I Control the Vertical

I was unable to get to Portland yesterday to deliver a talk and be part of a meeting of the community wireless networking group Personal Telco due to car trouble, but we worked out a partial solution. Using an Apple iSight video camera with iChat AV, I was piped in remotely.I gave part of my talk with NetGate's Jim Thompson (the other speaker) advancing slides for me. When that proved a little untenable, we switched to Q&A. They had me piped in via the sound system and the video output from Jim's PowerBook was fed into a projector. Here's me on the big screen. It worked remarkably well despite some bandwidth crowding on their end -- some packet shaping would help, and next time around we could probably do something on both ends to make it be clearer. The big problem with iSight is that the sound range is quite short. It can focus over large distances, but doesn't work well in low light conditions. The sound is best focused at a few feet and gets muddy beyond that. Still, this was a pretty decent thing to try, and I'm inspired to see if it could be a model for more interesting meetings in the future with remote speakers.

Orkut Me

Somebody please invite me to Orkut. I received an invitation, but I actually thought it was a virus and deleted it.Update: I've been Orkutted (Orkat?). Thanks! You can now ask me to invite you, if you're my friend. (You know who you are.)

Write for Free, Win a Hard Drive

DevShed, which I wrote for several years ago when it launched, has a contest which is one of the weirdest things I've ever seen in the attempt to get free writing for a site. The contest involves writing a 1,500-word article suitable for publication on the site. The article becomes the exclusive property of DevShed regardless of whether you win or lose.The prize? A 60 Gb USB 2.0 hard drive worth a few hundred bucks. There's no limit on the number of entries. Their standard writing fee is $50 per article for folks they've contracted with. According to their standard deal is that you become a paid writer by trying out through submitting to them two well-written articles that they're allowed to publish for free. The reward for all of this is getting what appears to be a pretty high amount of exposure: they claim 300,000 daily page views and 100,000 subscribers to their newsletter.

Feisty

Congress in its limited wisdom is pushing forward a bill that will allow the copyrighting of facts in a database.Didn't Feist v. Rural Telephone Service settle this issue at the Supreme Court level? My understanding is that if you want to change this, you'll need a constitutional amendment, not another law. Fortunately, many huge companies are opposed to this law because it will cause many, many spurious lawsuits and have a chilling effect that doesn't benefit anyone but a few companies that themselves are licensing information from many sources and reselling it or compiling it from public sources. I've argued that Amazon.com can't actually protect most of the information it provides, even with licensing. Even if I agree to not copy their information and use it (or resell it), I don't believe that it's a binding contract because of Feist v. I'm not prepared to challenge it...but they're on the against side of this latest bill.

Free After Rebate

My colleague Kevin Savetz is co-running Free After Rebate, a hilariously useful Web site full of stuff that's free once you send in the rebate (sometimes including free shipping). There are currently a couple of free-after-rebate 802.11b USB adapters, very useful for older machines that lack PC Card slots or built-in Wi-Fi -- or you just don't want to pay $30 to $50 to adapt to Wi-Fi!

Apple's Software Future

A few days ago, I filed this column in the Seattle Times about Apple's 2003 performance for users. I rated hardware high and software low.Sure enough, some of my specific complaints were address: iPhoto and iMovie, two pokey and slightly broken but highly useful programs were part of the revised iLife '04 package that Apple introduced this last week with major improvements. iPhoto can now handle more than a few hundred photos and iMovie added a few editing tweaks that will solve much of the irritation factor. Not mentioned were Address Book (useful, but not great), iCal (better in its current version, but highly limited), iSync (works for some people, but broken in many respects), AppleWorks (hardly budged in years), and Keynote (still feels very version 0.8beta to me). It's a little unfair of me to point to all of these packages and not others. Safari and Mail were both revved in Panther, and both are pretty great pieces of software: Safari is well rounded and Mail is well suited to its particular audience who wants built-in, Apple-supported software. Microsoft, however, announced that Office 2004 is due within 5 1/2 months; a G5-compatible version of Virtual PC for Mac is on the way in that period, too; and that there would be an Office 200x, probably 2006 given revision cycles. I'm going to go out on a limb in this private forum: I'll be surprised if we see another release of Keynote. I expect it's dead as part of the outcome of Apple and Microsoft's private talks to get Office 2004 and 2006 back on the table. I also expect to see a .Mac synchronization feature for Entourage, possibly released as a plug-in for Entourage X, but more likely reserved for Office 2004. It makes perfect sense to boost sales of Office and .Mac usage. It now seems unlikely to me, too, that we'll see any real work done beyond ongoing maintenance on AppleWorks. It won't become an Office killer, although it might increasingly offer better round-trip file open and save from Office docs. I can't see Address Book, iCal, and iSync going away. Address Book has become a critical component of the overall application layer of OS X. iCal is useful as a standalone program or to publish calendars. iSync needs to be dramatically improved in speed, stability, and flexibility, but I expect that Apple will do all those things to keep its advantage on integrating cell phones, Palm devices, and .Mac. (I know that some people can get iSync to work, but no matter what combination of resetting and clearing and starting from scratch I do, I get multiple entries in all directions and outdated data up the wazoo.) Microsoft's Office plans may end the brief era of Apple becoming a business and productivity software developer and return the company back to the creative side. I noted to a colleague at Macworld Expo that all of the software that Steve Jobs discussed was commercial, which was not true in previous years: Final Cut Express), iLife '04 (included with new Macs, but $49 for others), and Jam Pack ($99 add-on to GarageBand). (Technically, because the latest version of other iApps and Safari only work with Panther, you have to purchase Mac OS X 10.3 in order to get access to them, which wasn't true of previous releases of those packages. Safari 1.1 isn't available for Jaguar, even though I'm not sure that any part of it relies on Panther code.) With a passel of good for-fee software in the mix, Jobs may have turned Apple down a path where they dramatically increase their revenue on the software side.

