, maybe people make followup posts on their own blogs… and if you want more than that, you have to do it yourself. We’re building in another step. Comments on their own, for any post that has an action output, are no longer an endpoint – they’re a stepping stone to writing that action output. Writing “good” comments (in the opinion of the original author and/or the community) gets you an invitation to help edit that output product, which can become a letter, or a fax, or an email, or even a followup post for more discussion. Britt has posted a good overview of the interface I designed for this, which we’re simply calling the comment editor now until we come up with a better term.

More to come…

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This is seriously badass

Filed under: — adam @ 3:00 pm

“This is a HOWTO that describes how to take a stock RedHat9 system and convert it to Gentoo, remotely over ssh and while it is running.”

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How to troubleshoot your HD picture

Filed under: — adam @ 9:46 pm

Seems like a useful article from Popular Mechanics on some common things that can go wrong with HD.

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Skype protocol reportedly broken

Filed under: — adam @ 3:43 pm

A Chinese company is claiming to have produced software that will seamlessly integrate with Skype.

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Pixmantec acquired by Adobe

Filed under: — adam @ 2:22 pm

I got word this morning that Pixmantec was acquired by Adobe. Great going, guys!

Rawshooter is by far my favorite raw converter, and it’ll be great to see those tools integrated into the Adobe suite.

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Finally, a good use for Flash

Filed under: — adam @ 5:37 pm

Gliffy is an online diagram maker (a la Visio).

You all know how I feel about diagrams. This rocks!

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Apple is about to lose a few hundred thousand users

Filed under: — adam @ 8:05 am

Cory Doctorow switches to Ubuntu, following Mark Pilgrim:

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On the integration of Web 2.0 apps

Filed under: — adam @ 9:48 am

Britt sent me this link lamenting the lack of interaction between Web 2.0 services:

This is an interesting and correct observation, but let’s look at an analogous situation – unix command line tools.

Unix is designed around the pipe – the ability to string long chains of commands together, each of which only does a small thing, to accomplish what you actually want to do. There are some places where this breaks down, but by and large, this method has been spectacularly successful.

Web2.0 apps are much better positioned to emulate this than Web1.0 apps, but they’re still not there yet.

What’s missing is the switches that enable those apps to play nice with other apps.

You’re probably familiar with ls, which lists files in a directory:

fields@server2:~$ ls /tmp
mysql-snapshot-20060621.tar.gz mysql-snapshot-20060621_master_status.txt

ls also has another mode, that outputs a long listing, which includes more detailed information about the files:

fields@server2:~$ ls -l /tmp
total 841520
-rw-r–r– 1 root root 860863512 Jun 22 19:08 mysql-snapshot-20060621.tar.gz
-rw-r–r– 1 root root 382 Jun 22 18:50 mysql-snapshot-20060621_master_status.txt

Once you have that, you can pass the list to other programs that may want to filter the list by one of those pieces of data. The default mode is useful for dealing with the files themselves, but less useful if you want to interact with their metadata. What if the -l flag was left out, and that behavior was restricted to maintain ls’s competetive advantage (in the hypothetical situation where it’s something provided by your filesystem vendor)? If the information you’re looking for isn’t returned at all, you may have no other way to get at it. Maybe you’d have to use the vendor’s lslong, which costs money. You may be just fine with that, or you may be compelled to look for a filesystem competitor that does what you want. I’d argue that ls is less useful without that ability. That’s the situation we’re looking at when a Web 2.0 API is lacking certain core features to interact with the data it represents.

Is that an acceptable tradeoff? Maybe it is for a free service. It seems less so for a service you pay for, because fundamentally, you’re paying for the ability to manage your data, not for the ability to use the particular software – that’s the whole concept behind software as a service in the first place.

This is, of course, made more complicated by the fact that Web 2.0 isn’t just data sharing, it’s also about more dynamic interfaces. Theoretically, these two are interconnected and the dynamic interfaces work better because they can deal with small chunks of data that are in more standardized formats, and also theoretically, the data access mechanics are decoupled from the actual interaction semantics, which would have the effect of making outside non-gui access to your data easier with standard tools. In practice, that seems to rarely happen.

