Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

jdk 1.4.1_02 released

I just saw that Javasoft released JDK 1.4.1_02. The download location is the same as for all 1.4.1.x releases. Here are the Release notes for 1.4.1_02. Many fixes, including apparently some related to video cards (for example, this one) that I had mentioned some time ago.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 11:12 PM

on ENUM

Jon Udell writes briefly about ENUM and "the loss of practical obscurity". ENUM's definition is part of the charter of an IETF working group whose main goal is to come up with a spec to map phone numbers to fully qualifies domain names (FQNs), and it is also being integrated with SIP (the Session Initiation Protocol) which is a standard designed for conferencing, telephony, events notification and instant messaging, and other applications that require a notion of presence. An interesting discussion.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 11:02 PM

on data and views

First post on the newly created spaces category! Partially taken from an email I sent yesterday to the dev-list...

A couple of days ago Greg Greg posted an entry on 'Data Views' and some things he would like to see in software that deals with information. I agree with most of what he says, although I think that sometimes it's not so easy to make views purely "virtual" while making it clear for the user what's going on. Many people assume that information is "physical" somehow, and they might be confused by seeing that an item deleted in a certain place disappears from another. So UI elements are really important to making this work properly and to avoid confusing the user. That said, spaces will definitely include a way to create "dynamic spaces", essentially views generated against a query. A space today is already that, although you're not allowed to really modify the query that creates them. That mechanism just needs a bit of an extension for dynamic spaces to exist.

Besides the idea of dynamic spaces there is something else I'm calling "cross cutting filters" (the 'cross-cutting' liberally borrowed from 'cross-cutting concerns' such as those that AspectJ deals with) that basically define an orthogonal category of filtering on a space. This is not new, other programs do it as well, although I want it to be easier and more frequently used in spaces. An example of a cross-cutting filter would be "see unread only" or "see sent msgs only" or "see RSS msgs only" and so on. Additionally, cross cutting filters will be accessible for user-defined tags for the items. (kind of like categories). This will allow to make a space (which is commonly a reflection of a real-world activity or task) to be filtered by information-dependent parameters, and so make it much easier to navigate. I will talk about this in more detail over the next few days, and post some screenshots.

Categories: clevercactus, soft.dev
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 7:29 PM

google, ads and ... television

Some new ideas about where Google is heading (here is my previous most recent-link on my thoughts on the subject), in part spurred by a new ad program they announced recently. Jason, Martin and Dave voice their thoughts (and concerns). Dave also adds a link to this comment from Google Village. Jason also has an entry from yesterday that has some relation to all this (in that Google seems to be behaving a bit more aggressively).

The common reasoning behind all the comments is that the Google strategy could well be about Ads: that is, the targeting of ads in various forms through the massive and accurate "map of the web" that Google has built and maintains. If that's the case then there might be some truth to what I was saying earlier, that Google is going after the portal space, since portals are at the core ad-based business. This quote from Martin's entry says it all:

when someone uses TRADEMARK BLOG as a Google term, Google collects some amount of money from LEGALZOOM.COM and LITMANLAW.COM for paid advertisements. Neither the advertisers nor Google share that money with me. In this sense Google is a craven free-loader - exploiting an advertising medium not paying for content (dramatic overstatement indicator on).
I had never thought of it that way, but I guess is that it's partly true. Google essentially uses other people's content to place advertisement, by becoming the "middleman". In a sense, this is what a TV station does: they give you shows that you want to see, and in exchange they show targeted commercials in between. Flipping through channels could be like searching! Okay, better not to get carried away with the over-extended TV-Google analogy. But there are some similarities...

Now the conclusion that follows this reasoning is that Blogger's value to Google was not only as a system to detect deeper inter-link relationships, but also as a highly targeted, massive ad space. Since blogger's service is free and centralized, users couldn't really complain, could they? They could upgrade to premium of course. And then you've got something like Geocities essentially, but with a backend that provides more sophisticated content creation and management.

Could it be? Intriguing...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 7:15 PM

more fixes

A couple of small things really... first, while I fixed the RSS 1.0 (RDF) feed so that it would display full entries, I forgot to fix the RSS 0.91 feed (and I don't even have 2.0 feeds yet, just when are we going to stop with this nonsense of having to support so many different versions of RSS? Let's just pick one and be done with it!). Then the individual archive pages (categories, daily entries, etc...) had no design, and so no links back to the main site. So I had to update that too... this might account for some bizarre inter-entry display in the past 2 hours or so. Hopefully it's fixed now--if the rebuild of all the pages finishes before the universe implodes, the server's been quite slow for some reason. (Btw, I found that Mark went through some similar configuration issues about a year ago... entries here and here).

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 7:11 PM

RSS fixes

As usual, something wasn't completely right with the new design. Jonas, in a comment, pointed out that the RSS feed for the site was using excerpts rathen that the full entry body. That's an easy enough fix. Then I wanted to add the RSS feeds for categories. That turned out to be slightly more complicated (but not as much as I expected), a little digging through the MT docs was enough. Here are the steps:

  • Get an MT RSS template, and copy it into a text editor somewhere (any of those in the Index Templates list --accessible with the Templates option in the MT blog menu-- will do. I chose RSS Index 1.0).
  • In the same Templates page, choose "Create new archive template" from the "Archive-Related Templates" section.
  • Create the new category by typing in a name (I used "Category RSS Index 1.0") and copying back the text previously pasted on the text editor.
  • Now the template has to made active. For that I had to go into Blog Config, option "Archiving", and select "Add New". For "Archive Type" I selected "Category" and for "Template" I selected the one I had just created ("Category RSS Index 1.0" in my case). Before saving the configuration, I set the archive name to a combination of category name and "-index.rdf" by setting the name as follows: "<$MTArchiveCategory dirify="1"$>-index.xml" (without the quotes).
And it's done! Rebuilding the archive files automatically built the category RSS indexes.

Finally, I added the links to the page by modifying the loop that creates the list of categories with links as follows:

<div class="sidetitle">
Archives by Category
</div>
<div class="side">
<MTCategories>
<a href="<$MTCategoryArchiveLink$>"><$MTCategoryLabel$></a> (<a href="http://www.dynamicobjects.com/d2r/archives/<$MTCategoryLabel dirify="1"$>-index.rdf">RSS</a>)<br>
</MTCategories>
</div>
(The text in bold is the addition to provide links to the RSS feeds to each category).

Now, the next step is to configure the Creative Commons License and the RSD file...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 3:51 PM

superstrings

sstr.jpgFrom the Journal Nature (requires login), a paper on how new gravity measurements constrain string theory forces:

[...] we report a search for gravitational-strength forces using planar oscillators separated by a gap of 108 Ám. No new forces are observed, ruling out a substantial portion of the previously allowed parameter space for the strange and gluon moduli forces, and setting a new upper limit on the range of the string dilaton and radion forces.
Here's the summary in plain English from Scientific American:
The first measurement of the gravitational constant came more than 100 years later, but testing gravity over very short distances has proved difficult. Now scientists have examined the gravitational attraction between two objects just a tenth of a millimeter apart--the smallest gap yet for such trials. The findings, published today in the journal Nature, set upper limits for some of the forces predicted by string theory.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 11:48 AM

movabletype

I've just made a donation for MovableType. As I finished the upgrade I realized I hadn't done that, and Ben & Mena definitely deserve it (and more!). MT is truly good software, maybe not for everybody (configuration can be a bit tricky for some things), but still, stable, simple for all it does, and with a nice UI to boot. It takes a lot of hard work to create good software like this.

