diego's weblog: March 2003 Archives
new flash memory from motorola
Motorola will show prototypes of Flash memory chips built with a new kind of nanocrystal, allowing the same storage density in half the area. Cool.
SCM and TCO
Hmm, coming from an MS background I know and, more or less, understand VSS. But that costs if you can't afford a sufficiently serious MSDN sub (I can) so I too have looked. I've been somewhat blinkered by the desire for IDE integration but think I'm going to have to give up on that )-:Cost can definitely be a problem, and it's one of the variables I'm looking at. I've used VSS in the past and I'd choose CVS over VSS any day of the week, even though both integrate with the tool I'm using (IDEA). What I want from a SCM system is some advanced features, such as proper branch management, distributed development and so on. We'll see how they compare after I do some testing.
so the lawyers didn't use vmware
Over the weekend I "discovered" a copy of Windows 98 Second Edition (sometimes looking through my stuff feels as if I'm on an archeological dig). While I was trying to install it on VMWare Beta 4, setup kept failing after the "setup wizard" had been "prepared" (whatever that means). I tried different settings and still no luck. Changed drivers on the boot disk. Prepared the drive in different ways. Nothing.
Then I realized that the floppy from which I was booting had been prepared for an IBM Thinkpad laptop, and it contained DR-DOS 7.0.
Ah, DR-DOS. I remembered the trial (although I don't remember what happened with it in the end, and I don't even want to spend time looking more, the last piece of news I found on it is here) in which Caldera, who eventually ended up owning DR-DOS, was suing Microsoft for modifying Windows to fail with DR-DOS. I needed an original Microsoft Win98SE bootdisk. So I looked online and got a version from here. Created the disk. Booted.
Installed without a hitch.
Score: Monopoly 1, Little guy 0. I wonder why Caldera's lawyers had a hard time proving Microsoft's behavior. Seems pretty obvious to me.
more on version control
Still checking to look at the recent advances in source control management (SCM) systems. I began looking about two months ago and at that time I saw BitKeeper and subversion. Then Chris Bailey from CodeIntensity and Dylan both recommended Perforce. So now I've downloaded both Perforce and Bitkeeper. Installed Perforce, created a repository, etc. Still not installed BitKeeper. Will post impressions of both systems once I've given them a workout, which is not so hard since I already have a source structure that is reasonably complex.
SARS fears spread
All but forgotten in the midst of the War coverage, SARS seems to be spreading, slowly but surely. CDC has warned that it seems to spread through contact and repeated exposure, and might even be airborne. The death rate related to the disease has remained around 4%, but since there's no cure, it can only be stopped by treatment, in many cases requiring mechanical respirators. It seems to me that if this hits an area with insuficient resources it could create a real health crisis. Even more, since they still aren't sure of how it spreads, every time there's an outbreak they have to quarantine everyone in an area, and this means hospitals will be the hardest hit, for obvious reasons. Today a hospital in Canada had to shut down and place everyone inside under quarantine.
As if humans weren't creating enough problems, now this...
Java to be bundled on PCs
According to this article, Sun expects that some major PC makers wil "soon" will begin bundling the JVM with their installations. About time. Once the JVM is widely deployed, then the "JVM gap" will disappear. Hopefully before (or soon after) that happens, Sun will come up with a proper mechanism for handling Java versions (as I've expressed before... I don't quite like the idea of 100 million PCs with two or three different versions of Java installed and the consequent potential for confusion among users that could create.
a dick tracy world
NTT Docomo has shown a preview of a wristwatch phone:
The "Wristomo" PHS handset, which is designed to transfer data at speeds of up to 64 Kbit/sec, is compatible with the "PALDIO E-mail" service, which enables users to connect send/receive e-mails up to 6,000 alphanumeric characters over the Internet without having to sign up for a provider.I've heard of several "intelliwatches" over the past 2-3 years, that is, watches that provide PDA-like capabilities, but I think I never heard a cellphone provider talking about it, much less including support for high-speed data connections. With the push towards video adding a camera and video playback would be expected as soon as the obvious battery (and in less measure, display) issues are solved. The hardware user interface for the phone seems appropriately sparse, since there really isn't much real estate, but I wonder how that affects navigation in the software UI. It seems that it has sync-capabilities with outlook, but no bluetooth! You have to sync over the internet or through a cable (!?!). Poohey.
And another thing: once the phone is in your watch, it's unlikely you'll ever leave it (or easily ignore it when it's ringing), so there better be a simple way (ie., one-click) to turn the phone functionality off or at least switch it to silent mode. Sometimes we forget that the "off" switch is one of the most important elements of any technology. :-)
synchronizing to multiple data sources
One of the most important questions remaining for spaces is the definition of how multiple sync sources are managed. In the current version (alpha 1.8) it is possible to synchronize a single space to an RSS feed. The mechanism is extensible: the context menu for a space includes an option "Space sync settings" that lets the user "attach" an RSS feed to the space. For a while I've intended IMAP to use a similar mechanism. Aside from the IMAP Folder Selection dialog, available when configuring an IMAP account (which creates a corresponding local space for each folder), there would be the possibility to sync a space with by using the context menu, attached to a particular IMAP account. So far so good.
The problem is that IMAP constantly synchronizes content to the server. Therefore, when moving content in and out of a space that is synchronizing with IMAP, it is useful that the user is aware of what is being done, preferably in a non-intrusive way.
A similar problem applies to synchronization with mobile devices. An eminently useful feature would be to synchronize a particular space with a particular mobile device, so if you have a personal mobile phone, you can synchronize your "Personal" space to it (and thus the contacts, calendar items, etc, that belong to it) and then synchronize the "Work" space to your PDA, which you use for the office. However, again, there must be some visual feedback that this will happen. So how to do it? The solution I am currently working on is shown on the screenshot below.
The idea is that sync sources can be displayed next to a space with an icon: mobile device, IMAP server, LDAP, RSS, whatever. To reduce load, each sync setting can be hidden, with appropriate defaults. For example, IMAP synchronization would appear, because it implies sending data to a server (potentially bad, since, for example, we might be sending content to a server that is not secure, or that belongs to the company), while RSS would not, since it is read-only (a space with RSS sync settings that allow weblog postings are another matter). A mobile device sync icon would also appear by default, because, again, the content is being synchronized "out" of the program, and so it makes sense for the user to be aware of that. Certainly power-users might prefer not to see all those icons, or be aware only of a few. Users that don't need IMAP would never have to deal with those options.
Also, note that the icon has the added advantage that it provides quick access to the configuration: when the mouse is over it a pull down is shown (see the screenshot). Access to the configuration would still be available through the context menu for a space.
As far as IMAP is concerned, there is another nice side-effect: transparent IMAP configuration. A big headache in IMAP systems is how to manage the server. With this interface if a space is created locally, and then attached to an IMAP account, a corresponding IMAP folder would be created in the next IMAP sync, carrying along its contents.
I hope this description was clear enough. I'd like to hear your comments, or questions.
Positive and encouraging comments overall, even those raising words of caution. I'd say there were three common themes, some comments talking about all of them, most about one or two:
Russ posted a cool comment on his weblog. There is one particular sentence he wrote that stuck:
[...] my thoughts are simply this: If you're thinking about starting a business, you must want to. If you want to, then you should.I can't add much to that, except to say: Onward!
The design of Nokia's 3650
Russ was just wondering if Nokia's design decisions for their 3650 mobile phone were inspired or nuts, in particular regarding the round keypad.
I think that Nokia got it right, and not by accident. I am sure that they've done a lot of user testing, but they don't have to. Circular user interfaces have long been considered superior to "linear" UIs (e.g., menus). Why? Several reasons, but for starters, look at your hand.
Our hands are better suited for rotation rather than linear precision movements. Receivers, amplifiers, and so on, have dials for selecting volume, and one reason for that is that we have higher degree of "fine control" over rotational motion with our hands over linear motion.
Because of the nature of rotational movement, it's also better suited for learning/remembering than linear or arbitrary positioned interfaces. Why? Consider that with a circular/rotational interface, the "center of gravity" of the interface, the location to which movements are relative, remains fixed (as far as the user is concerned): it's the center of your hand. On a linear interface, meanwhile, the center varies depending on the current position of the device or the function selected in the user interface. This makes it much easier to activate functions by direct motion rather than having to look at what the interface is doing.
One disadvantage that circular interfaces have is extensibility: since the space you have is limited you can't create menus with a bazillion options (like some software companies like to do). On the plus side, this means that the designers really have to think about how to create the UI, rather than piling up stuff on already-overcrowded menus.
Circular menus should become more common as we understand better how to use them, even in the context of PC user interfaces. One great example is Pie Menus for Mozilla.