This is the only good rationale I’ve heard for using XML for gui/backend interchange.

These are good things to be thinking about when designing web applications. It’s not enough to think of them in a vacuum; we have to consider the implications of living in the ecosystem. It’s possible that that means opening up far more access to the underlying workings than we’re accustomed to. I would LOVE to see some applications that fully work if you take away the browser front-end, but still interact in exactly the same way via HTTP.

[Update: More on this discussion from Phil Windley.]

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New Thunderbird function – Group By Sort

Filed under: — adam @ 8:22 am

I noticed that sometime recently, Thunderbird added a new item to the View menu – Group By Sort. (If you don’t see it, it’s time to upgrade. If it’s greyed out, you need to choose a different sort key.)

This is really cool!

If you’re sorted by date, the mailbox displays as groups characteristic of the message date – Today, Yesterday, Last Week, Two Weeks Ago, Old Mail.

If you’re sorted by sender, you get a group for each sender.

Now, we only need the ability to sort the groups separately…

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Why Mark Pilgrim is switching to Linux

Filed under: — adam @ 9:02 am

John Gruber has written this great piece analyzing the rationale behind Mark Pilgrim’s switch from OSX to Linux and the critics of the argument.

There are some truths in there:

“Telling Pilgrim that he’s making a mistake because Ubuntu doesn’t have as refined or cohesive a UI as Mac OS X is like telling someone who is switching from a Chevy Tahoe to a Toyota Prius that he’s not going to have as much cargo room. He knows it.”

“If your reaction to Pilgrim’s announcement was a snap judgment that he’s lost it, or that he’s being an asshole who’s just looking for attention as the guy who switched away from the Mac just at the time when it (the Mac) seems poised to become more popular than ever, or that he’s an open source fanatic who just can’t be reasoned with or trusted — are you sure that the zealotry at play is his?”

“I’m deeply suspicious of Mac users who claim to be perfectly happy with Mac OS X. Real Mac users, to me, are people with much higher standards, impossibly high standards, and who use Macs not because they’re great, but because they suck less than everything else. Pilgrim, to me, is a quintessential Mac user in that regard; and what he’s doing is wondering if maybe things might suck less somewhere else.”

I find myself thinking the same thoughts often as I struggle with switching my desktop away from Windows to Linux. I’ve done it in the past, but the simple fact is that there are things on Windows that need in order to get my work done that don’t exist on Linux yet. Someday. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

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I’m about to waste your whole day (and your wallet won’t like me either)

Filed under: — adam @ 9:48 am

Pandora is a music recommendation network.

It’s extremely easy to use.

You tell it a song or artist you like, and it builds you a customized “station” based on songs that are like that. At each song, you tell it whether you like it or not, and it learns. Alternately, you can branch off a new station based on any song playing.

I have not yet signed up or reviewed the privacy policy, but this seems intensely cool.

Also, it’s integrated with the Squeezebox, which I’ve recently obtained, and about which I’ll be writing a full review.

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Opera 9 is out

Filed under: — adam @ 1:00 pm

I’m a huge fan of Opera; I’ve been using it on an off since around version 2. It got really good at version 5, and became my primary browser of choice until I switched to Firefox because version 7 was crap. But version 8 was great again, and now 9 is a big improvement over that. It’s fast, it’s smooth, standards support is better, they made some usability fixes, and it’s pleasant. I haven’t really delved into widgets yet, but those seem well-suited to being in the browser instead of in some standalone app.

Also, the development team is blogging. They’ve been releasing weekly snapshots, most of which have been great, leading up to this release. They’ll continue doing so going forward.

Congratulations, guys!

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All video is suspect

Filed under: — adam @ 10:18 am

Fascinating movie about the process of making Marlon Brando speak new lines for Superman Returns.

Remember when you first realized that everything you saw in a photo could be faked and you couldn’t tell the difference? It’s here for video too.