Related to MT, I think I found a bug in the export/import process. After the import, one of the comments was missing a part (the movable type export uses a line with dash characters '-' to separate entries, and the comment had dashes in it). The final result was that MT thought the additional two parts of the comments were actually entries that it couldn't parse, and it created empty entries for them (and the original comment was cut off). So I had restore the full comment from the archives by hand. But apart from that, as I said earlier, the upgrade went flawlessly.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 11:28 AM

redesign comments

On a comment, Bernie asked me to write updates on how the use of the new design progresses, how I find categories and so on. It's a good idea, and I was definitely going to do it anyway--I'm learning a lot and coming up with new ideas when going through this process. Definitely recommended! So this entry contains some comments along those lines. (Greg also had some comments earlier regarding this subject.

Russ commented that he likes the new design. Thanks!! He adds:

I think anyone who's blogged for a while does this - I did it the other day myself. Sometimes it calls for a major redesign to get you back on track, sometimes it just takes a reminder of what your spending so much time doing and why. My redesign earlier this month really energized me. It just felt fresh and that was great - but then I got into a rut a few days ago, and worked my way out of it by remembering that what I'm doing is supposed to be fun... That always helps.
I agree completely. I guess it's easy to get into routines and be relaxed about it. And a redesign (CSS and reconfiguration pain notwhistanding) is really refreshing and it made blogging feel 'new' again. In my case, I was also increasingly feeling that having two blogs was becoming a bit of a straitjacket, but this is related to his next paragraph, were he makes an interesting point regarding categories:
My opinion on categories is quite firm and very simple: it's all me. I have no desire to start dividing up what I'm talking about so that someone can filter out half of what I'm saying. It doesn't work that way. Categories always comes up after I start one of my anti-Republican rants (reminder: they still suck) and I get comments or emails about how I should have categories so they can edit these types of opinions out. Yeah right... if you like what I have to say about tech or mobile or culture or family you can't just suddenly decide I'm an idiot when it comes to other important issues. What do you think my brain stops working suddenly? Bozos... Okay, sorry. I'm getting hot under the collar again. Anyways... categories are out.

Diego, however, and a lot of other people feel the need to have them. I can see how they're useful for dividing up topics especially when you have a project that you're supporting like Spaces.

Mostly, I agree with Russ. Blogs for the most part are personal and that means you have to take the good with the bad. When I started blogging, I started off with one blog (no comment) and then instead of creating categories I started another one (Abort, retry, fail?). For whatever reason as time passed having two distinct blogs to write on just created confusion. So Russ's approach is right, I think, not just on first principles but for practical reasons as well: it preserves blogflow. There's no decision to be made. You just write. Regardless, I do think that we by nature "filter" what others say, categories or not. I'm used to that from writing... and I think it's a bit inevitable.

But aren't two blogs just like having categories? No, IMO. Categories are a looser way to separate and connect things. The main blog is still "all me" as Russ says, but it can be separated, particularly for different "threads of thought" in a relatively non-intrusive way. More importantly, if I'm using the blog partly to talk about spaces (or whatever other specific project), they are very useful I think (we'll test this hypothesis in the next few weeks/months, though...). Crucially, RSS feeds can be created for each category, so if there's something definite that people want to know about, such as spaces they can look at those entries and subscribe to that feed only (something that Russ mentions as well). Also, some thematic blog-hubs like javablogs work better if the people that are contributing only post about things in a certain category. It seems that there can be a fine line between "blogging" and "discussing topic X", and for the latter it seems that maybe a mailing list, specifically targeted, would potentially be a better fit. But blogging is better. More open, more flexible, and so on. So the tendency to mix them is potentially what creates confusion (both in the writer and readers).

Anyway, I don't know if all of this makes a lot of sense. I guess I'll have another crack at these ideas later.

Categories: personal, technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 10:42 AM

the joy of MAME

Tired of the 150 million bump-mapped polygons per second of your PS2 or Xbox? Don't want to look anymore at those 1024x768 video-like images on 32 bit color? Nostalgic for a bit of Donkey Kong, 1942, or (gulp!) Galaga?

1942.pngThen MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, pronounced 'Maim' in English) is for you! :-) MAME simulates the hardware environment of old arcade machines on a PC.

I used MAME a few years ago to play classics such as Zaxxon and Space Invaders. At the time, it was a bit flaky. Over time (as it happens) I simply forgot about it. For whatever reason I remembered it today. It's improved a lot. Here is the download page, but you'll actually need to do a little digging to get actual game ROMs to play--For whatever reason the copyright holders of the original arcade games have been chasing down these ROMs online, even though no one can play the games anywhere anymore, and they have been pushed underground. A lot of it can be found in various USENET newsgroups. Worth a bit of searching, if only for 'educational purposes.'

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 28, 2003 at 12:45 AM

shaking hands with saddam hussein

Now this is interesting.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on February 27, 2003 at 11:51 PM

new design, new content, new name

Phew! Okay, where to begin?

I guess it started a few days ago when I was thinking about how I blogged and what about, and its consequences to the structure of my blog(s). I came to a few conclusions. The main ones:

  • I needed to integrate my blogs into one
  • I needed to start using categories
  • ...

But yesterday I was feeling terrible (flu, or something. Bones and muscles hurt. Throat hurts. Head hurts. That kind of thing). I thought, tomorrow. Today I was feeling terrible too, but I decided to ignore it (disregard for physical discomfort, now, that's the spirit!). So I dug in.

First in the list was a long-delayed update of MovableType, to version 2.63 (Which has many new cool features such as built-in support for RSD and Creative Commons Licences, which I haven't had time to configure yet). That went smoothly. Before that I exported all my entries from both blogs anyway.

The export actually came in handy when I had to re-create the blog and its entries with categories. To start with, I created two categories: Personal and Technology. MovableType allows to assign one category for imported entries, so I imported all the contents of "Abort, Retry, Fail?" into Technology and all the contents of "no comment" into Personal. I also created other categories (not used yet), including one for spaces. As time passes I'll assign categories to older posts. For the moment this will do.

Another task that is not done for the moment is creating multiple feeds for each category.

Once that was done I had to come up with a new design. This involved getting into CSS. Tables are much simpler to use for layout, but there are some strong arguments for why they shouldn't (be used for layout that is). I looked at manuals, references and howtos, but in the end what helped me the most were the CSS included in MovableType themselves, and these two articles (one, two) from W3C on using CSS for layouts. It's still not perfect (in particular, there is not a lot of entry text when the window is not wide enough) but it should do for now. The conclusion of this is just a resurfacing in my mind that the idea of CSS (of separating content from presentation) is good, but the implementation is awful.

Then there was the question of 'migration': how to deal with the links into the other blogs in a reasonable way, and in particular how to deal with the issue of RSS feeds. I thought: mod_rewrite could help. But I dread mod_rewrite. So I thought: maybe there's a better solution.

I remembered that a few months back Jon Udell had the same problem, but when I found this blog entry that referred to it, it didn't provide any solutions. Jon, however, was limited in what he could do on the server, since he apparently didn't have access to its configuration. For me it was back to mod_rewrite again (this brief howto was useful as a starter as well, btw). It took a couple of tries, but In the end the following three added lines into the virtual server conf in Apache did the trick:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule /~diego/weblogs/arf/(.*) /d2r/$1 [R=301]
RewriteRule /~diego/weblogs/nocomment/(.*) /d2r/$1 [R=301]
This seems to work both for servers and aggregators (although I have to say I only tested the RSS aggregator in spaces with it). I will probably make a few posts now and then to remind people to change their URL for the feeds anyway, since I assume that at some point the redirect won't be there anymore.

So all is well and good.