Another comment on the nokia design: the teardrop shape seems to me more comfortable for holding: again better adapted to our hands.
look and feel, part 3
In another comment Roberto was wondering what are my thoughts on SWT (I've made some comments/references before on the state of Swing here and here). I have several reasons, not the least of which is that the idea of using an SDK that is more recent (and therefore more buggy) sounds a bit risky, but the main one is this: objects allocated in SWT have to be released "by hand". To me, this is unnacceptable. I don't want to go back into the having to find memory leaks. If they fix that, I might reconsider :-).
to be or not to be
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them?
Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1
Okay, so maybe Shakespeare didn't quite intend it for what I mean.
Poetic license aside: I'm thinking of starting a company based on spaces and its related technologies. I have been talking to someone here who has experience with other companies, we've discussed possible names, how it would be done and so on.
Well, for one, to let spaces prosper and grow faster, and make it a more visible contender in what is becoming a highly competitive field.
To make sure that a free version can be supported by a structure that companies can be comfortable with, and would be willing to pay for.
To be able to get some sleep.
And so on. :-)
Regardless of my decision, I'd like to get other opinions.
Comments? Ideas? Questions? I'd like to hear what you think. Leave a comment on this post, or
bowden on iraq
An article by Mark Bowden on the strategy apparently being used by Iraq and its consequences for an invasion of Baghdad. Bowden wrote Black Hawk Down (which before being a movie, or the book on which the movie was based, was a Philadelphia Inquirer series, online here) and Killing Pablo.
looking for a new look and feel, cont.
A couple of comments on my previous entry about my search for a new look and feel. Matt commented that the Alloy L&F is quite good (also a comment here. I agree (I had mentioned it in passing in my entry), but as I said I find it slightly outdated in some sense I can't quite describe. I should try it a bit more though.
Aside from noting my search, Cristian said:
Decent font rendering by the Java VM is what I hope Sun will provide, sooner or later.I couldn't agree more. Although font rendering improved vastly with the addition of Java2D, there are still holes. In particular, an easy way to turn on anti-aliasing would be a godsend (right now the only way to do it is to redefine the paint() method of a component by subclassing and change the parameters on the Graphics2D object that is received). Well-designed, platform-independent font management would also be an important step forward.
new machine, cont.
The installation of the new environment is mostly done, and copying of files from the notebook is also largely complete. I've spent most of the day working on a new Look and Feel for spaces, adding a couple of new context commands for Contacts, and setting up some VMWare virtual machines. I just run the spaces beta in Linux/Gnome (Red Hat 7.2) and it looks great (More on my impressions on running linux again later). Screenshots are forthcoming shortly :-).
using all those GHz and MB
Now that I have a machine that can handle more than two applications at once, I installed VMWare Workstation 4 (Beta). Such an amazing application. So well done, so simple and powerful. I've already installed W2K Server in one VM, now I'm going for Red Hat 7.2 in another. Testing spaces is about to get a lot easier.
Something else that I've been looking at, in the interest of making life easier for users, is InstallShield multiplatform, which builds native installers for multiple target platforms from a single build configuration. Still haven't tamed it (somewhat non-intuitive at times) but getting there. In the end, for Windows installs the Multiplatform product might not be the best idea since the installation doesn't look too good. But for targeting multiple UNIX environments, plus MacOS and Windows, it's great. Then again, many people that use UNIX don't have much use for installers. ;-)
looking for a new look and feel
As part of changes for the beta I've been exploring the area of Pluggable Look and Feels for Java. There aren't that many really, and most are not very complete. Javootoo is a good listing of the best-known (there are several more out there, like the Alloy L&F). One that I found that looks really good is the Skin Look and Feel. Alloy also looks nice, although a bit dated. Oyoaha is also interesting. And finally, the Simple L&F. I've been modifying one of the L&Fs from Skin, and it looks good.
It's possible that a different look and feel might be the default for spaces, always having the option for reverting to "native" L&F. I think that wouldn't be too much of an impact for users, who are by now more used to seeing different UIs (Winamp, Quicktime, Media Player, games...)
cristian's new design
Cristian's weblog has a new design. Nice!
And... I just realized that today it's one month since I did the redesign. It must be the season... :-)
Busy day today. Got a new machine (weee!) so now I can run Eclipse or even IDEA 3.0 without having to stare at the hourglass for what seems like weeks before anything happens (I know, I've got a talent for exaggeration), or VMWare to test spaces with different versions of Windows or Linux. But first, of course, I've got to install Eclipse, or IDEA, or everything else for that matter.
So I've spent the last few hours installing software, downloading some small programs through my modem connection (painful excercise) and trying to get my old machine connected to this one. I tried crossover Ethernet, but for some reason the connection kept doing weird things. I tried serial connection but came to the conclusion the wires weren't inverted. So I fired up a Linksys Wireless Access Point that I brought here from the US, connected the desktop through Ethernet to the WAP and the notebook through 802.11. Finally! Now everything seems to work, although some files refuse to be copied for some reason. I wish Windows Networking behaved less randomly.
So now a long night ahead, installation after installation and testing different things. Not a lot of fun, but at least now IDEA loads in about 5 seconds, and Eclipse almost instantly. How forgotten how that felt. (Relieving!). Also, now that the development environment installation is almost complete I'll be able to continue working while the rest of the stuff is copied/installed in the background.
More later on my install/migration adventure.
the real face of war
An article on media control and the war.
the influence of wireless
CNET's Michael Kanellos asks:
Will wireless computing fundamentally change the relationship people have with their computers, and allow them to hurdle over one more barrier presented by the physical world--or will it mostly be a hobby for techno nuts?I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever that wireless will become a force for change. It already is, but it will grow. Kanellos' article focuses mostly on Intel's recent move into wireless.
I'd say another thing about the article. He says "The future of the PC market hangs on that question." I think that what's really exciting about wireless is that it is a new market. Sure, the PC market might be temporarily "reinvigorated" by wireless, but that's not the point. Forget the PC market. PCs are being transformed, and wireless is only one of the drivers for change. New devices are better adapted to particular functions, and they use wireless to provide seamless communication.
Hang on to your hats, the post-PC era is arriving. (Yeah, a bit of hype, but what can you do... :-)).
that microsoft thing
I have no problems admitting that I hate all things Microsoft. You can check my weblog for a variety of rants against the company and their technology. Institutionally the company lies and cheats. They use their illegal monopoly to manipulate smaller companies, developers and customers. They copy great technology and ideas (WIMP, Netscape, Java) and then use their financial power to muscle the originator out of the market. Microsoft's dominance of the industry is literally a crime. There is NOTHING to like about that company.I disagree. I don't like Microsoft's aggresive behavior, and I think their products aren't as good as they should be, and I agree that some of the things they do are inexcusable. They do stifle innovation. But, that doesn't mean that they are "criminals". As I've argued before, I think that they are simply better than many others at playing the game of Capitalism. Their monopoly is not illegal (monopolies per se aren't illegal, and in fact network effects tend to dictacte that monopolies happen more or less "naturally" in market economies), but the use Microsoft gives to their monopoly is illegal in many cases.
Yes, my view is possibly overly "darwinian", but I think that's the way things are. It's not Microsoft's fault that monopolies encourage this kind of predatory behavior, that free-markets-for-all policies squash the little guy, and so on. It is their fault that, having so much power they don't rise above that and become a more "benevolent" force, but hey, they're human after all. They have the power and the money to create better things from the start, instead of playing the waiting game and doing things only when it's absolutely necessary, but they don't do it. How many others, in their position, wouldn't defend it at all costs? I'm not sure. It's easy to be on moral high ground when there's nothing to lose. I like to think that I'd personally would not behave like that, but I don't think I can say that my own principles are above others. They're just my own.
Russ then goes on to say:
There is no middle of the road here. If you don't actively oppose Microsoft then you are just conceding them whatever market they want and this will directly affect you sooner or later. If you're one of the millions of Java programmers you need to actively oppose ANY Microsoft advancement into your company, otherwise your time and effort learning Java will go straight in the trash. I don't mind competition - Java is improving already by the presence of Dot Not for example - but Microsoft doesn't compete, remember? They use their monopoly advantage to take over whichever market they set their eyes on. And this means that whether you're a Java programmer or a mobile developer, Microsoft is actively planning to make your skills and livelihood obsolete. Don't forget it.It's true. They are always a serious threat, and no one should forget it or dismiss it. That doesn't mean that we have to consider them to be evil, or despise them.
Now, I don't know if my argument qualifies for "middle of the road" or what. The problem I see with saying "you're either with us or against us" is that it polarizes the argument unnecessarily. For example, I find many things from Microsoft impressive: their single-minded focus, their ability to somehow make their products work in spite of the size of their market and of their code base. Windows XP is more than 35 million lines of code. And it still works (more or less). Now, to me, that says that there is a really good development organization in place, and that many of their people must be talented. They are in more software markets than anyone else and they have products in many areas. They weren't always so powerful; keep in mind that through the 80s the biggest software company in the world was Lotus. So they are doing something right. Whether it's moral or not is another matter.