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Testing different monitor calibration targets

Filed under: — adam @ 8:53 am

With the purchase of new monitors (see also, I noticed that I was getting really muddy blacks, even though I had the contrast set properly. Through some trial and error, I discovered that the Spyder2Pro I was using to calibrate was wiping out whatever changes I made to the contrast and brightness settings, and flattening about the lower fifth of the gradient curve to black.

I discovered that I could alleviate this by calibrating to a different gamma/temperature target – I had been using the windows default of 2.2-6500K. Through some more trial and error, I found that the “right” balance seems to be 1.6-6400K – colors are still crisp, and I still get a good range of shadows. I think I may have thought that my old monitors had some limitations that they didn’t, and the calibration was at fault instead of the hardware.

Have you experimented with different gamma/temperature targets? I know the mac defaults to 1.8-6500K, but when I tried that one, it was still way too dark in the shadows (testing on a 64-band gradient). 1.6-6400K looks great, but it seems like a weird number to end up at.

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Portrait monitors

Filed under: — adam @ 4:46 pm

After several years of a dual-head display, I made a similar leap today – dual-head portrait monitors. (I went from 1280×1024 landscape on each to 1200×1600 portrait). They’re slightly narrower physically than my old monitors, but much taller. lost 160 horizontal pixels, but I picked up 576 vertical ones, and that makes all the difference.

They seem very tall – it’s REALLY nice to have that much vertical screen real estate, and I was missing being able to fill the screen with a page of text and have it be nearly the whole width of the screen.

I can see how this might be a little awkward if you do a lot of gaming or video, but for document editing, web browsing, coding, and email, it’s great.

[update: Here's a picture.]

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Collected thoughts on the futility of online communities

This is a long post collecting comments and thoughts from some emails and conversations with Britt Blaser, Doc Searls, and others. Some of this is from external impressions of the Dean campaign (I wasn’t involved, and I haven’t found a good postmortem), but also about my own participation in online communities and the lack of incentive that I often feel to do so.

There is a huge untapped market for community software. There’s a lot of “community software” out there, and it all fails on the same key point – it’s all centered on the software itself (or more specifically, the website experience), and fundamentally, communities don’t happen in discussion groups or impersonal online participation. People come to a community like dailykos or metafilter or whatever, and they “join” the community, but those ties are fragile, and the experience of most participants is that they almost never extend to anything beyond participating in the online community itself. If you suddenly disappear, no one will come looking for you. This is not the same as an actual community.

Reading isn’t participation in a community. Writing to the public isn’t participation in a community, and the fatal flaw of the existing approach is that the underlying assumption is that the collective act of reading and writing is equal to participation. This is especially misleading if the online community is supposed to be mirroring some sort of participation in the real world, like political involvement.

The end result is exactly what we saw with the Dean campaign, as perceived by an outsider. Lots of “participation”, lots of “involvement”, but everybody sat around reading and writing and thinking that they were somehow involved, but when it came down to it, no one got up to vote.

Now, actually, there’s a corollary problem here, which is that the online community itself, while very vocal, was also VERY bad at doing anything to engage anyone outside of the online community, because they spent all of their time reading and writing, and those activities, even as they fail to engage those inside the online community to action, COMPLETELY fail to engage anyone outside the online community.

As I wrote the above, the universe graciously provided a perfect example to illustrate my point:,,1788774,00.html

It’s an article about the futility of discussing things online, which has somehow accumulated an inordinate number of comments.

I’ll pause for a moment while that sinks in.

So, we have some problems to fix. Participation in the online community needs to have the following properties:

1) It should be centered around activity that breaks out of the online community. This needn’t actually be physical meetings, although those are also good, but all actions must be classified as “inward” (aimed towards engaging with others in the online community) or “outward” (aimed towards engaging with other outside the online community). EVERY inward action must have a corresponding outward action. If it doesn’t, there’s already a name for this – it’s called “preaching to the choir”, and it’s the death of activism.

2) It should allow and encourage those inside the online community to engage with each other temporarily to reinforce the commitments of those who are already involved, but all such actions should be considered subsidiary to engaging with others outside the online community. Think of this as the difference between vegetables (outward) and chocolate (inward). A little bit of the latter is very rewarding and tastes good, but if that’s all you eat, you get fat and die.