Ah, yes, the matter of the name. Since so many things were changing, why not change the name, too? d2r is something I've had in my head for a while and that I used years ago in my first homepage. It's supposed to read "detour" along with "d2" being "d d"... (yes, geekindex = off the charts!). I'll have to add this info into the 'About this blog" link (non existent for now) on the right. A couple of lines from Gone come to mind: You change your name but that's okay/It's necessary/and what you leave behind you don't miss anyway.

Finally, comments on the new design, problems with the redirect, etc, are welcome!! Just post a comment or send me an email.

Off to relax for a bit now... try to shake this flu off. On the upside, working on this has made me forgot that I felt awful. Tinkering with your blog (or programming, or writing, both of which are partially contained in 'tinkering with your blog) are better than aspirin. At least for a while :-)

Categories: personal, technology
Posted by diego on February 27, 2003 at 10:21 PM

more on how history repeats itself

Another NYTimes article with another take on how we've been through all this before. Just like what I linked to a couple of days ago...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 11:22 PM

multiblogging

Over the past few days I've been noticing that there is no rhyme or reason to what I blog about. ARF is a mess. Even if it's technology in general and what directly concerns me of it in particular, the topics still jump all over the place. I can as easily post personal comments, ideas, news on spaces, or link to other news or blogs, with or without comments. I tried to separate a bit by blogging about non-tech stuff on my other weblog but that hasn't really done the trick, since there are just too many different tech-things that I find interesting.

I've been thinking of introducing categories, but wondering if they'd do the job. But just now I got an email from Greg asking whether there is a blog in particular were I talk about spaces only. There isn't, but there should be.

I guess I'll start with categories, merge all my blogs, and see how it goes. I have to do a redesign, too. This one is about to go from the "tired" into the "expired' column.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 6:03 PM

ibm and the holocaust

Over the past two days I've read Edwin Black's IBM and the Holocaust: how America's most powerful corporation helped Nazi Germany count the Jews. Quite simply, a shocking book. Incredibly well-researched. Virtually Every single paragraph of its 600-plus pages is backed up by references.

The Nazis used punch-card machines (IBM's Hollerith machines) to tabulate their various "censuses" that helped them organize the massive requirements of a wartime economy (and war itself), plan logistics, and, yes, identify the Jews for extermination, among other things. The Nazis tabulated everything. For example, after invading Belgium, they did a census on cattle. Afterwards, cows were required to wear an ID card. Blitzkrieg, the Nazi's "lightning war" was possible only because IBM's machines helped them organize the logistics and troop movements. Rhat, and everything else.

One has to doubt how much of their massive growth, conquest, and murder would have been possible without IBM's help. Not only the Nazis were the original Big Brother, IBM was the original super-sleazy high-tech company (only they didn't get caught). For example, During the first 6 years of the Third Reich, IBM's German subsidiary Dehomag (under IBM NY control with 85% of the stock) paid no taxes at all to the Germans, since it reported zero profits all the while IBM NY was reporting Germany as its second biggest market worldwide after the US. They used all sorts of accounting tricks to "cancel out" the earnings in the subsidiary while in reality they were funneling the money to IBM NY in the form of (among other things) "royalty payments". It was made all the more an "achievement" considering the environment of tight government control and paranoia that the Nazis fostered. TJ Watson was constantly looking for an edge in what everyone expected to be the new "German Empire" in Europe. The ultimate capitalist (if not a closet Fascist): profits at any cost. IBM employees helped the Nazis design efficient punch card systems to process people as if they were assets, mark them for displacement or anihilation, intimately involved into every detail to best help their 'customer'. Watson was informed of every decision, and right up to Dec. 7, 1941, when the US entered the war against the Axis powers, he micromanaged the germany operation as if it was a sales office right next to him in Manhattan, getting information on everything from market strategy, use of the machines, ongoing projects, and expenses--sometimes as little as a few dollars. As late at 1939, after Germany had invaded Checkoslovakia, Watson was still advocating for Germany to receive natural resources from other countries. He even received a medal from Hitler himself in 1937 for his many efforts (which he later returned with a public, open letter to Hitler, after the tide of public opinion in the US had turned virulently anti-Nazi). Regardless of his private stand for 'world peace', privately, he continued excercising control of IBM Germany, even using the US State Department to transfer his correspondence with the subsidiary. Though most of the stratospheric profits were in frozen accounts in Germany or in real estate, a lot of that would be recovered by IBM after the war.

Quite incredible that this remained in the shadows for so many years. Highly recommended.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 5:43 PM

springlayout

Looking for an alternative to a null layout on Swing containers, I found SpringLayout. It allows fixed-size locations as well as hybrids (locations that are fixed, but relative to other components within the container), and it was introduced in JDK 1.4. This article from O'Reilly Network describes how to use it. It's definitely more difficult to use than, say, BoxLayout, but it's easier than the black-magic required for GridBagLayouts. It is designed to be used within GUI Builders, but it is certainly useful for "hand-coding" as well, in particular cases in UIs when complete layout control is required.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 3:05 PM

more on the sun announcements

Related to the Sun announcements made yesterday (as expected), News.com has a new article online. Many of the announcements have to do with hardware (or so it seems from the coverage), although integration of high-end functionality into Solaris is also prominent.

Later: I found this Cringely article talking about Sun's announcements. He's skeptical, to say the least.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 10:20 AM

bloggers on news aggregators

JD recently posted a two part article on bloggers' thoughts on news aggregators. Links: Part One and Part Two.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 25, 2003 at 12:13 AM

more on google-pyra

An article from the New York Times today goes into some more details on speculation surrounding the Google-Pyra deal. It seems that Google has denied ambitions to enter the portal business, as it seemed to me earlier:

Chris Sherman, associate editor of the Search Engine Watch site, said the advertising possibilities were most likely an important consideration for Google.

One worry for Google, Mr. Sherman said, is that a blogging service will make Google look more like a portal, putting it in competition with companies like Yahoo and America Online that license its search technology.

Mr. Sherman said the company has denied any ambitions to become a portal. "It's a valid concern and I think it's something Google has to be very careful to avoid," he said.

Hm. I wonder...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 10:04 PM

gibson on 9/11

Today William Gibson posted a short piece he wrote on 20/9/2001 entitled 'Mr. Buk's Window.' Must read.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 9:57 PM

i feel random

A couple of articles that I found interesting in the last couple of days: one, a 'Repress yourself', which talks about how in many extreme situations people that repress emotions do better than those that talk about them (or are forced to by psychiatrists or psychologists that assume that talking about things fixes the problem.

Meanwhile... ah, yeah, the randomness. Weird. Some movies I've wanted to see but haven't had time yet: 1) 8 Mile, 2) The Ring, 3) Daredevil... Maybe this weekend there will be some free time for that.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 8:30 PM

nigerian scam turns bloody

Chris fwded this to me through email: The infamous 419 scam has claimed more than money as a victim. Something I didn't know about this scam is that it had been going on for years before the internet arrived. Nothing's new, really... except maybe the scale. But that does change the nature of it a bit, doesn't it?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 8:24 PM

the pitfalls of computer-based text communications

An article (don't ask me how I got to this link, I have no idea!) on "An Etiquette for Computer-Based Communication". Regardless of the title, what the article really does is talk about several examples of how communication through email alone can create problems. I think they miss that distinction: the problems appear not with computer based communication, but when a single type of communication is used. With "redundancy" (email, phone, videoconferencing, and so on) misunderstandings are much less likely. In particular, reliance on email alone can be dangerous. But we knew that, right? It's not as if someone in the past would conduct their entire business only through snail-mail... but then technology has a way of shifting expectations, many times in wrong directions. Computer-based communication is not the problem. Misuse of it, or simply over-reliance on some of it forms, is.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 8:14 PM

a drug user's guide to not writing

A Salon interview with Essayist Geoff Dyer on "the difference between fiction and nonfiction (none), the usefulness of marijuana, and the importance of doing nothing" Amusing and at times insightful, with small jewels like "There's that nice line of Thomas Pynchon's: 'Marijuana -- that useful substance.'".