The argument that, more often than not, bully their way into markets using their monopoly position is true, but then we should remember that all the companies that have been crushed by them have made fatal mistakes along the way. Those that haven't have survived. Intuit survived Microsoft's determined attack into end-user accounting/tax products in the late 90s. AOL survived the bundling of MSN into every consumer version of Windows since Windows 95. In fact, not only did AOL and Intuit survive, they also maintained their market dominance. How? Better products, better prices, better understanding of what the customer needed or wanted. And, each in their way, through innovation. This is not to say that Microsoft behaved lawfully in the Netscape case, for example, but Netscape compounded Microsoft's onslaught with its own set of crucial errors (can you think of anyone that considered Communicator 4.0 anything other than bloated, buggy software?). Additionally, a monopoly doesn't include any guarantees. Microsoft keeps moving: slowly, making many mistakes along the way, sometimes behaving in a predatory manner, but they keep moving. Many companies had monopolies in the past, and some lost them because they couldn't adjust. Take IBM, for example, who invented the PC only to see it erode its own market dominance. Sure, the antitrust trial that ended at the beginning of the 80s had an effect, but when the company's leadership thinks that "there is probably a worldwide market for 5 computers." (As Watson had expressed at the end of the 50s) it's not a surprise that when they created the PC they didn't know what they had. Compare that to Microsoft's mission statement for its first 20 years "A computer in every desk and in every home." They had this since the mid-1970s. Now we take it for granted, but saying that back then was truly crazy, as it was thinking that they could build a business selling only software, at a time when people saw software as an "add-on" to hardware sales. So there was some vision in place, even at the beginning, and Gates deserves some credit for that.
My point is: sure, we don't like their tactics and we certainly don't like their dominance. But that doesn't mean that everything they do is absolutely bad. I think that there are many things that can be learned from Microsoft, and the only way to do that is to acknowledge where they have been successful, and why.
PS: Russ's comments about all weblogs being subjective are right on the mark. And isn't that why we like weblogs? Because of their inherent subjectivity?
a random touch of the oscars
Yes, it's close to 4 am (!), and I've just finished running some tests on a new fix for spaces. I'm going to sleep, but for some reason I turn on the TV for a moment, not that I expect that I'll find anything, and there is U2 going into the initial chords of The Hands that Built America I think, WTF? (This tends to happen to me for some reason. Walk into a bar, hear a U2 song, things like that). Then I realize it's the Oscars! Had seen no mention in the media about them in a while and with so many things going on I had completely forgotten that they even existed. (And rightly so).
Anyway, Bono gave one of the best vocal performances I've heard him give in a while. Amazing. It moved me. I wasn't the only one I guess. At the end of the song, they focused on Daniel Day Lewis, who had tears in his eyes. He's an excellent actor, but they seemed real.
So, unexpectedly heard a really good version of a really good song and now I'm going to sleep. For a while. :-)
office 2003 and macro viruses
So Microsoft's Office 2003 now apparently lets you embed macros anywhere in the document, making it much harder to scan for viruses, that without mentioning that since the format is more free-form than before, it's more difficult to parse as well for hostile code. Regardless of how clear it is that they can fix this now, instead of later, we can look forward to Office 2005 claiming to be "more secure" by removing some of the obvious security holes they appear ready to leave in the current product.
the truth isn't out there
An article on some possible psychological reasons why people tend to believe in conspiracy theories. Main conclusion: the bigger the event, the bigger the reason must be. We humans tend not to accept that some things just are, that is, happen randomly (and let's not get into the discussion of whether randomness is a law of nature or not), and so we look for the "logic" behind it.
a year without rebooting
Today it's been 365 days since I last rebooted the machine that hosts this site.
Need I say more?
everything but the kitchen sink
I'm not a fan of products that pack so many functions into them that they become a nightmare to use. Yesterday I had the opportunity to play around with one that included an impressive range of functionality: the Archos Jukebox Multimedia. The design of the device is a bit on the bulky side, certainly bulkier than an iPod, and a bit heavy (about 300g, or 10oz). But its functionality is pretty amazing.
First, as other products like the iPod it functions as an external hard drive (20GB) as well as an MP3 player. But it also comes with a tiny 237x234 Color TFT LCD, and it has a DViX decoder as well as an MPEG decoder/encoder. This means that not only you can listen to music, you can watch DViX videos on it, and the 20 GB of space means quite a lot of movies and songs. You can watch videos on the built-in LCD, and the resolution is not that bad, the decoding quality is good and you can actually read subtitles if the video has them. If you don't like concentrating on a 2-inch screen (and who would?), it also has A/V output, so you can connect the device directly to the TV and/or music system and use it directly as a playback device. Notice that I mentioned it can do MPEG encoding, which is useful when using the optional digital camera (1.3 megapixel), which is a tiny add-on that attaches to the bottom of the device that lets you take still and videos, but it doesn't have a built-in flash (so taking pictures at night would be pretty much impossible). Finally you get USB 1.1/2.0 connectivity.
But ... it's too difficult to use, and the UI feels primitive. The navigation buttons up front are confusing, and the menus are, well, a nightmare, in large part a direct consecuence of the amount of functions built into the product, but with better design it could be improved. And while it is still a bit too heavy and bulky for my personal preferences, it is definitely portable. I wouldn't buy this device for those reasons, but at its price ($339) there's definitely going to be some market for it.
What I find interesting about it is the video playback ability and connectivity to TV/audio. This is definitely something that I'd like to see added to a mobile phone. Phones already have playback functionality. This doesn't mean the phones would have to get bigger, they could use boatloads of Flash memory, or a Microdrive (originally designed by IBM Storage, now a Hitachi unit). And it doesn't mean that the phone would have to get more complicated: I could carry my entire collection of movies and music on my phone, backed up from my PC, and it could use Bluetooth to transmit the contents to a nearby device that is better suited for it (e.g., a TV). Everything happening transparently and automatically.
Now, that I'd buy. :-)
the costs of upgrades
rattling the cage
Scott McNealy says that ""I can't worry about skepticism. If there's no controversy, and everybody buys into our ideas and follows them, there is no chance of making money. The question is whether we have a controversial and right strategy. If so, we'll make a lot of money." And interesting theory. Being "controversial" might not be necessary, but certainly controversy means that you're going out on a limb in some sense, and if you're right, it's probably gonna pay off.
reference handling in JNI
As I was working on memory optimizations for spaces I was also trying to fix a memory leak that seemed to be coming from the DLL used to import data from Outlook. Of course, this would only affect the Outlook import process, but it was nevertheless an important part. So I started looking at the JNI code.
The Outlook DLL import reads Outlook information using MAPI (actually wrapping the MAPI objects with ATL) and creates string pairs (field/value) that are then passed to Java. The C++ call looks like this:
jniEnv->NewStringUTF(fieldValue)Where fieldValue is a char pointer. Now, the JNI documentation doesn't say anything at all of having to release strings or data created with this particular method, but they have to be. The way to do it is by calling
const char* reschr2 = jniEnv->GetStringUTFChars(fieldName, JNI_FALSE);Now, once we've seen this code it sounds straightforward, but the JNI documentation does not specify that calling the ReleaseStringUTFChars and DeleteLocalRef methods is necessary, or, in fact, required to release the object allocated. Online discussions in various places are also silent on this. The JNI tutorial doesn't mention it when talking about how to create strings from the C/C++ side. Which raises the unsettling thought that there are thousands of JNI apps out there that almost certainly have memory leaks of this type in them, because unless you're creating tens of thousands of objects, it becomes difficult to see that the memory leak is actually there.
Anyway, the bug is now fixed and I just did an import from Outlook into spaces of 10,000 items (emails, calendar items, contacts, etc.) with the default memory settings for the JVM (64 MB max heap), and it worked fine, finishing in 20 minutes. According to different tests I've done that speed is linear, so about 500 items imported per minute. At some point I should create a bigger Outlook database to see how far it'll go.
More or less...
Good progress on the integration of the new storage code. Still some problems to fix but I could do an outlook import of 10,000 items within 128 MB of RAM on the VM (there's a leak in the DLL which is what causes the memory usage to be more than it should be). Also, some more optimizations remain to be done for reading data from the indexes. More testing to follow. New UI elements will be added on the next few days, and then I'll post some screenshots.
In any case, I'm a bit more relaxed now, once all the pieces are connected it's easier to find problems and improve things... doing those tasks in a vacuum is really difficult, since perception of what a particular optimization might do is usually out of sync with reality. It's really easy to get fooled into thinking that a certain optimization or improvement will be really important when actually it won't be--because the code "above it" uses it in a particular way. Good progress being made though.
gore and apple
Still on the testing and final integration phase, but the main pieces of the new storage system for spaces are in place. Today I made an import of 5,000 items from Mozilla in 5 minutes, and at the end the default VM memory configuration (64 MB max. heap) reported 35 megs free of RAM. Not bad.