3) It should allow those in the online community to evolve internally the mechanisms for accomplishing goals outside the online community. This may involve consensus building, electing representatives inside the online community, collaborative letter writing, legislation hashing, and so on.

4) It must have a mechanism for elimination of cruft. Old ideas, bad ideas, unpopular ideas, and irrelevant ideas are all barriers to entry. The online community must be able to decide on what the salient points are, and delete the rest. I’ve had it with relativistic egalitarianism. There is such a thing as a bad idea, and they’re distracting and harmful. We need to create a marketplace where all ideas have an equal opportunity to flourish, but if they don’t, then let’s be done with them. Archive the discussion for posterity, and clear it out of the center of attention.

It’s not enough to talk, communities must be a driver for action.

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Google Government search

I think it’s simultaneously good that Google is turning a watchful eye on the government, but also somewhat creepy that they’re putting themselves in the position of proxying people’s access to potentially sensitive information. I do NOT think that the Google privacy policy is sufficient to cover this situation.

As many have predicted, this is also likely to expose some interesting accidentally unprotected things at some point in the future.

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Software radio is here, and it’s open source

Filed under: — adam @ 2:15 pm

I’ve been talking about software radio for a while, and wondering when it would become cheap. Basically, all wireless devices are just radios of different kinds, and there’s no theoretical reason why one device couldn’t talk to them all. Except that it was prohibitively expensive, but apparently it’s not anymore.,70933-0.html

This is very very cool.

The software’s open source, and the hardware is cheap:

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The motivations of wiretapping

Boingboing points out this Wired article about a reporter who crashed a conference of wiretapping providers, mentioning this quotation in particular:

‘He sneered again. “Do you think for a minute that Bush would let legal issues stop him from doing surveillance? He’s got to prevent a terrorist attack that everyone knows is coming. He’ll do absolutely anything he thinks is going to work. And so would you. So why are you bothering these guys?”‘

It’s an interesting read, but I fundamentally disagree with the above statement, and this is the problem.

It’s not the surveillance that bothers me, it’s the resistance to oversight, even after the fact.

If there was any confidence that what they were doing was a reasonable tradeoff, they wouldn’t have to a) lie or b) break the law to do it. Yet they’ve done both of these things.

If the law enforcement community said “well shit, we’re out of ideas about how to stop these people, and so we really need to have our computers read everyone’s email and tap everyone’s phones and we guarantee that this information won’t be used for anything else, and anyone we find doing something nefarious will be dealt with according to due process”, then we could, you know, engage in a meaningful discussion about this. And then we could move on to the fact that “terrorist” is not a useful designation for a criminal, and then maybe we could fire the people who thought up this brilliant idea and find someone who would practice actual security because wholesale surveillance and profiling have been widely debunked as largely useless for anything besides persecution, political attacks, and invasions of privacy.

But we won’t, because that’s not what this is about.

This opinion of a member of the Dutch National Police is particularly telling:

‘He said that in the Netherlands, communications intercept capabilities are advanced and well established, and yet, in practice, less problematic than in many other countries. “Our legal system is more transparent,” he said, “so we can do what we need to do without controversy. Transparency makes law enforcement easier, not more difficult.”

The technology exists, it’s not going away, and it’s really not the problem. The secrecy is the problem.,71022-1.html

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Better presentation of search results

Filed under: — adam @ 12:40 pm

I just happened to notice that Clusty, which I’ve been using for searching for the past few months (their privacy policy is better than the others, although not perfect, and the results are mostly indistinguishable from Google’s or Yahoo’s), has some neat little buttons next to each result that are totally unobtrusive, to the point that I only even realized they were there today, but also extremely useful.

Two of them are kind of standard (open in a new window, and view the cluster for the search result), but the other one is so mindbogglingly obvious that I’m ashamed that they don’t all do this.

It’s preview. Click it and the link opens up in a small frame underneath the result without leaving the page. Even PDFs.


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10,000 sheep drawn by the Amazon Mechanical Turk service

Filed under: — adam @ 10:04 am

Definitely click the “More…” link.