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 8:09 PM

the purple cow

Matt posted a link and some comments to an article 'In praise of the purple cow". Interesting, if slightly repetitive. The main idea the article puts forth is that "good enough" products with good marketing just don't cut it anymore. There's just too many things to look at. I think a good example of this is the music industry: in spite of prodigious amounts of marketing, the record companies haven't had a massive hit in quite a while. They repeat proven formulas to death, and people simply don't pay attention anymore. Same thing on TV, with the concept of 'reality shows' overused to death. The tempation to stick to what's proven (many times driven by the customers themselves) is too much.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 8:06 PM

more comments on the java spaces API

Anthony has posted some comments on the spaces API (Thanks!). He points out one typo on the XML definition and mentions that the required-rights tag values as built-in parameter. This will be changed according to his suggestion, also adding in Matt's suggestion to the dev-list of providing a bit more fine-grained control for the rights assignment. Something along the lines of:


<required-rights>
   <read-write datatype="calendar"/>
   <read datatype="all"/>
   <full datatype="notes"/>
</required-rights>
The new version of the API document should be up soon, with these changes and some new material, specifically regarding Java APIs for accessing spaces functionality.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 24, 2003 at 1:45 PM

microsoft fires back at sun

This is a good one: Microsoft files counterclaims against Sun over "unfair competition" as part of their ongoing trial (Sun sued Microsoft for antitrust violations). Wow. Microsoft's attitude is unbelievable. If they weren't so effective at completely obliterating other companies, they'd probably sue them, too. Sort of like a tank that, after running over a soapbox racer complains because there are splinters of wood in its tracks. They never stop coming.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 23, 2003 at 5:10 PM

sun: against the odds

A New York Times article on the challenges faced by Sun. Aside from the strategic analysis (most of which has been covered recently in other places), I found one paragraph to be particularly enlightening:

These new chip and software strategies will move into the marketplace, step by step, over the next year or two. Knowing that regaining leadership in the industry won't be easy, Mr. McNealy, 48, met with his senior managers last year and asked each for a commitment to stay for five years. Shortly afterward, a handful of senior executives announced they were leaving, led by Edward J. Zander, the president.
I remember last year when those high-profile departures were taken as a sign of weakness for Sun. However, in light of this information, what it actually showed was strength since the executive team that is in place now will be able to see through the current strategy to completion. Very impressive. I also find it interesting that at the time they kept silent about this request for commitment, and that being the reason. Trying to avoid giving in to spin it seems.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 23, 2003 at 3:27 PM

the introvert inside

[via Dylan]: An atlantic monthly article, Caring for Your Introvert. For a while I thought I was an introvert. Then I thought I neither introverted not extroverted (just plain me). Reading this article, I assume I'm back in 'column one,' at least as far as a sweeping generalization like that can apply to any single person.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 8:10 PM

fusionone's syncml service

Russ has posted an interesting entry on FusionOne's new SyncML service for mobiles. Cool. I used FusionOne's service for quite a while, and I was happy with it (I was a paying subscriber) but in the end to do all I wanted to do with it I needed a different app. Outlook didn't cut it, and I didn't like the fact that all my personal data was in FusionOne's vault, secure as it might be. Peer-to-peer sync between my own machines is definitely the way I want it to be, and that's were spaces is going.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 4:12 PM

the hydrogen car

An article describing a test run with GM's hydrogen-powered car, a $5000000 prototype. A bit too much hype for my taste, but still interesting.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 4:04 PM

purify rocks

A short detour from my usual Java-oriented commentary...

As I'm finishing the implementation of my thesis work, I've been testing the system a bit more. It's written in C++/Win32 and runs both in Windows and PocketPC. Yesterday, a horrific bug appeared as I was stress-testing some new functionality. The program was crashing with a mysterious message that said that I was trying to "relocate" KERNEL32.DLL. WTF? I thought. I dug in. Hours of debugging and I was getting nowhere. I knew that somewhere there was a memory overflow, but couldn't figure out where. I'd been working on it for 10 hours straight. It was 4 am. Being tired was certainly a factor. Then I remembered Purify.

I had used Purify at my last job when checking for leaks on an ActiveX IE Control. Back then, it had been a huge timesaver. So I downloaded the evaluation version (2 hours through my puny modem connection) and went to sleep.

I woke up about 5 hours later, feeling like crap but slightly refreshed. I installed purify. After some minimal fiddling with VS.NET's settings, I recompiled and Purify immediately flagged the problem. Bingo!

The problem was an assignment overflow on a statically allocated array, when copying character data with strcpy. Now, my question is, why is it so hard for VC++ to add a check that you are not writing beyond the allocated size, at least in debugging mode? I'm not talking about anything sophisticated here. strcpy, since it's copying strings, knows perfectly well the length of data to be copied. Why not add a check? I can't find any practical reason for not doing it.

In any case, the bug was fixed, the code now works, Purify once again to the rescue. If it didn't cost a fortune I would buy it to run it permanently on my C++ code.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 4:02 PM

the new "synergy" in media

A Salon article covers a strange 'scandal' involving Rupert Murdoch's News Corp:

[...] In December, News Corp.'s scandal sheet, the New York Post, reported in its Page Six gossip column that an unnamed baseball Hall of Famer had been blackmailed into cooperating with a best-selling biography about him -- blackmailed under threat that the unnamed woman writer would otherwise claim the Hall of Famer was gay. At the time, the blind item got almost no attention.

Now, as it turns out, Sandy Koufax, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Hall of Famer, is the subject of the only recent best-selling baseball biography written by a woman (Jane Leavy's "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy"). It also turns out that Koufax has quit as a special instructor for the Dodgers because the team is also owned by the News Corp.

[...]

Their book. Their tabloid. Their team. Their scandal. It is a spectacular example of synergy, working at its most efficient (when all moral, ethical and professional standards have been eliminated from the process and thus cannot gum up the works).

"Synergy" indeed! Very impressive (if unsettling). What I can never understand is how journalists let themselves be pulled into this. I mean, someone must be writing these articles right? Strange.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 3:50 PM

history repeats itself

Here's an interesting op-ed from today's New York Times. Quote:

ith our troops massed against Iraq, Americans are apprehensive and divided. The polls show us still torn between containment and war, between the instinct to give it time and the yearning to get it done. We worry about civilian carnage, American casualties and terrorist reprisals, about further shocks to a shaken economy, about being a nation alone. The Pentagon is ordering body bags by the thousand.

President Bush has enlarged the war agenda: we are not just eliminating a threat, we are delivering a promise of democracy to a region steeped in tyranny. Many, though, remain suspicious of his motives. "No Blood for Oil," the protest placards insist, and others mutter that this is somehow, too much, about Israel. The question of what comes after war has revived our longstanding fear of getting bogged down in unfriendly places.

Colin Powell, after trying to slow the march to war, has fallen loyally into step with his commander in chief. But the world, whose collaboration we crave, is in no hurry. The Germans are paralyzed by war angst. The French, deeply invested in Saddam and always happy to tweak the Americans, have been maddening. Democrats are straining for a way to be patriots without forfeiting independent judgment. The pope is calling for more "dialogue." Susan Sarandon is rallying opposition outside the United Nations. Saddam watches it all on CNN, and assures us we will be bloodily humbled.

Ah, the memories. The paragraphs above are constructed entirely from coverage of our national mood in the winter of 1991. Reading those old files made me wonder if maybe George Santayana was only half right: even those who remember history are condemned to repeat it.

Spooky.