In the meantime, I check the news at times. I feel it's the worst form of voyeurism, but I can't help it. I could put it down on uncertainty, but that can't be true. It's pretty certain war will probably start in the next few hours.
Anyway. Will take a few hours off, and then back to work.
So suddenly I notice, out of the corner of my eye... a glow. Faint. I turn my head, and instead of seeing the train station across the river, or the night sky above it, there's just... white. Well, light gray actually.
Fog. The desnsest fog I've seen in my life, or that I remember seeing at least. Imagine: Heuston station across the river has lights on all night. Big, powerful floodlights. I can't see them. There's only faint traces of them if you know where to look, but that's about it. Probably about 150 meters out east there's a set of even more powerful floodlights that I think are currently used for some construction that's going on at the station. There are stadium-kind lights, they are that intense. They are on a pole maybe 20 meters above the ground. I can only see them as a spot of brightness behind the mass of uniform color, but their light refracts through the fog and turns everything around them into a color close to that a really cloudy day.
On top of that I'm listening to the Bladerunner soundtrack, and the atmosphere in my room, with the glow of the LCD and a single desklight, fog outside, and the music, is just ... surreal. I can almost see those huge buildings towering into the smog above Los Angeles in 2019, the hovercars cruising quietly in the distance.
Deckard might just be around the corner.
blogging on not bloggging
It sounds slightly daft to me to write an entry about how I don't have time to write an entry. But that's what I'm doing. I've done it before. I think it was Sam Shepard that said "right in the center of a contratiction, that's the place to be, that's where the energy is." I agree, but it probably doesn't apply to this self-referential contradictory blogging excercise.
So, what's happening? Just lots of work, closing in on the final integration of the new storage system into spaces. Looong days. Regardless, against the pull of the keyboard, I just went out for a long walk in the park. The weather here is excellent now, has been all weekend.
Spring is coming. :-)
Through Boing Boing I found the Raging Platypus blog, which (in title and initial content at least) is a spoof on the sneaky "viral marketing" 7UP campaing for its new drink Raging Cow (no, I'm not gonna link to it).
Raging platypus also has a hilarious FAQ. Sure, for all I know this could actually be a real product, and it the author's blog. Or it could just be a blog with a clever "delivery system". I don't care. Hats off to the Plat: It made me laugh. :-)
if netscape had won
CNET's Charles Cooper ponders what would have happened if Netscape had won the "browser war". Some good points I guess. He doesn't mention that Netscape was headed in a bad direction, specifically in terms of code and developer support. Netscape Communicator was horrible software, and Netscape produced it at its apex, so that didn't bode well. In any case, Netscape surviving would have been good, if only to maintain competition.
Last year I read The Coming Plague by Laurie Garret and it scared the hell out of me. Today I saw this WHO travel advisory that reminded me of it. Not being an alarmist, I took it in stride, but it made me wonder about the kinds of new diseases that we'll see in the next few years, and how fast they will spread. We definitely need some new thinking on how to approach disease and health care in general.
more on the spaces storage changes
"Good news, everyone!"
Okay, so the basis of the new spaces storage system changes seems to be working, basically within the bounds that I wanted. The next couple of days will be spent integrating the new code back into the program, and in the process trying to optimize (memory-wise) things in the interfaces between the storage system and the UI. After that, UI changes and bugfixes and an initial beta release will be ready (no, I'm not forgetting about IMAP!).
Note to self: remember IMAP. :-)
I'll post another update as soon as the integration is done.
ps: Futurama rocks.
europe and america, part 2
Eno looks at the situation from more of a cultural perspective, which is a welcome change. And here is a counter-essay from Christopher Caldwell (Editor for the conservative US magazine Weekly Standard), who writes much less with "longing for change" (as Eno does) than with spite for Europe and disregard for its opinions as "the result of specific historic experience". Caldwell's argument is slightly childish (bragging that "European food is no longer better than American food" (something that could be argued a bit) and then at the end, with a last paragraph that could apply to the US as much as it could to Europe:
that is what George Bernard Shaw was talking about when he defined a barbarian as one who mistakes the customs of his tribe for the laws of nature.I tend to think that no side really has the upper hand in this debate (if that's what it can be called). There is too much irrational crap being thrown around. Both the US and Europe are being unreasonable, although to me the "unreasonability" of Europe is more palatable since it doesn't imply war. That is not to say that war can't exist, although if humans were less selfish (or is it less stupid?), it shouldn't.
What I do find interesting in these discussions is that the "America" that people talk about is that of its leaders, while the "Europe" is that of its people. When Chirac or Schroeder go against the war, they do it in part simply for political gain. All European countries, including the UK, have 60% or more of their population against the war. But in the US the percentage is around half. So "American behavior" should not be measured by what Bush does. Problem is, of course, once hostilities begin Americans are less divisive and tend to fall behind their leadership, defending it even if it's wrong (it took years of slaughter in Vietnam for that to change for that particular war). So then the "America" being discussed, that of its leadership, becomes that of its people.
I don't know. It vexes me that arguments as simpleminded as "our food is better" can really influence these kinds of decisions, later snowballing into real problems and even stupid things like "french fries" becoming "freedom fries". All countries have their good and bad things. Some have things that I agree with more, but there are no absolutes. My paradise could be someone else's hell. And many these ridiculous arguments reek of absolutism. Jason has some good comments on this (and on this subject in general) on a recent entry.
But what pisses me off more than that is the hypocrisy, and I think that's also what angers most people. Bush saying "we are defending freedom and the rule of law" and then dismissing out of hand international treaties and putting people in jail without due process is not a recipe for being respected. Saying that they care about democracy while being cuddly with Saudi Arabia, or changing their argument for war every five seconds isn't either. Chirac's position is more palatable since it implies peace (at least until yesterday--apparently they might be shifting their opennes to conflict), but it's still difficult to see how they can defend that "war is not okay now, but it would be okay in three months." Their shifts and counter shifts smell of political maneuvering, not of real conviction.
The absolutism implied in the positions of this whole discussion has the additional bad side-effect of artificially polarizing the discussion, which creates emotional rather than rational responses. In this sense I think that the US in general is overreacting a bit (more than Europe). All this talk about how "the US saved the French in world war two" is pretty strange as I mentioned before, since nobody seems to remember that the French helped the US in their war of independence against the British, and in both cases the one that "came to the rescue" had its own reasons for doing it aside from "defending freedom" or whatever it is they loftily declared.
We should be more open to listening to what others say, on both sides. Criticizing one thing in particular doesn't mean that you are criticizing everything. And honest criticism is always good.
When writing (or creating anything) it's difficult to take criticism at first, since you take it personally. Over time I learned to separate criticism of the things I do from criticism of me as a person (which also makes it easy to know when someone is actually criticizing me as a person). People, organizations, countries, etc, they all change and learn, and what I did yesterday might not be what I will do tomorrow. I think that if that could be applied to other situations, the world would be a bit better.
I hope this makes some sense. Too many ideas in too short a space.
Anyway, back to spaces.
Back at the end of February I started off a thread on categories, how useful they were, and so on. Now with a couple of weeks of real usage under the belt, it's time for an update.
Overall, I think the experience is good. It's freed me from the questions of "does this comment belong here or not," knowing that people only interested in spaces can get a certain feed/page. At the same time, if they want to see other things that I talk about, they can.
