Wireless Week

I've spent most of this week in Santa Clara at the 802.11 Planet conference, a geekfest for wireless network advocates and builders. The conference was aimed at IT and ISP folk: people building and managing networks inside existing enterprises (corporate infrastructure operations), and people creating wireless adjuncts or wireless-only Internet service for customers. I blogged as much of the sessions as I could at 802.11b Networking News.

Leonid Showers Bring December Ice Flowers

I stayed up late last week with Lynn to watch the Leonid meteor showers (NASA) - and isn't that site a great example of how government can educate and inform while performing good science? The peak was supposed to be at around 3 a.m. Pacific time. We worried it would be overcast, but by late evening, it was crystal clear. And cold! Seattle tends towards the moderate, but the temperature and weather craziness of the last few years has turned much of Seattle's fall to spring period into the East Coast: downpours, crisp cold days, red-leafed trees.

We figured we'd make it through that night's Saturday Night Live, and then go out and watch. I stepped out around midnight and looked at the sky. Our front yard has a fairly unobstructed view south. We're blocked in slightly by hills and have only a few street lights, so we have less direct light pollution than most parts of Seattle.

I found my old friend Orion several degrees above the horizon towards the southeast. I can find the Big Dipper, Orion, Cassipoeia, and Ursa Minor, and that's about it. I look up at maybe 30 degrees above the horizon to the south and spot this bright cluster of low-magnitude stars. I can't figure out what it is, so I head inside and run Starry Night, a piece of Mac software that maps and displays celestial bodies.

I orient the map, click Now to show the current star display (you can have it run live, too), and zoom in on the star cluster I saw: the Perseid Cluster! It was so clear out and low-lit enough that even after just a minute of eye adjustment, I could see dozens of dim stars in that clsuter alone. Later, we could see more stars than I remember ever seeing in Seattle proper.

A little after 1 a.m., Lynn and I bundled up with scarves and gloves, and took a couple of lawn chairs down to the sidewalk. It was damn cold. I eventually went in and got a blanket, too. We saw flashes here and there, and a number of long streaks. Our next-door neighbors came home at some point, maybe at 1.30, and looked at us funny until we explained. Then they were excited.

At 2 a.m., we were spent: sleepy and had seen enough to last us for a few decades of the Leonids. A very pretty, clear, cold night. Ancient fragments of old time streaked across the sky and were gone. More star hearts turn into more people and things.

Susan Kitchens's account of her Leonid viewing inspired me to write this. She was quoted in the Associated Press, even! (And not from her blog.)

Honesty and Self-Worth

Visit Networkforgood.org, a site that has put a front-end on all the kinds of giving, donation, and help that organizations need. I noticed today that many comic strips mentioned the URL: it's a neat site, and one that can help you find out who to help.

This story touched me: a guy finds a wallet with $3,400 in cash and a bunch of ID. He returns it - but he's honest enough to mention to the reporter that he thought about keeping it. No one but a saint wouldn't think about it. And then do the right thing. A good tale for Thanksgiving. Happy holiday, y'all: I'm eating seared tuna tonight, but I'll be thinking of everyone gorged on turkey and triptophan!

Reading the Book Leaves

An article at O'Reilly Networks compares the sales of O'Reilly and Associates books at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other chains with economic indicators, such as the unemployment rate, NASDAQ average, stock prices of various companies, and consumer confidence. It's a brilliant and funny analysis told in very dry terms that spells the strong connection between specific consumer and business cyclic behavior and book sales.

I've got my own graph I can offer up from ISBN.nu, my book price comparison service.

While I'd rather not reveal sales by dollar, you can see the scope of the economy's effect on my microcosm, too.

Fast Adds News

In a short article in Monday's New York Times, I discuss the latest features added to Fast Search and Transfer, the company that resells its search engine index and results to power Lycos. It runs its own demonstration site at Alltheweb.com. Search on topics in the news, or use its new dedicated news tab, and receive results from 3,000 media sources which are constantly spidered for freshness. The contents, overall, are expected to be fresher, too.

A Refreshed AirPort from Apple

My Practical Mac column in today's Seattle Times walks through the revisions to Apple 2-year-old-plus AirPort wireless networking system, released last week. The revision adds support for direct-dialing AOL (useful to millions of Mac dial-up customers), improves aspects of security, supports faster Ethernet, and connects the Base Station and its related AirPort Card to back-end authentication systems used in institutions.

AirPort is compatible with 802.11b or Wi-Fi networking, and Apple's revision makes it even more so by supporting standard authentication tools (RADIUS, Cisco LEAP), 100 Mbps-only Ethernet networks (through a 10/100 Mpbs autosense port), and longer WEP encryption keys. Apple also told me that they were actively following the issues surrounding 802.11g development (a faster version of 802.11b that will be backwards compatible, but support raw speeds up to nearly five times faster).

The support for 128-bit long WEP encryption keys used for network data encryption is long overdue, if only as a way for Mac users to join supposedly safer PC-based networks. (WEP encryption has been definitively broken, and the longer key only adds linear, not geometric or exponential, calculation time using publicly available cracking software.)

Anonymous Karma Doofus

This Greymatter blog system supports a simple Slashdot-moderation-like option called Karma Points. Like a post? Click +. Hate it? Click -. Results are IP-limited to avoid overvoting. When someone casts a Karma vote, I get email.

I just got a pile of email. Somebody at IP (an almaden.ibm.com address) decided to be a karma doofus and vote negative on about eight of my blog entries all at once. Coward! Doofus! Vandal!

Eh, what do I care? I don't write because I want people to love what I write. I write because I like to write, and I like to hear what people think of my ideas. So negative karma, while carrying all the baggage of that term, come with the territory.

Actually, it reminds me of the story my grandfather told me about the woman who bought a mattress from his furniture store and didn't pay for it (which I told in this space some weeks ago). Why come read my blog and bother to vote negative on all of it if you really don't care for what I say? What, you think I'll stop blogging?

No, wait, it gets better! After posting that remark, a colleague wrote in here saying that it was a robot following links! Man, this reminds of Douglas Adams bon mot in Life, the Universe, and Everything: "It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not as a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly - again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across a motorway is deadly."


The editor I've worked with on several infographics at Wired was laid off. His name: Paul Boutin. He's a blogger (we're all bloggers, wouldn't you like to be a blogger, too?).

Paul is terrific to work with as a freelancer. He assigns huge domains, like "all issues surrounding reallocation of spectrum for new purposes." Then he offers guidance, direction, feedback, shaping. He's supportive, but he won't take the, "Huh, I don't know" response. I've worked remarkably hard (and been quite well compensated) on the pieces I've done for him, and was rewarded by the outcome in print.

An officemate asked me when I mentioned that Paul was laid off, and I said that I thought the magazine had never been actually profitable: "How come?" I realized that despite Wired's continued relatively full slate of advertising even in the downturn, and its large subscription base, that they sunk a lot of money into Web ventures in the early days, and then were bought by Conde Nast, which may want to ultimately turn a buck on it by repaying their investment through profit.