But How Do the Machines Know?

My machines must talk to each other, because the note on my calendar program that I was leaving town incited them to rebel. I left Monday morning for the Macworld Expo in San Francisco knowing that a huge snow storm was coming Tuesday. Sure enough, it hit, melted a bit, became icy, and weighed down power lines. The power was out to the office in which my mail server and some Web sites (including this) operate for a few hours Wed. a.m. But the power came back and everything righted itself thanks to journaling, BIOS settings, and other features.But that evening I discovered that something was wrong with the mail, DNS, and Web server -- it was acting bizarrely and wouldn't respond normally. The only choice was a remote power cycle using my Sophisticated Circuits' PowerKey 650. Works like a charm. Except it didn't. The combination of power cycling damaged some of the boot blocks, which I couldn't determine remotely. An officemate was willing to head in at 11 pm to mess with it. We determined the problem, and I figured out how to fix it (sort of), but then we discovered the keyboard port on that computer was dead. I had an inkling but hadn't put the pieces together a few weeks ago. So I had him start a restore operation from the backup tapes I have. I got ultra-paranoid about backups a few years ago, and have spent more money on backup software and hardware than on practically any other single aspect of my computing life. It paid off. I have an incremental backup that runs every four hours during the day and another that runs at night. I had a 6 pm snapshot of the machine that had died and was able to restore it to another Linux box, very similar in nature. I had already set up secondary onsite and tertiary offsite DNS, and had been moving various sites and resources to a co-located set of servers I'm running that have robust power and bandwidth. The backup took a while, so I went to sleep, got up early, and was able to get email back on line for myself and various others, and make the second machine more or less like the first for general purposes. Later in the day, I was able to get another officemate to swap tapes to restore the Web sites and other features. I was flying back on Thursday night, and was waiting for my plane at 7 pm with an 8 pm boarding time. I found a power outlet and opened my laptop: sure enough, T-Mobile had extended Wi-Fi (and free for the moment) to that terminal. They've slowly been unwiring the whole airport, starting with the easy one, the international terminal, which was built with Ethernet in all the walls. I'm amazed at how quickly I got back to status quo ante and how well Linux and the various GNU and free and open source components cope with being copied, restored, repointed, and so forth. I'm just glad to be back with so few hours invested to where I was. I've called this my most successful complete computer failure ever.

Live from Macworld

I just finished filing my coverage of the Macworld keynote for The Seattle Times and am still fresh with...lack of inspiration. The keynote by Steve Jobs wasn't its usual burst of surprises and excitement, but a much more focused and niche set of announcements that won't affect all users in the same way.They've solved the iPhoto slowdown problem, which makes the program practically unusable with more than a few hundred photos on most machines. You can now create 2-hour movies with iDVD on a single disc with better encoding even, which is great, and you can archive projects on a non-DVD-writing machine to dump off on another, great for schools and groups of all kinds. The new GarageBand instrument/music software is cool, but how many people who aren't serious musicians (amateur or otherwise) will even touch this? Unknown. I'm inspired, but I don't have musical talent, so how will having software make it better? Reminds me of early desktop publishing: here's a bunch of fonts and a page and we know you'll make it beautiful. The high-end improvements are pretty slick, even though most people won't care much. The Xserve is now G5-based (which cuts the price on the Xserve that I need to sell! But I expected that), at the same problem as the previous G4 units. Apple made Xgrid, a cluster-computing programming framework, available, and a 3.5 Tb (terabyte!) RAID rack-mounted system. The new iPod doesn't make sense to me. For $50 more, you can get 11 Gb more. So why buy a 4 Gb iPod that's only slightly smaller? I don't get it. Something feels like it slipped a gear on price.

When I Ask is My Spam Being Caught...

All I have to do is look at the procmail log that I keep in my home directory which captures all of the subject lines of messages being processed by SpamAssassin and then filtered for scores of less than 8 via procmail to see what I'm missing...

Subject: [SPAM:22.44] Fwd: Purchase Your V|@gra, Val�(u)m, X(a)n@x.Diet Pills
Folder: /dev/null                                                        6110
From misty.parkszw@world-net.sct.fr Sun Jan  4 21:07:45 2004
Subject: [SPAM:14.39] hi
Folder: /dev/null                                                        4846
From 53xugbqvcj@netzero.com Sun Jan  4 21:10:44 2004
Subject: [SPAM:26.31] 7 new amateur Jess Simpson flicks
Folder: /dev/null                                                        7034
From r_nunezmq@cdo.philcom.com.ph Sun Jan  4 21:13:16 2004
Subject: [SPAM:13.24] =?ISO-8859-1?b?aGk=?=
Folder: /dev/null                                                        4647
From mmje3mdy@codechina.com.cn Sun Jan  4 21:13:22 2004
Subject: [SPAM:15.66] 0.15Ԫ�����ڳ�;���������ֻ���0.3Ԫ���������ͼ��ô�
Folder: /dev/null                                                       12746
From go813dl@snowblowing.com Sun Jan  4 21:15:40 2004
Subject: [SPAM:29.22] OK
Folder: /dev/null                                                        6010

The flow of spam is definitely going down at least temporarily because of CAN-SPAM. In the last week, I've only had procmail bounce 3,000 messages and probably deleted about 500 to 750 that local spam filtering caught after SpamAssassin.