But the spaces issue was clear back when I started I think. What is important I think is that the few categories I've created so far have been enough for most of what I post. This has helped me see more clearly what I blog about. Even though the term "category" for me is quite loose, things still fall in their place without a lot of "impedance". So, there is some logic to what I like to blog about. Nice to know.
some cool features of JSE 1.4
Roaming the net while I was waiting for a performance/memory test of the the spaces database to complete, I found this old article from O'Reilly Network: Top Ten Cool New Features of Java 2SE 1.4. The features they list are:
North Korea and movies
A truly bizarre story about a South Korean filmmaker that was kidnapped by the North... to make movies for them. Life is always stranger than fiction.
don't go there
From Wired news:
Despite being asked not to, people went there anyway. They came, they saw, some of them pondered and then, with a quick click, they opted to send the website to its death.Very cool. However I think he underestimated the response, only a hundred hits seems quite low. But it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.
duz txt msgN mAk U :-) o :-( ?
frm d Economist:
R U wurEd dat d eng lngwij wil bcum cor^ted & unrEdabl, dat kds wont no how 2 spL? olds got ^set rEsntlE wen a 13-yr-old :o)3 in w scotl& rOt a skul SA in txt. she sed it wz EZer thn writN all d borN lng wrds. it Bgan: “my smmr hols wr a CWOT. B4, we Usd 2go2 NY toC my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kds FTF. ILNY, it iz a gr8 plc.” d Tcha sed he c% dnt BlEv it, it wz fulla hIrOglifs he c% dnt transl8LOL!
the road to war
An excellent Salon article: Sleepwalking toward Baghdad. A cogent analysis (with--quite literally-- a bit of poetic license) of most of the arguments for and against war. A few of the analogies are a bit stretched, but whether you agree with it or not, it makes you think, which is what really matters.
books for today's hectic lifestyles
Hilarious. There's also Movie-a-minute if books are not your thing. :-)
growth in mobile phone sales
The first big piece of news that came out of CeBIT (mentioned by Russ a few days ago) comes from a new study by Gartner group that says that:
In 2002 a total of 423 million handsets were sold, up 6% from 400 million units in 2001. Growth has been driven by consumers who replace their old handsets with new ones with new features. Finnish mobile phone producer Nokia is still market leader with 36.8% of the sales compared to 36.9% a year before. At second place is US-based Motorola with 15.6% en number three is Korean Samsung with 9.8%.6% growth is good, but I don't know if I'd call it "soaring" as the article does (or other articles that mention it). Certainly it leaves little room for all the players to grow without cannibalizing each other (or their own sales). Still, it doesn't yet answer the main question: namely, what I was wondering if the new handsets were selling well. The jury is still out it seems, since as the Yahoo! News article notes, most of the sales happened in basic handsets rather than the new ones, although the advertising campaigns for the new handsets were what drove customers to the stores in the first place.
the cluetrain manifesto
Was re-reading the cluetrain manifesto. Many things in it keep ringing true. Others are nice ideas that haven't really happened yet (although we can wish they had...) although they talk about it as actual facts rather than wishes. Always good to read it again nevertheless.
Java garbage collection algorithms
An Office 2003 review
A short review of Office 2003 by PC World. More focus on OneNote than on InfoPath it seems. Probably because it is much more approachable.
Intel moves into wireless
A bit of hype from News.com on Intel's new wireless chip, Centrino. Obviously Intel is looking at WiFi with interest, but between that and presenting it as if it's something so crucial? C'mon. Intel is a huge company.
They do face some risks though, as a related Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) says:
Ten years ago this month, Intel Corp. thrust the word Pentium on consumers who had never cared about a computer chip. The company soon learned the perils of becoming a household word, after a mathematical flaw triggered harsh publicity and a costly recall.Wireless is a good opportunity for them, they might make inroads by leveraging their PC hardware platform. What? If that is legal? Errr... well, it depends on what the meaning of the word is is ...
telling it like it is
selling gene pools
A slightly unsettling (creepy even maybe?) Salon article:
The newest resources "discovered" in Estonia are the genes of its 1.4 million citizens. The country's government and a Silicon Valley start-up called EGeen International are treating the Estonian gene pool as a commodity to be exploited for medical research and profit.Selling exclusive access to their gene pool? That sounds quite ridiculous. Setting aside the ethical implications, we could just question the issue of "gene ownership". Aren't my genes my genes? The mix between biotech and "free markets" is certainly creating some strange creatures. And just wait for nanotechnology to be a real force...
staroffice goes after the consumer market
watch out for the chinese
This article from The Economist covers the rise of local Chinese handsets over the established international players:
ONLY last year, the bosses of global mobile-phone companies active in China were still laughing at the handsets offered by TCL, a Chinese manufacturer of television sets that started making mobile phones in 1999. To most foreigners, its faux-diamond ornamentation is egregiously kitschy. But the Chinese love it, and so TCL has passed Siemens and Samsung to become China's third-largest handset vendor after Motorola and Nokia, two firms that it now has in its sights.Wow. Very impressive. The article also mentions that there are now thirty-six handset providers in China, and growing. Because they use mostly technology that they buy from European or US companies, their R&D outlay is quite low. Obviously this will have at some point impact on the international markets, increasing competition and lowering prices. Whether it will actually accelerate innovation is another matter, since that is usually bound to the telecoms actually deploying the services that make the handsets useful.
an update on spaces
So I missed my self-imposed end-of-february deadline for the release of the spaces beta. I'm not terribly happy about it, and I want to apologize to those users that have been waiting for it. But there wasn't much I could do. Let me explain.
On one hand, there have been several things going on besides spaces. For example, the term at Trinity (where I am a teaching assistant in the CS department) just ended (last friday, yay!), and it was slightly crazier than usual; because of the way the course is organized this term is the one where the students have to hand in most of their work, and that means a lot of bureaucratic crap to deal with, not to mention having to correct dozens of 20-page assignments (not fun).
On the other hand, my thesis work was on the forefront at the end of january (as I was releasing alpha 1.8) and at the beginning of february. Usually I manage my time reasonably well and balance between the different things I do, but this time the thesis got to the point where I needed one last big push to get the code running. And it did! The first complete version of the code ran for the first time in the second week of february.
Now, those weeks where the thesis took overriding priority over everything else (namely, sleep, eating, and so on, with many 16 or 18-hour days) are the main factor that accounts for the beta not being out by now. There's another however.
The other factor is that I've decided that the beta would have to include the memory/storage optimizations that have been waiting on the wings since the alpha release. The goal would be for spaces to run comfortably under the default settings of the JVM (usually 64 megs of maximum heap, although on I've seen some installations where it defaults to 128 megs). This applies to all operations, including import. Simply put, I wanted the "java.lang.OutOfMemoryError" messages to be a thing of the past. Also, reliability had to be rock solid. Many people are already using spaces for their everyday mail, and although they know it's alpha, that's no excuse. It should be fixed. And the time is now.
The original version of the storage system that underlies spaces alpha 1.x was optimized to minimize disk usage and maximize performance, at the expense of memory. To update it, I am rewriting several components that will change the equation to minimize memory usage and maximize performance. The new version will take up maybe 10-20% more on disk (with a higher peak usage as well), but will have upper bounds on the RAM used. The goal is, again, never to breach the default maximum JVM heap of 64 megabytes when the number of items stored (email, RSS, calendar entries, etc) is 100,000 (yes, one hundred thousand items). It should use less memory than 64 megs, probably in the neighborhood of 32, but 64 is the upper bound. This would mean that spaces will run in about the same memory other programs currently demand under similarly heavy use. In the process, I am adding more features for stability, reliability, and storage management, and preparing the core to support versioning of items, which will be necessary in the near future.
Now, the storage system change is well underway. I've already been running preliminary tests on it with 100,000 thousand items inserted into the database, and memory usage has decreased by a factor of ten in some cases. It's amazing how changing the focus on optimization can affect different measures of performance: the original design of the storage had in mind a few tens of thousands of items, rather than hundreds of thousands. And even though not that many people will deal with hundreds of thousands of items, RSS Feeds create large numbers of items, so tens of thousands of items for a user is not a ridiculous idea.
After the storage change is complete (probably in the next couple of days), I will finish work on the IMAP implementation and make the UI changes that were planned for beta 1, which include making a space more "malleable" by allowing various types of sorting and filtering to be used. I will post more information on these changes for comments as as soon as there is something that others can actually see, or try out.
So that's about it for the moment, more to come in the next few days!
the tyranny of email
a short article on spaces
Spaces was reviewed in a short article on the online edition The Hindu. (Well, maybe it's also on the printed version, but I have no way to check :-)). Cool.
the influence of regulation
Wow! Such an original statement! (the title of this entry I mean)
I won't even go into how I got to thinking on what I'm about to write. I've been up to my neck in B-Tree algorithms in the past two days and these ideas have sort of been seeping in the background.
It's been told many times how ARPA (now DARPA), and by extension the US Government, was really the driving force behind the Internet. The US Government in fact had another, less known influence on the Internet as we know it today: between 1993/94 it "opened it" for businesses (Al Gore was the main proponent of doing this, hence his oft-spoofed claim that "He invented the Internet"). The Internet had been around for a while by then, but it wasn't until the regulation permitted it that its full potential was exposed, and could then be exploited. Had the US Government kept control at that time, we'd probably be using MSN or AOL and thinking that it was the coolest thing in the world.
These days the main force of innovation is coming in terms of mobility, both at the protocol level (e.g., Internet-based P2P networks) and physical (e.g., various wireless technologies). Now, innovation happens more often than not at the edge of the network. Think of the things that you consider "innovative" from the past ten years. Chances are, pervasive email access, web Browsers and instant messaging are in that list somewhere. These things rarely happen on the server; although they might require a server component to work, their power comes from exposing information to clients (which sit at the edges of the network).
Yes, there is a point to this rambling discourse.