This is indicative of something, but I’m not sure what.

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Not terribly impressed with the flickr redesign

Filed under: — adam @ 9:53 am

Flickr got a big redesign this week. Some of the visual tweaks are good, but overall, my feeling is “really? that’s it?”.

The thumbnails are bigger, and there are more per page by default. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?

I don’t understand why the sets moved from the left to the right, but there’s still a whole bunch of wasted white space on the page.

The new organizational structure doesn’t really seem to make navigating the site much easier, except that the archive page is easier to find. That’s good.

The new Organizr is AJAX instead of Flash, and it doesn’t work in Opera. Ditto for basically all of the other new dynamic elements on the page. Thanks for that, I guess. Everyone else seems to be able to make AJAX pages that work fine in Opera. Why can’t you?

Where’s the large version slideshow? Where’s the setting to view all pictures from your contacts? Where’s the ability to navigate your contacts’ pictures as if they were a set or a group?

Flickr’s still great, of course, but I’m thoroughly underwhelmed by the changes.

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Good articles on using RAID1 with linux

Filed under: — adam @ 7:29 am

I have my big data drives on a RAID5 array, but they can’t boot individually if the array fails. RAID1 addresses that problem.

These links are helpful for migrating an existing system to using a RAID1 boot/root disk setup.

That first is particularly good, as it details how to set up the array with a failed member initially so you can get it set up, copy your data to it on the new drive, then add your existing drive to it, without overwriting your existing contents. I haven’t tried it yet, but the instructions look right. The others are about using grub with RAID1 drives.

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Autonomous robot does heart surgery!

Filed under: — adam @ 9:28 am

Wow, the future is now!

The Italian expert has used the robot surgeon for at least 40 previous operations, some of which have been described in detail in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The novelty of this latest experience is that the robot was able to conduct the entire procedure by itself. In the past it needed specific orders from its operator along the way.

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Dinner with Britt and Doc

I had the rare and interesting pleasure of having dinner with Britt Blaser and Doc Searls last night, since Doc is in town for Syndicate (which I’ve never attended, but which does seem to attract fascinating conversations to my doorstep every year).

Doc and Britt

Asked to pick a restaurant for our gathering, I suggested D’Or Ahn, a newish Korean fusion place in west Chelsea. I’d eaten there a few times, and the food has always been top-rate. Unfortunately, the sushi chef was out for the evening (for reasons I didn’t entirely catch, but which seemed to involve some sort of surgery), so their wonderful raw bar was closed. However, the rest of their selection more than makes up for it. The menu is somewhat confusing, separated into “raw”, “cold”, “hot”, and “main” (which are also hot) sections, but the best advice is simply to ignore that, order for the table, and share everything. Flavor is the overriding component here, and everything is full of it, with rich but not overpowering sauces.

Scallops are outstanding now, so we opted for those, prepared a few ways, from a simple pan sear to encased in a crispy sesame leaf (the latter was delightful). The slightly seared duck breast with droplets of foie gras was, as expected, delicious (and it’s hard to go wrong with those ingredients). I’m a huge fan of braised meats in general, and their short rib preparation is beautiful, with a celeriac puree that’s ethereal mixed with slightly crunchy green onion slivers. Their take on the classic Korean dish bibimbop rounded out our selection of “appetizers”. I would have liked to have the rice a bit crunchier, but the flavor of the mushrooms mixed with a lightly soft cooked egg mixed into the rice leaves nothing to complain about. For the “main”, we split the lobster, which is literally a split lobster served spiced and grilled with a melon confit and a lobster claw chunk porridge. Lobster and melon is a combination I first discovered a few years ago in Maine, and I was instantly hooked. The sweet fruit complements every one of the notes in the sweet meat.

We paired everything with one of my favorite sakes – Otokoyama – served cold in boxes.

For dessert, we did an apple (a cake with sorbet) and cheese course (a Fourme d’Ambert “grilled cheese”), which were the two choices we wanted to try. Much as they did not go together in the least, both were still excellent. Their desserts tend to range from enjoyable to outstanding, and I’ve never been disappointed. A few glasses of port rounded out the libations.


