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

waiting for DSL

Since this happened in the middle of the push for the release I haven't had time to comment on it. But here goes.

On April 11 Eircom (the local phone monopoly) started offering a lower-speed DSL service than the one they had before. This one is 256-512 Kb/s, max 4 GB transfer (don't get me started on the upper-bound of the transfers) and costing Euro 50 a month, while the previous service they had available was 512 Kb/s, max 6 GB transfer, at Euro 110 (!!) per month. I would have signed up for the other service, even at the outrageous price, but Eircom people said that "my line didn't qualify". What this meant was a mystery for months, until, when calling about the new service, I was told that apparently my line didn't qualify because of the distance to the exchange, that is, at the distance I was from the exchange they couldn't guarantee 512 Kbps and so they wouldn't give me service at all.

So now, with the new service, where the guarantee is minimum 256 Kbps, apparently they can offer the service. So far, so good. Okay, maybe not so good, but so far at least.

Now, I ordered the service on April 11th. That is, almost three weeks ago. I ordered a self-install package, since I figured that would be faster, and cheaper (although not much--just Euro 50 cheaper). Back then, they said that it would take 10 days for the package to arrive, and in the meantime I'd get a call informing me that they had activated DSL at the exchange and I could begin to use it. I got a first call the next day, saturday, at 3 pm, giving me my username and password for PPPoE. I was slightly annoyed at the timing (I mean; they can call you whenever the hell they please, but you, oh no, you can call THEM only on business days, 9 to 5, yes sir), but at least seems to be moving.

No such luck.

The modem package arrived after two weeks, last friday. I connected it and had to spent an hour fiddling with it since the default settings are not what they advertise on the manual. Even after repeated resets (Holding the reset button while you turn on the modem and then keeping it pressed for one whole minute) it still had the wrong setting. So in the end I guessed an IP/netmask, with empty gateway, and I could connect to the modem, and then reset the DHCP configuration in it. BTW, this modem is one of those dreaded modems that come predefined with a password of "1234" for the root. This password lets you not only configure the modem whichever way you please, but also sniff the packets, set up sites that can't be visited, filtering, and it gives you access to the PPPoE password if you had it configured in the modem. Nice eh? Guess how many people will even know that password exists, let alone that they have to change it.

Anyway, so now I've got the modem connected to the PC, but there's no DSL signal. I've called Eircom twice since friday and they always speak in the usual "astrologer's babble" as I call it: "We are not sure when, but it will start working. Soon." To which I say, "Soon? What do you mean soon? Soon tomorrow? Soon friday? Soon next month?". And the utterly friendly support-person replies "Impossible to know. They will call you."

I hate when they do that. Apparently they can't give a straight answer. Of course, it's not believable that they don't know. They should just get on the cluetrain and stop treating users as if they were to be maintained on a "need-to-know" basis.

So here I am, waiting for that magic call that will say that the modem has been activated. In the meantime, I have it turned on and I am actively polling the connection, so it's likely that I will know before they call. Hopefully it won't take forever.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 30, 2003 at 9:49 PM

clevercactus on google

That was fast: clevercactus now holds the first two pages of hits on google for the name with the two words together ("clevercactus") and it appears fifth (referencing one of my blog entries) when looking for the words separated by a space ("clever cactus"). Wow. Now that was fast. Considering the name was "released" only five days ago...

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 30, 2003 at 8:07 PM

on spam

As I've been thinking about spam control with clevercactus, I noticed several spam-related news in recent days: a couple of days ago the New York Times ran an editorial, Crack down on Spamthat was good. The on monday AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! announced they would be coordinating anti-spam efforts. And in Virginia, in the US, "fraudulent" spam was made illegal. Patience with spam seems to be past the limit. I know mine is.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 30, 2003 at 8:00 PM

music moves

A couple of things of note have happened during the last week regarding digital music. First, late last week a Judge delivered an impressive victory for Grokster and Streamcast (developers of Morpheus). Whether it is upheld on appeal or not is another matter. And then Jobs made Apple-music store rumors history by actually coming out with the announcement as expected (without his usual "and-here's-something-you-didn't-really-expect routine, although apparently the product is very good--too bad it's available only for Mac). Regarding the Apple announcement, Arcterex posted a rant that, although a bit harshly worded :-) is quite appropriate. Whether it was Ogg Vorbis or MP3, Apple choosing yet another digital format wasn't so cool--although it might be understandable from the business side of things, because it's not as if you're going to control where or how MP3s are copied, right? Karling gave it a try and posted her impressions, with an update later.

I'd say that, if anyone can pull this off, it's Apple. It would be ironic if, in a few years, Apple ends up being a more successful music distributor than the record companies themselves. Already Universal Music is shopping itself around. Others could follow if the current slump extends. If the device makers end up owning or controlling the music distribution channels, the world of "music for free" will be pushed underground. Sony already distributes products that exert some level of control over what you can do with the digital media, which is understandable from their POV since they also own Sony Music. Maybe this is what it had to come down to: the record industry couldn't do it by itself. The technology companies were just the next in line.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 29, 2003 at 9:27 PM

udell on weblogs

Jon Udell has a cool entry today on his latest take on weblogs. Right on the mark, as usual.