Since wireless has a tendency to be at the edge of the network, it's what's got more potential than anything else right now to inspire significant innovation. But because it's basically an open field, regulation still can stop new things from happening, or slow them down significantly. As an example, consider what happened with original wireless communications. As this brief history of cellular phones mentions:
In 1947, AT&T proposed that the FCC allocate a large number of radio-spectrum frequencies so that widespread mobile telephone service would become feasible and AT&T would have a incentive to research the new technology. We can partially blame the FCC for the gap between the initial concept of cellular service and its availability to the public. The FCC decided to limit the amount of frequencies available in 1947, the limits made only twenty-three phone conversations possible simultaneously in the same service area - not a market incentive for research.It wasn't until 1968 that the FCC changed those rules. Poof. Twenty years of potential growth and experimentation for mobile technologies down the drain.
And it could happen again. Decentralized technologies in general (both at the logical and physical level) and wireless technologies in particular have huge potential but also pose huge risks for incumbents as the fight of the RIAA with P2P networks shows. For example, the handset companies are stumbling over each other to provide GPRS, 3G, you name it, along with high-end multimedia input/output capabilities. But once you've got high-speed internet access and SDKs for those devices, what's to stop someone from providing Internet Telephony on your mobile? Technologically, nothing of course. Whether the phone companies would let it happen is another matter entirely.
Another area that is up for contention is software radio. Here is an entry I wrote last december linking to an article on GNU Radio, the most prominent of the software radio projects out there. Software Radio essentially uses general purpose processors (or, alternatively, programmable DSPs) and a DAC connected to a wireless receiver/transmitter to allow a device to support any frequency, and by extension, any system that uses it. The GNU Radio project already supports receiving TV, FM Radio and HDTV on your personal computer, provided you have the proper hardware. And a lot more are coming. The FCC has been looking at how to regulate this area for about two years now (this speech by the Chief of the FCC's OET shows that they immediately "got it") and in 2001 it started to adopt rules that seemed to be "Software Radio friendly". But a lot of that was pre-change in the US Administration, as well as pre-9/11 with its subsequent tightening of security and increase of influence of military/intelligence agencies. So last year the tide started to change, not just because the leadership at the FCC had changed, but also because the companies woke up to what SR really meant for them, but also because of "security concerns", namely, that since software radios are so flexible, you can use them both for interception and attack of wireless communications. As it usually happens these days, everything is more connected than you think, and the "problems" (I'd call them opportunities, but what can you do...) created by software radio extend to other areas, as this article from Richard Stallman explains:
The media companies are not satisfied yet. In 2001, Disney-funded Senator Hollings proposed a bill called the "Security Systems Standards and Certification Act" (SSSCA), which would require all computers (and other digital recording and playback devices) to have government-mandated copy restriction systems. That is their ultimate goal, but the first item on their agenda is to prohibit any equipment that can tune digital HDTV unless it is designed to be impossible for the public to "tamper with" (i.e., modify for their own purposes). Since free software is software that users can modify, we face here for the first time a proposed law that explicitly prohibits free software for a certain job. Prohibition of other jobs will surely follow. If the FCC adopts this rule, existing free software such as GNU Radio would be censored.In conclusion: as everyone knows, regulation can help or hinder technology, but those of us that are involved in creating the technology usually ignore that. We shouldn't. And we should keep moving as fast as we can, after all, once the cat's out of the bag...
there's always a first time for everything
It's been probably four years since I started using Google and I had never seen it fail... until today. I took a screenshot of the page to immortalize the moment.
the ascent of software
A New York Times review on a new book on the history of computing.
office as a 'platform'
With the introduction of InfoPath in the upcoming Office 2003, Microsoft has started to leverage the idea that Office can be a "platform" beyond Windows, something that is relatively well covered in this News.com article. The problem of complexity is a big one, however. Office is already a huge beast, not easy to work with, and extremely insecure as an environment. On the other hand, I've got to admit that it's quite powerful.
It's been known for a while that it's Office, rather than Windows, that delivers the biggest portion of Microsoft's huge profits. The importance of Windows, however, is not proportional to its profits, since it's the lever Microsoft uses to keep dominance in other areas. It seems that they are finally starting to use Office in the same way (overtly, rather than covertly as in the past), particularly as a platform for business applications. But precisely because they are trying to establish it as a platform they are in a sense competing with Windows itself. Difficult to know if they will have any success at all. Not that Office needs success as a "platform" to maintain dominance, that's pretty much guaranteed with Office's 90%+ market share.
a bit of levity
Count on The Onion to put some humor to any situation. Bush offers taxpayers another $300 if we go to war:
Under the Bush plan, single taxpayers would be eligible for a $300 rebate, married filers $600, and heads of household $500. Attached to the proposal is a rider, penned by Bush himself, stating, "Plus, we also will invade Iraq right away, everyone promises."Hilarious.
And speaking of hilarity. Here is a New York Times review of a new Bruce Willis picture that I hadn't heard about, Tears of the Sun:
Unfortunately, the movie's real setting is a sentimental fantasy world, and its story is a spectacularly incoherent exercise in geopolitical wish fulfillment. Bruce Willis, with the weary, haunted stoicism that has been his trademark since he gave up the smirky frat-boy bonhomie that made him a star, plays A. K. Waters, a Navy Seals lieutenant dispatched into the jungle to evacuate Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American doctor who tends the wounded at a remote and vulnerable mission. In no uncertain terms, the doctor, whose khaki blouse appears to be missing its top three buttons, informs her would-be rescuer that she will not leave the refugees behind. She slaps the lieutenant and spits in his face, which helps to spark a crisis of conscience. He tells the rescue helicopter to turn around and, in direct violation of orders, to take the youngest and frailest Nigerians to safety.Hollywood never fails to reach new depths of unrealistic sappiness. Oh well. At least reading the review was fun.
Later: A couple of days later, actually... I found this Salon review of the same movie, also very good, and a bit more serious than the one from the New York Times. The movie was directed by Anthony Fuqua! I thought he did a great job with Training Day, but this new movie looks like a bomb (no pun intended). As I said at the end of the previous paragraph: Oh well.
on tabbed browsing
Dave Hyatt, the developer of Tabbed Browsing on Mozilla, Phoenix and Chimera, talks about his views on tabbed browsing, different usability issues that affect them, and other related things. Very cool.
C# vs. Java: A debate
A debate on Builder.com about C# and Java. A little "light" and short, but still interesting.
Cringely on Advertising
Collateral Damage or Why Most Internet Advertising Doesn't Work and What Little Does Work Is Killing Us.
You own your data
On an entry from a few months back, Jonas recounts his recent outlook migration experience. A sobering read, and one I can relate to, and not just from a user's perspective. The outlook import in spaces is by far the most complex of the imports, since it requires a native library to work.
Jonas ends the entry with:
ps. What are they (Microsoft) thinking? Why do they lock their users? Why aren't they embracing open standards? When will I be trusted with my own data?He's right. At the moment spaces does a full XML export of your data, but that's not enough. In the future, standards such as iCal or MBOX will also be supported for exports.
We own our data, and our software should acknowledge that.
our small world
I was reading Bernie's and Cristian's comments to my "mood-post" from yesterday and started to think about my own feelings with regards to the song. It's not personal for me in the sense of being linked to a person or place, but it evokes something...
Then I thought (for the millionth time): It's cool that we share this collective consciousness through art and the technology that made possible its seamless transfer. Before email, the Internet, and all the latest buzzwords, the "global village" had truly arrived without anybody noticing. Sure, we had the connection probably since humans "climbed down the trees" (the quotes because, catchy phrase as that might be, there aren't many trees in the African plains) and started to talk, but before the connection was faint, unseen. And I'd submit that when the connection becomes visible, the nature of the connection changes.
Anyway, nothing new in what I'm saying. Just thinking out loud. And still listening to the song. :-)
pink floyd state of mind
This is how I feel right now:
Heaven from Hell,
Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
Wish you Were Here, from P.U.L.S.E. (1995)
leaving reality behind
Andrew Leonard's review of a new book on the boom and bust:
The best book yet about the dot-com years shows how the battle between etoy and eToys.com encapsulated the idiocy -- and the idealism -- of that weird era.Sounds interesting!
the first one is free
A good rant by Dylan on the business models for printer companies, and why low printer prices are not what they seem. What the printer companies do is a timeless trick. If I remember correctly, John D. Rockefeller used this technique to enter the Chinese market, selling Kerosene lamps at cost, with only one fill of the fuel. And, of course, Standard Oil Co. was the only one that could sell you what was needed to use them after that.
the US and Europe
Karlin on the "US v. Old Europe" undercurrent that seems to be growing in the US Administration and media. Quote:
I am really saddened by the pathetically childish comments some Americans are making about "The French" and "The Germans" (as if the tens of millions of people in these two extremely diverse nations are somehow two undifferentiated lumps). I gave some examples of the kinds of things that I have been hearing to a dear German friend who came to stay with me for the weekend (including the accusation that the French have made no contribution to civilisation except wine and perfume and pastries. Good grief, the FRENCH -- no contribution?! This, as I read the biography of American patriot John Adams and his no-nonsense wife Abigail, two solid New Englanders who were struck and entranced by the intellectual life of France back in the late 18th century -- the talk, the theatre, the literature, the philosophers, the food, the granting of an intellectual life to women).Full entry here.