But of course, the food was secondary to the conversation. With these two heavyweights across the table, the topics ranged across the board, from social networking, to how to handle spam and read email with mutt, to hacks for piloting a zero-g suspension flight (I’ve never had the honor), and of course to politics and the role of technology. Some portion of what was said can not or should not be replicated in a public forum, and so I won’t, but there was one great new idea (to me) mentioned in the course of a discussion about Doc’s new Santa Barbara community trying to get very high speed internet access and looking to bypass the traditional carriers who refuse to provide the kind of speeds they want. Britt mentioned Free Entry, a term which I’d never heard before. In a certain sense, this concept defines the growth of disruptive web services – if the current provider isn’t doing a good enough job, they should be replaced by someone who’s selling what people want to buy. This goes right to the heart of why lock-in legislation to protect antiquated business models is a bad bad bad idea. It doesn’t protect competition, it’s not an incentive to develop, it’s simply “protection” for companies to foist bad products on consumers who want something better. Disruptive business models work, because they’re good for the consumer.

It’s such a simple idea, yet so rarely practiced. If people don’t want to buy what you’re selling, sell something better. It’s almost the opposite of traditional advertising. It was a strong theme of the evening.

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(Larger photos)


MIT hacked out party dorm room

Filed under: — adam @ 9:21 am

“Since moving into my dorm this last fall, my roommate RJ Ryan and I have been working on creating the most elaborate automation system we could envision. Featuring everything from web control, voice activation, and a security system, to large continuously running information displays, electric blinds, and one-touch parties, the
custom designed MIDAS Automation System has brought ease to our lives (if one doesn’t count all the time it took to actually build and program the system).”

One doesn’t.


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Bosses generally suck

Filed under: — adam @ 4:19 pm

Hah, fooled you. This is a gaming post, not a business post. Wired article on the greatness of boss battles:,70832-0.html

I disagree. I often find the boss battles to be the most tedious parts of the game. Instead of another interesting level, you’re treated to a 10-30 minute repetetive motion fest until you can find the one pattern that works against the increasingly overpowered enemy.

Sometimes, this is well done, but often not. I’d feel better about them if the boss battles required a little strategy or intelligence beyond “Find the four switches/weak spots/colors, hit them in order, then the boss will reveal the little extra boss inside the other boss and you can kill that too. And once you figure out the trick, the next three are all exactly the same as the first one, and between doing these tasks, you have to run in circles to avoid the predictable fireballs/rocks/energy blasts.”

The Vizier in Prince of Persia 3? Nope, I don’t think so. That battle almost killed me with its tedium alone. I could almost hear Hank Azaria’s character narrating along between hits … “dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!” And to add insult to injury, after a fantastic game about sand powers and time travel, you get to use almost none of those interesting powers, because there’s no refill sand during the battle. Bleh.

God of War was refreshing in this instance, by accident. They had to leave some of the bosses out due to time pressure, and I’ve never been so relieved as I was when progressing from one really interesting level to another really interesting level without another button masher in the middle.

The boss battles should be woven into the pace of the game, not grind it to a halt. Integrate the boss battles into everything else. Have other stuff going on at the same time. Punctuate it. Don’t make me start all over unless I do every single keypress right. If the way to kill the boss is to find the pattern and do something specific more than once, you’ve done something wrong. When done well, boss battles can be interesting. But they rarely are anything more than a placeholder for a lack of gameplay imagination.

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Sony can’t make up its mind if music is sold or licensed

Filed under: — adam @ 9:21 am

At issue is whether the music sold through these services is a “license” or a “sale.” Sony pays less to its artists for sales than for licensing (Sony artists reportedly earn $0.045 for each $0.99 song sold on iTunes). Naturally, Sony claims that the songs sold on iTunes are sales and not licensing deals.

This is where it gets interesting. As Brad Templeton and others have pointed out, Sony and others have long maintained that what you get when you buy an iTune is a license, not ownership of a product. That license prohibits you from doing all kinds of otherwise lawful things, like selling your music to a used-record store, loaning it to a friend, or playing it on someone else’s program.