Related to this, a Salon article that talks about the "human shields" positioning themselves on Iraq.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 3:41 PM

nature as a model

Nanostructures that are designed following the pattern of a creature:

Taking a cue from a starfishlike marine creature, scientists at Bell Labs have created what they say are high-quality crystals that may one day help improve communications networks and nano-devices.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 1:53 AM

coding from scratch

A cool interview with virtual reality pioneer Jaron Larnier. Quote:

Currently, he is working on something he calls phenotropic computing, in which the current model of software as "protocol adherence" is replaced by "pattern recognition" as a way of connecting components of software systems.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 22, 2003 at 1:51 AM

on xdocs

Jon Udell has an an article on the 'Ten things to know about XDocs', which is now officially called InfoPath. What I find most interesting is its supposed ability to generate XSLT visually. Also, it's interesting to see that they call it 'aggressively standards based'. Note there the 'based'. Just because MS-formats are now XML-based doesn't mean they are parseable by anyone. That won't happen until the DOMs are published, but I'm not holding my breath for that...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 21, 2003 at 7:59 PM

the eclipse plugin API

Markus posted a comment related to my earlier RFC for the spaces plugin API, saying that I should take a look at the eclipse plugin architecture. Check. :-) While Eclipse will probably have things that spaces won't need (and viceversa) because of what the applications do, I'm certain it will be quite useful.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 21, 2003 at 7:43 PM

bloomba

I first heard about bloomba through Olivier, a spaces user who kindly forwarded me to the following Infoworld article. Then News.com also had an article on it. Both pieces point to other related software (Bloomba also has a weblog. Finally, Russ posted an entry on it today (with pointers to a businessweek article). Russ calls it "another media-hyped outlook killer".

Obviously I can't be completely objective because of my work on spaces, but basically I agree with Russ. I'd even call it 'multi-hyped, media-hyped'.

The first element of the hype is the fact that this is called an 'Outlook Killer' at all. Not only it doesn't support IMAP, it doesn't integrate with exchange, and it doesn't have any of the features of outlook besides email. No Calendaring. No Tasks. No Outlining. No Notes. With the features it has, it's difficult to see bloomba as more than an 'Outlook Express killer' (to continue with the homicidal metaphor) or an 'Eudora killer'.

The second element of the hype is the new functionality it purports to provide 'Google-like' functionality on your email. However, all of the articles on it fail to mention Zoe, which has been available for quite some time and provides functionality along those lines. Other email manipulation tools, mostly open-source (and, true, most of them in a state that makes it difficult for end-users to try out, but still available), exist to manipulate and dynamically organize information.

It's important to note though that the company doesn't seem to have claimed this; it would appear to be entirely a conclusion of the media outlets/reporters.

Still, it's cool to see more movement in this area. Clearly innovation in email management is overdue. It's also quite interesting to see how the media operates.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 21, 2003 at 6:45 PM

a journalist infiltrates terrorist groups

From CNN: Journalist penetrated Islamic extremist groups in Paris.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 20, 2003 at 11:56 PM

another patent fiasco

It goes like this: 1) Microsoft releases a certain feature of SQL Server. 2) Developers use the feature. 3) Company that has a patent on the feature's technology sues Microsoft. 4) A Judge rules that the developers that were using the feature have to pay royalties to the patent holder ?!?!?.

It's one thing to license a patent, but I can't understand why people using the feature on software that is properly licensed have to pay as well. Clearly, it's possible that I'm missing something here. But it's still really strange...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 20, 2003 at 10:41 PM

a nice comment

Dan has nice comment on spaces on his weblog. Thanks Dan!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 20, 2003 at 10:29 PM

rfc: the spaces plugin subsystem and API

As the release of the spaces beta approaches, I've been working (among other things) on the Plugin subsystem/API for it. I've wrote down an initial spec. It would be great to get feedback from those interested (or not!). Leave comments or email me. Thanks!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 20, 2003 at 12:15 PM

a bit more on that google thing

Thinking more about Google and where it seems to be going... Don points out Google's big brother potential (and linking to this 'Google as big brother' page). His comments are sensible and to the point (as usual with him). Clearly this could be a worry in the future, but I think Google should be given the benefit of the doubt. Also, these potential problems existed before their Pyra purchase, but of course they are more marked now since they have begun to look more and more like Yahoo! (at least in my opinion) and all that it entails. Regardless of their potential threat to privacy, Google has always treated users well, starting with a simple, reliable service that does what it's supposed to do with no fuss. In any case, what we need is a little more competition in this area, from the likes of Teoma. Otherwise, if Google's not around (or if everyone's paranoid about it), who are you going to trust your searches to? AOL Time-Warner? MSN, or in other words, Microsoft?!?. We should just wait and see, but as things stand now Google is an important independent balancing force in the online world, and their work has been beneficial to the web as a whole.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 20, 2003 at 12:49 AM

more on MS and open source

A News.com article with more comments on the behavior of Microsoft towards open-source and other "platform threats" in general, noting the Stutz memo I linked to earlier. One comment in the article stands out:

Milunovich took an even harsher view, questioning whether Microsoft was truly innovative. "It's not surprising that a technical person would make this observation," he wrote in his research note. "Microsoft has innovated little, however, and owes its success to luck--IBM handing over the PC OS--and managerial excellence in our view. Still, we agree that Microsoft must notch up the innovation component to do well in new areas."
I don't think that Microsoft can suddenly "learn" to innovate. From the beginning, it has been a late-comer, either buying up the competition or copying it. It is a strategy that has served them well, and I doubt that at this point something so ingrained in their organization can really change. Even if it could, MS's focus on "Windows everywhere" puts forth a huge roadblock for innovation. Most if not all new software technologies worth mentioning threaten in one way or another the platform, either from the point of view of replacement (as Netscape and the Web did in its time) or from the point of view of commoditization (as Linux is doing). Microsoft is trapped in what Clayton Christensen called "The Innovator's Dilemma" in his (excellent) book of the same name, from the incumbent's point of view. None of this means that its power or astonishing margins will necessarilly diminish, certainly not in the short run. Microsoft has a monopoly, and it could be milking it for many years to come.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 20, 2003 at 12:26 AM

a bridge with a dark side

Found this strange and interesting New York Times article on Toronto's "suicide magnet" bridge. Quote:

The structure became a literary landmark as well in 1987 when Michael Ondaatje described the construction of the double-decker bridge in exquisite poetic detail in his novel "In the Skin of a Lion," marking it as the epitome of this city's latent but limitless possibilities in the collective imagination of Torontonians.

But the steel-arched bridge, spanning the Don River and Don Valley Parkway with a 12-story drop, also has a dark side, one Mr. Ondaatje suggested in his novel by describing how a gust of wind blew a nun off the bridge before she was scooped up in midair by a construction worker suspended on a rope.

Reality has been less kind. More than 400 people have jumped from the bridge to their deaths, including 100 over the last decade, lending the viaduct the morbid nickname of "suicide magnet." Only the Golden Gate Bridge has been the site of more suicides in North America, according to mental health advocates here.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 19, 2003 at 12:39 AM

sun & linux

Charles Cooper has an interesting opinion piece on News.com about how Sun has been reacting to Linux.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 18, 2003 at 11:16 PM

more 24

So, tonight I took a short break and watched the 3rd hour of the 'second day' of 24. Finally, this is the series that I like! I have to say that the first two episodes had been a bit underwhelming. Too many disconnected things going on and not enough tension. I was expecting it to be a slow starter, and it was. When this episode finished I wanted to see the next one immediately, something that didn't particularly happen with the first two, but that always happened with the first series.