And, I would add, that's not even going into the whole issue of the rethoric claiming that the US went into WW2 to "save" Europe, when in large part the US was also interested in protecting its own strategic interests from the Axis menace, and even so did not enter the conflict until it was attacked by Japan, two full years after the war had started, when most of Europe had been conquered and Russia was already under attack, and millions of innocents had been slaughtered? And even if the US had in fact gone into WW2 to "save Europe" why would that mean that because of that countries should blindly do what the US says?
On the other hand, much of the anti-American rethoric in Europe is also overly simplistic and often misplaced.
The Economist this week puts it well I think in the article (aptly titled "Enough, Children."):
THE spoof Google search doing the rounds in Washington, DC, runs: “Your search—French military victories—did not match any documents. No pages were found. Did you mean French military defeats?” An affable Frenchman might merely find it odd that Napoleon is unknown in America, despite selling a chunk of it to Jefferson, but other barbs will hurt. “What do you call a Frenchman advancing on Baghdad?”“A salesman.” On American talk shows, it is open season on continental Europeans, especially those “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”.Another problem with the anti-European rethoric in the US (compared to anti-American rethoric in Europe) is that it seems to be happening at much higher levels and more consistenly. There are other points in the article, some with which I don't totally agree (for example, it mentions that the Americans could claim that "they started it", but I think that Bush's treatment of the UN Security Council would inevitably create that response). In any case I think the title of the article says it all.
Microsoft's P2P Breaks Windows
In a comment to my earlier post on JXTA, RefuX had said that his experience with JXTA had been very negative. Mine weren't very good for the initial releases as well, but it's gotten better.
Part of the problem, IMO, is that, P2P APIs being new, we haven't yet quite figured out what works and what doesn't. Regardless of the API, what's cool about JXTA is its API-, Platform- and Language-independent protocol, based on XML. It has improved a lot over the past two years. I don't want to sound like an apologist, JXTA still has a ways to go, but when something new is being done problems are to be expected.
A bit more serious than I'd expect though... after all, P2P should be a layer on top of all the other standard services of the OS, right? And this isn't even a toolkit, it's an application that should not affect other apps in the system. I guess that this the bad side of Microsoft's taste for "ultra integration" of everything into the Windows core.
on Sun's Orion
An InfoWorld article with some more details on Sun's new Orion offering. Going for a really close integration between software and hardware it seems, and hoping to make its N1 strategy (and the rest of its updates more predictable.
Mobile Phones and MP3 Players
A few weeks ago my Rio player stopped working properly... and today as I walked back home I really started to miss it. Walking along the river, sunny day, cool breeze... no music. I started to think about what had become of the MP3/Mobile phone combinations. I've looked at those devices from time to time, but I hadn't seen anything on that since the GPRS phones started appearing about a year ago. So I looked around for a bit, and here are the results, in a post to mobitopia.
one million JXTA downloads!
A press release from Sun announces that:
one million developers have downloaded Project JXTA from the Sun Web site. JXTA is the only open source, standards-based, peer-to-peer technology that supports collaboration and communication on any networked device anywhere, anytime. Sun also announced that the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Convenience Stores are implementing JXTA-based applications and that InView Software and Internet Access Methods have released commercial products based on JXTA.Impressive. Microsoft is a little behind the curve on this one, no?
believing your own hype
From Wired: Segway's Breakdown:
Before he'd sold a single one, Kamen blithely forecast that by the end of 2002, his enterprise would be stamping out 10,000 machines a week. Meanwhile, his best-known backer, venture capitalist John Doerr, predicted Segway would rack up $1 billion in sales faster than any company in history.Ah, the hubris. Only someone that lives in one of the affluent spots of the US could think that a device that costs $5000, for which no infrastructure exists and that goes directly against the idea of walking would sell "10000 units a week". Segways are truly something for the priviledged few. Even if they were cheap, they would create huge problems if you have more than one or two per block. Oh well.
the funny side of Win95's stability (or lack thereof)
I remember having a good laugh when this little piece of news came out three years ago. Some justification for the hilarious 10-second appearance of Bill Gates on the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
games and performance art
A New York Times article on the unlikely marriage of the TV series 'Friends' with Quake. Choice quotes:
n a coming episode of the television show "Friends," here's what might happen. Ross arrives and starts to whine. Suddenly an armor-clad warrior rushes in and with a blast from a space-age weapon reduces Ross to a pile of twitching viscera. But the show must go on, so Ross pulls himself together and rises to complete his sniveling soliloquy. Just as he finishes, he is slaughtered again. Call this episode "The One Where Ross Is Repeatedly Annihilated by a Plasma Rifle."Quite funny.
bound to happen
The blogsphere has been discussing this for days, but finally News.com caught up with the turn of the tide in terms of how people view Google. Actually, instead of "turn of the tide" it's more like "navigating the waters that were just around the corner anyway". Turn of the tide has a nicer ring to it though. :-)
spaces web access as default windows client
Spaces eventually will use native libraries to insert hooks into Windows and other OSes so that it can function as the default email client on a system. For the moment, though there's an alternative.
John Rubier posted to the spaces dev list this tip for making spaces web access the default mailto: handler. Here are his instructions:
To use Spaces as the default mailto: handler, we can use the Spaces Web Access feature. (I've modified his instructions to account for the VBS script being downloaded).Also, It should be possible to restore the old mailto: handler by going to Control Panel/Internet Properties/Programs tab and selecting the email program you want to use. This is a temporary solution, but useful if you want to connect IE to spaces alpha 1.8. Of course, be really careful and be sure to know what you're doing, since editing the Windows Registry might create problems. So use at your own risk. As John said, this code and instructions are provided "as is", with no warranty expressed or implied!.
Anyway, thanks John!
linux and windows
An article on the new versions of Linux designed for low-end computers, from Lindows and Lycoris. I can't really make up my mind about these new products. On one hand, giving Microsoft some competition is good. On the other, the focus on just creating an inexpensive Windows clone feels wrong. Linux provides a good base to start making things easier for users, for example by doing a proper UI on command-line tools like apropos and, specially locate. The much-discussed search capabilities of the next version of Windows would be covered in large part by doing a deep integration of locate into the Gnome or KDE windows managers. Then users wouldn't have to worry about their filesystem. Just providing an alternative is not enough, we should be trying to fix the problems that we have long complained about, and make software easy to use and predictable for once.
I just realized that I had written a long entry on Apple and Microsoft, commenting on their (apparent) future plans and now it doesn't seem to be there. I have no idea what I did with it. Guess I'll have to rewrite it! Would have been good to have it to link from this entry though.
mobile mesh == ad hoc networks
Now, this really, really pissed me off.
Russ pointed to an article/press release on Mistubishi, about a technology they "developed". Here is an excerpt:
What Mitsubishi has developed, is the prototype of a relay-type mobile communications technology, called Mobile Telecommunications Radio and Relay Network (MOTERAN). The basic patent has been already granted in Europe and Japan and has been applied for in major countries around the world. Unlike conventional mobile communications, MOTERAN allows each terminal to act as a relay point communicating with other terminals without the requirement for infrastructure, such as base stations or switches. This could be known as peer to peer networking.Russ's comments are good. My problem has nothing to do with his post of anything he said.
What pissed me off is the article itself, and Mistubishi's pretense that this is new, or innovative or whatever. In fact, what Mitsubishi describes there is an ad hoc network. (Disclaimer: part of my PhD thesis has to do with ad hoc networks.) Mitsubishi's work is derivative (friendly term for "outright ripoff") and they should acknowledge it, but of course they don't, going as far as using buzzword-terms to deflect attention and get media interest. On top of that, they got a patent on it! I wonder what the patent says. Here is the original press release from Mitsubishi, which says that "the technology on which their development is based was invented in Germany in 1996." Really? Here is a link from CiteSeer for a paper that described DSR (Dynamic Source Routing protocol), one of the best known dynamic self-organizing protocols for ad hoc networks. And the paper is... from 1996. This wasn't the first paper on the topic, no (See below).