But if Sony says that it’s selling products (and therefore only liable for 4.5 cents in royalties to its artists) and not licenses, then how can it bind us, its customers, to licensing terms?

Good question.

The distinction between sale and license is VERY important. The trend has been towards licensing instead of selling, and the difference has not been a big part of the public dialogue.

I wrote about this a while ago, with respect to DRM, consumer usage rights, and how this pattern might affect other kinds of consumer transactions if they followed the same rules:

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I’m reading this on my left monitor

Filed under: — adam @ 1:37 pm

I’ve been a convert to a dual-head display for a long time now.



How to fix a non-booting Windows XP box

Filed under: — adam @ 3:31 pm

Seems useful.

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An important first step towards unmanufacturing

Filed under: — adam @ 11:08 am

Nokia phones are going to use a heat disassembly process that allows them to be broken down into their constituent materials, which can then be separately recycled. It’s not quite unmanufacturing, but it’s the first thing I’ve heard about a step in the right direction.,6771,27610,00.html

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Where to buy linux laptops

Filed under: — adam @ 11:00 am

I found this pretty comprehensive list of which laptops support linux:

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Impacts of Eolas patent on web pages

Filed under: — adam @ 9:43 am

Due to a lost patent claim, on April 11th, Active X controls (all embedded objects in IE) will have changed behavior and will require an “activation click” before they can be interacted with.,1895,1943847,00.asp

1) This does not affect pure DHTML/javascript, only DHTML/javascript that interacts with embedded applets.

2) As described in the MS article and some of the links below, it is possible to bypass the restriction by loading the objects from an external page, and this can be automated in some circumstances. Apparently, Adobe/Macromedia is also working on better fixes.

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Apple introduces dual booting XP on Intel Macs

Filed under: — adam @ 8:57 am

“Boot Camp simplifies Windows installation on an Intel-based Mac by providing a simple graphical step-by-step assistant application to dynamically create a second partition on the hard drive for Windows, to burn a CD with all the necessary Windows drivers, and to install Windows from a Windows XP installation CD. After installation is complete, users can choose to run either Mac OS X or Windows when they restart their computer.”

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Turning off the Blizzard background downloader

Filed under: — adam @ 8:10 am

Apparently, with a recent update, the Blizzard background downloader defaults to on all the time. Since it uses Bittorrent, this means that even if you’re not actively downloading updates, you’re still using your bandwidth for uploading pieces of it to other players.

Maybe that’s okay with you, but it really ought to be a personal decision and not something that’s foisted off on you. Here’s how to turn it off if not:

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Hidden dangers for consumers – Trojan Technologies

I’ve been collecting examples of cases where there are hidden dangers facing consumers, cases where the information necessary to make an informed decision about a product isn’t obvious, or isn’t included in most of the dialogue about that product. Sometimes, this deals with hidden implications under the law, but sometimes it’s about non-obvious capabilities of technology.

We’re increasingly entering situations where most customers simply can’t decide whether a certain product makes sense without lots of background knowledge about copyright law, evidence law, network effects, and so on. Things are complicated.

So far, I have come up with these examples, which would seem to be unrelated, but there’s a common thread – they’re all bad for the end user in non-obvious ways. They all seem safe on the surface, and often, importantly, they seem just like other approaches that are actually better, but they’re carrying hidden payloads – call them “Trojan technologies”.

To put it clearly, what I’m talking about are the cases where there are two different approaches to a technology, where the two are functionally equivalent and indistinguishable to the end user, but with vastly different implications for the various kinds of backend users or uses. Sometimes, the differences may not be evident until much later. In many circumstances, the differences may not ever materialize. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.