Related to 24, James said that the "I'm gonna need a hacksaw" quote should be more like the quote for the entire two series, rather than just my 'quote of the day'. I agree. It's rare that a single line defines a character so well, in so many dimensions (given the context of the situation, of course).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 18, 2003 at 11:13 PM

MS and open source

David Stutz, an ex-microsoftie writes about Microsoft and the commoditization of software due to open source. Apparently he sent (part of) this email to other at MS as he left. Interesting read.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 17, 2003 at 1:37 AM

the simpsons turn 300

Tonight is the US airing of Episode 300 of The Simpsons. Many of the last episodes haven't been that good, but once in a while they still deliver. Hopefully they go out at the top instead of milking the show to death though...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 17, 2003 at 1:32 AM

google buys pyra

[via slashdot]: Google has acquired Pyra Labs. Dan Gillmor has more information and a ton of other links to comments at the bottom of his article. Shelley Powers in particular has some interesting comments as do Ben & Mena (the creators of Movable Type) here. Personally I'm on the "what exactly are they thinking?" camp, but it seems clear that whether you agree with it or not they do have a strategy, possibly something to do with taking Yahoo! off their pedestal as the biggest "independent" portal. They've got Deja, and subsequently Usenet archiving, they've got the biggest/most used search engine, they've got Google News, and the Google Directory (direct competition to Yahoo!'s main portal) and now they've got the biggest centralized blogging system around. Yahoo! must be a bit worried. Clearly they could see this enroachment on their turf coming from their recent Inktomi purchase. Now if Microsoft is still really serious about MSN, the portal wars might be about to heat up again. Which would also mean that the search engine field could get competitive again, since Google couldn't really be trusted by the other portals since they're competing with them...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 17, 2003 at 1:09 AM

what a week

Things have a strange tendency to happen all at once. This week is the most exhausting I've experienced in a long time, and that has (unsurprisingly) affected my blogging-time. Hell, for the past few days I've barely looked at the news. Hopefully things will quiet down in a couple of days...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 13, 2003 at 1:22 PM

AOL

This Salon article talks about the contradictions created by the AOL/Time Warner merger in the P2P sharing space.

In this 'battle' AOL will probably lose, particularly given the current financial situation of AOL Time Warner and AOL's responsiblity for it. Too bad. The biggest ISP in the world would be an influential player otherwise, and the RIAA's effort will do little to stop the technology; they will just push it further underground.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 10, 2003 at 9:22 PM

sun/java memo hoax?

Slashdot has discussion on a supposed Sun memo that states that Java should not be used for Sun's internal projects. Within the discussion there are several notes about inconsistencies (for example here and here).

Personally, I don't think the memo is too damaging (even if it was real, something I have my doubts about). Sun has been deploying Java internally in many applications for quite a while, and server-side Java is widely deployed not just within Sun (for example, last time I checked, the JavaSoft website was running the Java Web Server.) but also externally, and they work. The memo points to several "facts", for example: a HelloWorld application requires 9MB of disk space, but leaves out many details, such as the fact that once you install the JRE a HelloWorld app is actually a few KB, compared to hundreds of KB for a Windows app. Saying that a Java HelloWorld is 9MB is like saying a Windows HelloWorld is 500 MB since it requires Windows to run.

If the memo is real, the analysis is quite incomplete. If it's not, well, someone pulled a good one on Sun. Hopefully they will come out with an explanation.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 9, 2003 at 10:56 PM

sony's portable WiFi server

[via John Robb who also added some comments here]: An entry at O'Reilly weblogs comments on Sony's portable WiFi "server". I've been expecting this. Glad it's finally happening. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 9, 2003 at 1:40 AM

anticonvergence

Russ posted an interesting entry on 'anticonvergence', the idea that specialized devices will actually be more important than integrated devices. This is the idea that the spaces design is based on, with its current (and more importantly, future) synchronization capabilities.

Although I didn't have a name for it, I first became interested in this idea around the time at was working at IBM Research designing a new portable device. UI researchers have expected this kind of separation between devices for a long time, and for a good reason that can be summed up in one word: affordances.

As I mentioned earlier affordances are natural extensions for functions on a given system; for example an affordance for the 'open/close" function in a door is the handle, it naturally (through training and our physical disposition) makes us want to grab it, and it moves only in the direction in which the function is "activated" ie, to open the door when it's closed, and viceversa. (By the way, Don Norman's book, The design of everyday things which I also read when at IBM, is an incredibly good introduction to many deep issues in design and in particular to the idea of affordances and specialized user interfaces).

The problem with affordances is that they work best when they are little (if at all) 'overloaded' that is, when they represent a single function in the system. When an affordance has to match two different functions it becomes confusing and, as more functions are piled up, diffidult to operate. One only has to take a look at current Microsoft product to see how overloading of an affordance can lead to disastrous results. (This is one of the reasons why I try to keep the UI of spaces clean and simple.)

For example, people that have been working for years on designs for intelligent homes never, ever create "control centers" for the different things that have to be controlled, there are always many user interfaces spread throughout the house, in the kitchen (fridge door, oven, etc), in the living room (TV, media center), in rooms, and so on. 'Entertainment' devices such as cameras or MP3s are really good at what they do and while it makes sense to have some limited cross-functionality (say, a simple camera in a PC) you'll never beat the 'hardware UI' of a camera with a cell phone. It's simply a matter of ergonomics.

That said, there are some functions that definitely make a lot of sense for integration, in particular PDA-cellphone functions. But more integration than that is overkill and unnecessary. Eventually, single-purpose devices like the Blackberry will eventually win.

It can be summed up in one phrase: To each task its device, and all of them seamlessly and transparently connected.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 7, 2003 at 7:49 PM

java & openoffice

Following up something I remembered from a couple of months ago... I've been looking with some detail at the different APIs exposed by OpenOffice/StarOffice, in part to provide support for connections between OO/SO and spaces, and in part since I've been working on the design for a similar API for spaces itself. OO/SO goes pretty much along similar lines to what I was thinking: two APIs, one for compiled code and one for scripting.

The "compiled code" API is called UNO and it's a bit overreaching, supporting basically every major language out there and then some. As the web page describes:

UNO (Universal Network Objects) is the interface based component model of OpenOffice.org. UNO offers interoperability between different programming languages, different objects models, different machine architectures and different processes either in LAN or via the internet. UNO components can be implemented in and accessed from any supported programming language.

Currently [there are] bindings for Java, C, C++ (compiler dependent, please see http://porting.openoffice.org for a list of supported platforms), OLE Automation and Python(in a alpha state).

A bit too much isn't it?

It seems to be a design more influenced by the "all things to all platforms" mentality of CORBA rather than Java's simplicity. I'd sure would like to see a simple, streamlined Java-only API. Burdening Java with a framework that has to support the complexity (and potential ugliness) of C++ makes no sense to me.

The scripting framework appears to be a bit simpler and more targeted towards Java, and an early developer release is available for download. It is expected that these APIs/frameworks will carry on unchanged from OpenOffice to StarOffice.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 7, 2003 at 12:40 PM

JDK 1.5 features

Simon posted a short summary of the most important additions to JDK 1.5. Of those, Generics, (ie., templates) Autoboxing (automatic conversion of primitive types to and from their reference type equivalent) and Type-safe Enumerations are the most useful, and will IMO vastly improve the readability and development of Java code. The enhanced for-loop, a simple way of iterating through collections, is slightly confusing I think (as it always happens when you "overload" keywords in this way), but useful nonetheless.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 7, 2003 at 8:46 AM

coming soon to a DSL connection near you

So true. And hilarious!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 6, 2003 at 4:48 PM

more on input methods

Chris commented on my previous entry on my views on using input methods properly. Interesting read, since his background is on speech technologies, with which I've had my share of experience but not anywhere near the level that Chris has.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 6, 2003 at 4:44 PM

cristian's spaces logo

I can't believe I forgot to blog about this. About two weeks ago Cristian created the following icon and added it to his weblog:

spaces logo

It was really great of him to do this. Cristian has also been of great help in reporting problems and sending suggestions for spaces. Many, many thanks!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 6, 2003 at 2:37 PM

essential books

Patrick (who started his blog a couple of days ago and sent many great suggestions and bug reports for spaces) has posted his list of "Essential Books". Great idea. Most of the books on Patrick's list are favorites of mine. I would add Design Patterns by the Gang of Four, Peopleware, and The Mythical Man-Month. Maybe once I make enough time to redesign my blog I'll add a list like that too. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 6, 2003 at 2:27 PM

the power of propaganda

Now, this article is a bit scary:

At the end of the first week of January, the Princeton Survey Research Associates polled more than 1,200 Americans on behalf of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain. They asked a very simple question: "To the best of your knowledge, how many of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?"