Ad Hoc Networks have been under development for several years, both in universities and corporations such as Ericsson (as part of research efforts and commercial efforts as well). There's an ACM Conference, MobiHoc (which has existed since the year 2000), that deals specifically with the topic of ad hoc networks. Ad Hoc routing protocols have been under heavy R&D since the early 90s. The idea that any one person or company can get a patent on something as generic as what is described in the "article" is laughable. Sure, they might patent some work based on it, maybe even some particular algorithm (although my understanding is that actual algorithms can't be patented--only copyrighted, and that what you can patent is the process described by the algorithm if anything. I might be off-base with that). But patenting the concept? David Johnson, one of the researchers who created DSR, has a page with previous publications on the topic of ad hoc mobile networks that date back to 1994, which proves that the research was ongoing well before that date.
In fact, hey, why talk about "pie-in-the-sky" research at all? IETF has a group called Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANET) which has been working for years on standarizing protocols for dynamic, self-organizing routing. The earliest posts for IETF drafts date back to late 1997!
Okay, okay, maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe they never claimed to have invented the whole field. But they make it sound like it. It's disgusting when a company does that. It's even worse when trade publications repeat their news releases like parrots, confusing everybody, without even checking the facts.
Microsoft's P2P Toolkit
Almost two years after JXTA got going, Microsoft has announced the availability of a P2P software development kit for Windows XP. Some or all of the APIs included in the Kit are expected to make their way into Windows. No hope that they would use the JXTA Protocol for that uh?
You might want to look at RSSLibJ, which takes a common object model (items/channels/etc) and renders an RDF/RSS stream according to the type you want, so you can change a string and get a completely different (valid) feed.Nice! I didn't know RSSLibJ could do that, though I was aware of its existence, for some reason I thought that it was "just" a Java library to parse RSS files, but it's more than that, in fact, the FAQ points out that it is primarily intended for writing RSS feeds rather than reading them.
As a sidenote, my main complaint was that all of these versions of RSS have to be supported at all. One should be enough, either 1.0 or 2.0.
Pointless griping, I know. Just venting.
no cure for stupidity
From this New Scientist piece: "Stupidity should be cured, says DNA discoverer":
"If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease," says Watson, now president of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, New York. "The lower 10 per cent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what's the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.' It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 per cent."Can you say "Eugenics"?
Of course there must be a genetic component to "stupidity" (whatever that is--I'm sure that many people Watson would consider "stupid" live happy, productive lives). But then the world is an imperfect place. Once you "fix" that "lower 10%" you get a new 10% at the bottom. Why not "fix" that too? And, as Watson so eloquently puts it, let's "make all girls pretty" in the process. I wonder, pretty according to what measure? Would he like a society of Barbies and Kens? (oh, sorry, no Kens. He didn't say that men should be "pretty".) Is Barbie "pretty"? Watson seems to think that "prettiness" as well as a number of other traits can be objectively defined, and then imposed on society at large. Hitler would be proud.
The other day I was reading on an op-ed on the Washington Post that 6 out of 10 children of age 10 in the Washington D.C. area can't read. But hey, no problem, Watson would say.... these guys are lost, but we can "fix the next batch" right? Just let me tweak this little gene here and everything will be just fine...
I think that since Watson dismisses environmental factors such as poverty and education and "things like that" out of hand, he should watch Gattaca to see a plausible endgame for his ideas. But "things like that" would never happen right? After all, humans are so great at dealing with this kind of power.
Or maybe there's a gene for intolerance that we can "fix" as well?
conservatives in US Media
An interesting article from Salon's editor in chief, David Talbot. Salon does feel like a voice in the wilderness. In light of their current financial problems (which aren't new by the way) one can only hope that it will survive.
I was reading about David Cronenberg's new movie, Spider (starring Ralph Fiennes), when I came across this paragraph:
For the guy across the aisle from me at a Times Square theater for "Crash," in 1997, the sadomasochism was OK, the open-wound sex and disability fetishism was not a problem, the "autoeroticism," ha ha, was fine and dandy. But when James Spader and Elias Koteas embarked on some same-sex probing in the back seat of a 1963 Lincoln Continental (the precise model in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated, naturally), he was out of there. He was a large man, and he unfolded himself to his full height and girth to address the audience as he stood up. "No, no!" he said. "Nuh-uh! I ain't sitting here for that."This is exactly what I saw when I watched Crash at a theater. I could tell from their sighs and oomphs that many in the didn't care about (or like, or appreciate, or even see) the deep, dense web of correlations between technology, sex and death that the film exposed through the actions of that merry group of twisted sociopaths. And yet the people endured it. Right up to the point in which Spader's and Koteas's character get it on, when many decided to leave. To me that was immensely hypocritical, I thought 'So all the other stuff was fine, but this is not?' and 'This is Cronenberg. What the hell did they expect?'. Although sometimes Cronenberg can make you cringe a bit too much, he always (certainly in all his movies after the early 80's) makes you think. Art (specially good art) will inevitably provoke a profound reaction of some sort. It goes to the core of what we are. If it doesn't, IMO, it's not art.
I can't wait to see Spider. From what they talk about in the article/interview, it seems its themes follow the lines of Memento in that it explores the relationship between memory and identity in some unsettling ways, from a different perspective, into the territory of the artist (or failed artist) as a central character, and how art is communicated:
Here's the point: It's a subjective movie. You are seeing it from Spider's point of view. So he doesn't explain stuff that's obvious to him. When he's confused, we the audience are also confused. When he's hallucinating, we are hallucinating. And the nature of hallucination is that it feels real. The main hallucination in the film is the only one that I thought was necessary.Exactly how it should be.
Speaking of movies... some movies I saw recently:
on time and blogging
Cristian is wondering 'where do we find time to blog' in a recent blog entry. Good question. I am not sure. My guess is that I spend anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour a day, depending on what I'm writing about. One thing I do over the day is to leave open several mozilla tabs as I find things that I'd like to link to... and then I let the ideas evolve through the day. At some point I just post the comment...
I don't think that time is the problem, rather, it's a question of how we like to express what we think, and if we are naturally inclined to write. Some people find it easier than others I think, and for many it's actually part of the thought process.
That little calendar on the top does seem to create a certain pressure to "produce" though, which I think is bad. Blogging should be fun, as Russ said recently. And that means it should be done at your own pace. I've been noticing that more blogs are dispensing with the calendar, and I think that's a good alternative when posting is sparse. Quantity can never replace quality, specially when "quality" is measured by how much we enjoy the process.
As usual when I write about blogging, I end up with the feeling that I'm not even scratching the surface. All sorts of ideas come to mind, connections, and so on.... leaves me a bit unsatisfied, but I guess that's good. We are only scratching the surface. Since what "blogging" means is constantly evolving, our understanding, expectations, and ideas of it also change quickly. We'll just have to keep on riding the wave.
the rise of inktomi
Over the past two weeks or so, Inktomi slurp, the Inktomi spider, has massively increased its activity. Over a few days, it quickly outstripped the activity of Googlebot in my server, while only a few weeks ago Googlebot was indexing the site about 10 times more often than the nearest competitor (which was, as it happens, Inktomi), now Inktomi is indexing with twice the frequency of Googlebot on average--only for today, for example, my stats page reports 318 hits from Inktomi slurp while Googlebot has no hits at all.
Has anyone else seen this? Or is it just a stats-induced hallucination?
quote of the day
"Fuck the regulations!"
--From The legend of 1900.So much of this movie keeps resonating long after you've seen it (not my case, I saw it again a few weeks ago). I've had this line (and most of the movie actually) in my head for days. It doesn't want to get out! Let's see if writing it down can exorcise it.
A Wired article on the security problems of Los Alamos National Laboratory:
There are no armed guards to knock out. No sensors to deactivate. No surveillance cameras to cripple. To sneak into Los Alamos National Laboratory, the world's most important nuclear research facility, all you do is step over a few strands of rusted, calf-high barbed wire.
A few weeks ago, The Economist ran a related article on Los Alamos with the headline "Next stop for Blix? - Even America has a hard time keeping track of its arms programmes", and said:
IT BUILDS weapons of mass destruction. And it cannot account for dozens of computers and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of other equipment. Were the goings-on that have lately been exposed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to be uncovered in Iraq, the United Nations weapons inspectors would pounce on them with a furious cry.
editing -- or lie?
Via an entry from Scott, I found out about an ongoing discussion regarding an email sent by Laurie Garret (Who wrote The coming plague, an excellent book on which I commented last year) to her friends reporting 'candindly' (to say the least) about what she saw and heard at the World Economic Forum at Davos. The main problem seems to be that Garret wasn't willing to actually publish the contents of the email--or that's what it appears since she was apparently outraged that what she said was being made public, rather than the text itself. As Scott puts it:
I'm sure it was upsetting to Garrett to find that words she intended for a small group got broadcast online. I don't envy her. But I think what irked a lot of people on the Net was the feeling they got that the story she told her friends was very different from the one she was likely to tell readers of her "official" work.Indeed.
Copyright © Diego Doval 2002-2011.