  • Remote data storage. I wrote a previous post about this, and Kevin Bankston of the EFF has some great comments on it. Essentially, the problem is this. To the end user, it doesn’t matter where you store your files, and the value proposition looks like a tradeoff between having remote access to your own files or not being able to get at them easily because they’re on your desktop. But to a lawyer asking for those files, it makes a gigantic difference in whether they’re under your direct control or not. On your home computer, a search warrant would be required to obtain them, but on a remote server, only a subpoena is needed.
  • The recent debit card exploit has shed some light on the obvious vulnerabilities in that system, and it’s basically the same case. To a consumer, using a debit card looks exactly the same as using a credit card. But the legal ramifications are very different, and their use is protected by different sets of laws. Credit card liability is typically geared in favor of the consumer – if your card is subject to fraud, there’s a maximum amount you’ll end up being liable for, and your account will be credited immediately, as you simply don’t owe the money you didn’t charge yourself. Using a debit card, the money is deducted from your account immediately, and you have to wait for the investigation to be completed before you get your refund. A lot of people recently discovered this the hard way. There’s a tremendous amount of good coverage of debit card fraud on the Consumerist blog.
  • The Goodmail system, being adopted by Yahoo and AOL, is a bit more innocuous on the surface, but it ties into the same question. On the face of it, it seems like not a terrible idea – charge senders for guaranteed delivery of email. But the very idea carries with it, outside of the normal dialogue, the implications of breaking network neutrality (the concept that all traffic gets equal treatment on the public internet) that extend into a huge debate being raged in the confines of the networking community and the government, over such things as VoIP systems, Google traffic, and all kinds of other issues. I’m not sure if this really qualifies in the same league as my other examples, but I wanted to mention it here anyway. There’s a goodmail/network neutrality overview discussion going on over on Brad Templeton’s blog.
  • DRM is sort of the most obvious. Consumers can’t tell what the hidden implications of DRM are. This is partly because those limitations are subject to change, and that in itself is a big part of the problem. The litany of complaints is long – DRM systems destroy fair use, they’re security risks, they make things complicated for the user. I’ve written a lot about DRM in the past year and a half.
  • 911 service on VoIP is my last big example, and one of the first ones that got me started down this path. This previous post, dealing with the differences between multiple kinds of services called “911 service” on different networks, is actually a good introduction to this whole problem. I ask again ‘Does my grandmother really understand the distinction between a full-service 911 center and a “Public Safety Answering Point”? Should she have to, in order to get a phone where people will come when she dials 911?

I don’t have a good solution to this, beyond more education. This facet must be part of the consumer debate over new technologies and services. These differences are important. We need to start being aware, and asking the right questions. Not “what are we getting out of this new technology?“, but “what are we giving up?“.

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Claim your settlement from Sony

If you bought an infected CD from Sony, you’re entitled to some benefits under the lawsuit settlement:

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Zfone is simple encrypted voip telephony

Filed under: — adam @ 9:30 am

Phil Zimmermann, the guy who brought you PGP, has just released a public beta of his new open source encrypted VOIP software – Zfone. The beta is Mac/linux only, the Windows version will be out in a month or so.

It’s an encrypting proxy for SIP calls using pre-existing software. I don’t know enough about how the protocol works to say if this would work with things like Vonage or not.

“In the future, the Zfone protocol will be integrated into standalone secure VoIP clients, but today we have a software product that lets you turn your existing VoIP client into a secure phone. The current Zfone software runs in the Internet Protocol stack on any Windows XP, Mac OS X, or Linux PC, and intercepts and filters all the VoIP packets as they go in and out of the machine, and secures the call on the fly. You can use a variety of different software VoIP clients to make a VoIP call. The Zfone software detects when the call starts, and initiates a cryptographic key agreement between the two parties, and then proceeds to encrypt and decrypt the voice packets on the fly. It has its own little separate GUI, telling the user if the call is secure.”

Zfone has been tested with these VoIP clients and VoIP services:
VoIP clients: X-Lite, Gizmo, and SJphone.
VoIP service providers: Free World Dialup,, and SIPphone.

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Google forced to release records by the court

As predicted, U.S. Judge James Ware intends to force Google to hand over the requested data to the DoJ.

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Massive fraud alert on Citibank ATMs

Filed under: — adam @ 4:17 pm

Some kind of massive fuckup is going on with the international ATM network, possibly a class break of the interbank ATM network. Lots of conflicting information, but it’s pretty clear that things are not going well:

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