It should be impossible for a person who has lived through the last 16 months not to know the name and face of Mohamed Atta, believed to be the lead hijacker, and to have at least some nebulous sense of the identity of the hijackers. For much of this time, the nation in toto was umbilically joined to the media's saturation coverage, with hourly "terror alerts," scrolling "terror" news tickers, and panoplies of talking heads sprouting a confetti of 10-second sound bites. Surely some information must have been imparted.

The Knight Ridder survey appears to reveal a quite different reality. Of those surveyed, only 17 percent knew the correct answer: that none of the hijackers were Iraqi. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that most or some of the hijackers were Iraqi; another 6 percent believe that one of the hijackers was a citizen of that most notorious node in the axis of evil. That leaves 33 percent who did not know enough to offer an answer.

Big Brother would be proud: Doublethink is among us.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 6, 2003 at 2:08 PM

opera and msn

Opera is saying that Microsoft has again modified MSN so that it fails with Opera 7. Remember when this happened with Navigator? It wasn't a coincidence back then, either.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 5, 2003 at 11:32 PM

groove 2.5

Groove released version 2.5 of its software, including greater integration with Microsoft products. I have to admit I'm still a bit confused about how the products merge, it seems to me that some of the features of Groove overlap with those provided by the Microsoft products with which it's supposed to link (Outlook, Exchange, SharePoint). Weird.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 4, 2003 at 11:24 PM

J2EE 1.4 spec delayed

Sun is pushing back the release of the new J2EE spec to accommodate better support for interoperable web services as defined by WS-I.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 4, 2003 at 11:18 PM

music or windows?

This News.com article "wonders" whether Microsoft is looking after the recording labels or itself with their recent moves in the DRM/Media markets. In essence, they wonder if Microsoft truly cares about the labels' problems, or if they are simply protecting Windows. My question would be: is there any doubt?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 4, 2003 at 11:15 PM

quote of the day

"I'm gonna need a hacksaw"
--Jack Bauer in the 8am to 9am episode on the new series of 24.
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 4, 2003 at 11:11 PM

immortal code

A cool article from this month's Wired magazine:

The CEO goes to trial. The programmers hit the street. And yet sometimes a piece of code is so elegant, so evolved, that it outlasts everything else.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 4, 2003 at 9:25 AM

snow!

It just started snowing here in Dublin! Weee! Snow is one of the things that I miss from the winters in New York. Sure, snow is a pain, but when it's so cold (and it's been very cold here in the past few weeks, snow provides a nice change of scenery and the cold suddenly has a purpose: to blanket everything with a soft cover of white.

Too bad it's dark already and the snowfall just started (so no accumulation yet), or I'd take a picture.

A minute later (literally): No more snow. Oh well. Not even rain in fact. That's Dublin climate for you. Weather moves too fast.

Fifteen minutes later: Cloud cover dissipating. You can see the night sky now. Few clouds remain. LOL.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 7:50 PM

the seven-day workweek-- or seven-day weekend

Don comments on Mark's entry about working at home. Don says:

I know how bad working at home all the time can be. One minute you think you have it all, commuting to work just a matter of walking from your bedroom to the office downstairs. Next minute, you feel like a squirrel running inside a turning wheel. Still, you can't beat the hours. Your nights and weekends aren't gone. They are just uprooted so you can have them any time you want.
Exactly. I work at home as much as I work at my office at the university, in large part on a schedule of my own choosing. Sometimes the deep of night is the best time to code. :-) Sometimes it can take over my life, but eventually the balance comes back. Still, the week becomes a uniform landscape of sunrises and sunsets, rather than an arbitrarily divided sequence ruled by numbers on a piece of paper in the wall. This might seem bad, but it releases the "pressure of the calendar" (As in: "Oh, it's saturday, we better do something). Like Kurt Cobain says in Lithium: "Sunday morning's/every that for all I care/and I'm not scared". :-)

Probably the weirdest result of all this is not internal but external, ie., in my interaction with others who might be working more "regular" hours/days. That's probably the trickiest thing to balance. Sometimes it's a bit of extra effort. But it's worth it.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 4:25 PM

hunter S. thompson

Salon has an interview with Hunter S. Thompson that is excellent. Fear and Loathing! :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 12:12 PM

the C++ FAQ

For the past few months I've been delving deeper into Win32/C++ as part of my thesis work (since the service I'm working on runs on a wireless ad hoc platform based on WinCE). One resource that I keep coming back to when dealing with obscure C++ "features" is the C++ FAQ. What's online is the "lite" version, and it's excellent, but buying the book is a much better option, as it contains a lot more material. A must-have when working with C++ in any environment.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 12:07 PM

golf and the environment

A really interesting (if disquieting) article by Jake Tapper on Salon about the golf industry, its growing power and how massive its effect on the environment is compared to the few people that practice the sport.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 12:13 AM

java2d problems on ATI cards

Through some link-sequence I can't remember I ended up here, which contains a link to this entry on a Java2D bug on ATI cards. Here is the link from JavaSoft's "bugparade." The problem is essentially that on some platforms with some ATI cards Java2D works badly or simply hangs up the machine completely. A workaround that seems to work on some JDKs is:

Use -Dsun.java2d.noddraw=true
This prevents our use of DirectX for rendering and apparently (according to the submitter) avoids whatever the freeze problem is.

The flag

-Dsun.java2d.d3d=false

is also worth trying (and a better, less constraining flag to use), but the
user has not yet been able to verify whether this avoids the bug since the
publicly release build is currently b14, which does not yet fully implement
the d3d=false functionality.
Now this is ugly.

This problem has been reported in relation to spaces a couple of times. At least JavaSoft has fixed it for JDK 1.4.1_02 (which should be released soon I assume). Something else that works as well in my experience is reducing the hardware acceleration settings on the card's video driver. The JavaSoft page contains links to other related bugs. This relates to what I was mentioning the other day about consistency within platforms being one of the few (if not the only) major problem remaining in Java. These things take time to resolve. Good to see we're getting there. Now if we could only have a decent configuration system that would work uniformly to set startup properties (including video settings, incremental garbage collection, JVM memory settings, etc) for applications, applets and JavaWebstart installations...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 3, 2003 at 12:10 AM

why meta-structured storage matters

Reading Scot Hacker's foobar blog I found this entry pointing to a cool article on O'Reilly Network's site that talked about Apple's "iLife" apps and the need for them to have an integrated database. He says:

To me, all of these database issues point to a similar need -- find a more efficient backing store for the iApps. The more I ask around, the more it seems that XML is the smoking gun on iLife performance drags - it's a great format for interoperability, but horribly inefficient and resource consumptive. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to reconsider using XML for the iApps. Maybe, just maybe, Apple should consider using some of the highly efficient open source database code out there -- MySQL would do nicely I'm sure.

And since the iLife apps are all so wonderfully integrated now, why not place all of my media in a single, integrated media database? Whether such a database would store media objects themselves (allowing full export to original formats of course) or just references to them (with iTunes-style non-breaking inode references) is unimportant to me. With modern Mac hardware, I should be getting modern media database performance where it counts the most -- when using my Mac as the digital lifestyle hub it's touted as.

When designing spaces, the question of storage was always foremost on my mind. Most applications don't require databases of any sort, but those are usually old apps. New applications tend to store information, index it, and so on, allowing connections between the data to exist either implicit (via soft references through indexed searches) or explicit. When you are dealing with tens of thousands of objects, you need an index, when you have an application with multithreated data access you need recovery, logging, and so on. This means a database, or if you prefer a term that doesn't remind you of a 1.5 Gb Oracle 9i installation, meta-structured storage ("meta" since the storage system imposes new structures, such as indexes, upon the original structure of the data). New applications today try to leverage connections between pieces of data, and this will only grow as the amount of data that we store grows. Using a database on a consumer product sounds scary, since most of our experiences with databases come from the corporate world, where databases usually are a nightmare to install and require an army to maintain, but it needen't be a problem if the storage system is properly designed. Many products are based on databases today, and most users don't even know. Whether the data is stored in the database or not is irrelevant, as Scot says in his article. What matters is that the program supports a fast, reliable mechanism to provide access to that data.

Thousands of digital photographs and MP3s. Tens of thousands of emails. Tens of thousands of webpages. Hundreds of documents and images. Hundreds of appointments and contacts. Hundreds of notes. What more can I say: I think that in the future meta-structured storage integrated within applications will become the norm, rather than the exception.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 2, 2003 at 11:49 PM

meta-meta tagging

Russ goes has a good set of pointers today about the different metatags that are emerging for websites, for weblog configuration, RSS, geographical location, etc. He mentions the need for meta-meta tags. I agree. I don't think is has to end up being something as generic as RDF. An expansion of RSD would probably be enough. Food for thought. Yum!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 2, 2003 at 7:35 PM

some more coverage on the shuttle

Obviously it was all over the news, but I found the New York Times' coverage to be pretty good. In their lead article they go over possible causes and mention something that I thought was interesting:

The space agency, which spent tens of millions of dollars improving safety after the Challenger accident, has estimated the risk of a calamitous event on re-entry as 1 in 350.
Now, if that's the estimate (I imagine based on a lot of guesswork, since a re-entry event implies a catastrophic failure of some kind) then considering that this was the 113th flight of the shuttle, it doesn't seem to be terribly off the mark. It does "feel" a bit low (specially considering that the original plan was to fly it once a week at least, then at that rate of failure you could expect one "calamitous event on re-entry" ever six years or so. Not good.

A lot of the coverage has focused on the Israeli astronaut on board. This article has a paragraph that caught my eye:

In a twist of nomenclature that would seem plausible only in fiction, a craft carrying Col. Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Air Force apparently broke up near an East Texas town called Palestine.
Blind coincidence has a way of making us feel strange, doesn't it? I mean, a town in Texas called Palestine...

William Gibson also has an entry on his blog to which I relate a lot.

Another article talks in more detail about the possibility that it was a failure in the heat shield tiles, which I assume was what was on most people's minds when they found out about it. I've seen many news reports today going over the much-mentioned "lift off incident" where foam debris from the external tank below the orbiter when the shuttle left a little more than two weeks ago hit the left wing, and it's incredible that they are (simply by repetition) "convincing themselves" that this was the cause. It's unlikely that it will be just that. At a minimum, a series of things must have gone wrong. It might be something else altogether. Too bad this time Richard Feynman is not around to straighten things up for all those bureaucrats. (There is an excellent account of his role in the Challenger disaster investigation in his book What do you care what other people think?).

This is probably my last entry on the Columbia for a while. It's sad, and tragic, but we humans have a bad tendency of focusing on dramatic events in places that give them enough coverage. Just yesterday, as the first reports of the Columbia were coming in, a bomb exploded in Lagos, Nigeria, killing dozens of people. And yet hours after that it was clear what had happened to the shuttle was a catastrophic failure and all the astronauts had perished, hours after it was clear that little could be said that hadn't already been said (or speculated out loud), coverage of the bomb in Africa in non-US news was limited to (literally) a three-second bit of "By the way, a bomb exploded in Nigeria. Dozens are feared dead." Coverage in supposedly more "international" US-news stations like CNN was nil. I assume that in part it's also a matter of expectations and where we put our dreams. Technology plays its part too, we naturally gravitate to its origin (namely, the US). But it always gives me a deep sense of unease that we seem to worry more about the fate of certain people than that of others. Not that I'm immune to that, I'm just aware of that in myself (and certainly on the news) and I don't like it too much, and I don't even know if it could change.

Anyway, that's a different topic. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Later: Just saw Russ has an entry talking about similar things. I agree that the media is a big driver behind this. But there's also something deeper. Before Big Media existed people still felt affected when, say, the King died, but barely lifted a finger when their neighbor passed away, as it was 'a fact of life'. This ties in with what I was saying a couple of paragraphs above about expectations, dreams, etc. Hopefully over time we'll learn to find some balance...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 2, 2003 at 7:21 PM

the space shuttle

So Columbia disintegrated on reentry. Unbelievable. I was watching this on TV almost from the moment it was first reported, and I couldn't believe how long it took them to come up with possible "scenarios" under which this could have happened. Time now has a short report on those online. It rightly debunks the ridiculous thought that this could have been a terrorist attack, as some news channels were suggesting:

There are three possible scenarios that explain this event. The first, which I believe is the likeliest explanation, would be an aerodynamic structural breakup of the shuttle caused by it rolling at the wrong angle. Remember, after reentry, the shuttle is descending without power, which means astronauts at the controls can't compensate for a loss of attitude by using the engines, they can only do so using the flaps. And that's extremely hard. Astronauts describe piloting the shuttle on reentry as like trying to fly a brick with wings. It's very difficult to operate, and even more so to correct any problems.

A second explanation might be a loss of tiles leading to a burn-through. (The shuttle is covered with heat-resistant tiles to protect the craft and those inside it from burning up in the scorching temperatures caused by the friction of reentry.) But I think that explanation is unlikely, because the tile-loss would have had to have been quite substantial for that to become possible. You'll hear a lot in the next few days about things falling off the shuttle during liftoff. But it often happens that they lose a few tiles, and I'd be surprised if it happened on a scale that could make an accident of this type possible.

The last option is some kind of engine failure leading to fuel ignition. Although the main tanks are mostly empty, there should still be fuel left in the maneuvering tanks. But probably not enough for an explosion that could have caused this breakup.

And just in case anybody was wondering, you can almost certainly rule out terrorism as a cause. This incident occurred well above the range of shoulder-fired missiles. And it would probably be easier to sneak a bomb onto Air Force One than to get one onto the shuttle.

NASA should get its act together. And maybe this will be a reminder that spaceflight is not yet 'routine", and that we should start putting more of our energies into serious space exploration instead of over-using technologies that in many cases where designed two decades ago.

Regardless of all that (which in any case is little more than tangential when loss of life is involved), a sad day for space exploration.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 1, 2003 at 5:52 PM

put up or shut up

Charles Cooper goes after the CEOs that just complain and offer few new solutions to the current "tech slump":

[The question stands] of whether CEO leadership in Silicon Valley, so lionized during the go-go days, is all that it's cracked up to be. Where's the imagination? Where's the outside-of-the-box thinking? Unfortunately, ordering yet another wave of mass layoffs doesn't qualify as evidence of managerial genius.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 1, 2003 at 2:22 AM

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