There are many, many things that I learned reading Udell's Byte columns in the early and mid-90s. Then byte went dead when CMP acquired it, and it is back now, sort of, as the site demonstrates, but the glory days are past. Still a good read though.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 29, 2003 at 9:11 PM

cringely on open source

Some Machiavellian ideas from Robert X. Cringely on what he would do if he had to defend against open source (near the end of the article). Nasty.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 29, 2003 at 9:05 PM

configuring courier imap: bring on the valium

You think I'm exaggerating eh?

Yeah, well, maybe. :-)

Then again, what to expect from software that, in the source distribution, comes with a file called "00.README.NOW.OR.SUFFER"???


I ended up getting an RPM package of it, for Red Hat Linux 7.2 (Mandrake). I created a new VM copy (for VMWare) and uninstalled UW IMAP from it, then installed courier.

It took me about an hour to discover that I had to create a ~user/Maildir directory using "maildirmake". Anyway, now it's configured and it appears that I can reproduce the IMAP problem that's been showing up with clevercactus in John Rubier's, and possibly also James Murphy's installation (James' problem could be different though, he uses an e-smith box, and as far as I can see that comes built it with UW IMAP--which I've tested against successfully. We'll see).

Anyway, now I can actually begin testing and finally fix this problem.

And I'll say again: VMWare rocks. :)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 29, 2003 at 12:02 PM

gerard's weblog

New in the blogsphere: Gerard Collin. Gerard's been really helpful in sending reports for spaces and now clevercactus.

Here's his first entry. Welcome! :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 29, 2003 at 11:51 AM

Chewbacca will be back!

According to this CNN article, Chewbacca will be back in Star Wars Episode III. I wonder if, without Han Solo, Chewie would indeed be reduced, as Leia put it in Episode IV, to a "walking carpet."

It would be good nevertheless: the more characters there are, the less Jar Jar Binks there can be. :-)

Posted by diego on April 29, 2003 at 9:44 AM

same old microsoft - take 3

Okay, last one on this subject for a while-- I don't want the blog to turn into a pro-anti-or-whatever-microsoft discussion. BTW, Murph emailed me a pointer to this article from The Register on the default setups of OSes, and how they affect security. Very interesting, particularly the MS-vs-Solaris comparison.

On to the subject, Murph made more comments to my previous reply:

But they don't bundle the things that they're talking about leveraging (SQL server and exchange) and that's why its a bad article. Is novell going to be any different for packaging the AMP from LAMP into Netware?? Only because its not MS.

OTOH talk about the added value of combing (say) Outlook and Exchange and how that in turn stuffed Groupwise I'll be cheering you on...

Or, to come down a step, about the way they roll UI changes round between office and the desktop.

Two points I want to make here.

1) Murph says "Is novell going to be any different for packaging the AMP from LAMP into Netware?? Only because its not MS." Exactly!Microsoft holds a monopoly. Holding a monopoly in and of itself is not illegal; using it in predatory fashion is. Monopolists have to abide to more stringent set of rules than non-monopolists, as far as I'm concerned. If Novell was holding 90% of their market, then we'd be discussing their moves too.

2) Regarding "OTOH talk about the added value of combing (say) Outlook and Exchange and how that in turn stuffed Groupwise I'll be cheering you on...". I think Murph's point was how Microsoft's bundling in the Outlook+Exchange combination made others consider bloatware a good strategy. That is indeed another of the bad sides of massive bundling (even loose bundling, ie., not built-in but easy to integrate).

I just want to make another clarification: I have argued before (in a discussion similar to this one with Murph, actually :-)) that I am not anti-microsoft, or pro-microsoft either. Maybe I haven't made it explicit enough, but my mention in the previous entry of how they could, if they chose to, compete on the merits on their software, was along those lines. They have one of the best software engineering organizations in the world. Their products sometimes are not to par (well, okay, their first releases rarely are), but nobody else has to deploy millions of copies on their first release either. As far as I'm concerned, if they accepted that they are a monopoly, and behaved accordingly, they would be ok in my book. Bundling nonsensically just for the sake of grabbing market share wouldn't matter much: people would choose other products if they thought that was best. The best approach would win.

Agreed, that's a bit idealistic. But these are just ideas anyway. No one gets hurt by saying them out loud. :-)

Enough of Microsoft for a while though. There are a ton of other cool things happening--and who knows, if they get to have enough impact, this whole discussion might be rendered moot anyway! (That's the idealist again talking! :-))

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 4:42 PM

same old microsoft - take 2

Murph commented to my previous link to an article on the Economist on the recent Microsoft moves on the server side and opening up the code. He said:

Bad article... as far as I'm aware there is nothing new in terms of what is included with the various 2K3 server packages.

Very questionable stats about level of server o/s shipments as I'll bet there are a /lot/ of unix type boxes out there for which ther o/s was not purchased.

As I've said before (and will say again) this is not to say that MS are going to behave themselves - but the products that are listed have to be paid (except in the case of small business server) for and that contradicts the initial assertion.

Bad, bad piece of analysis.

My take, since I didn't really make any comments on the article. First, what I find interesting is that it is The Economist who is making these comments. It's not as if they are the "defender of the working man" or something. They're fairly conservative. They stand for the pure "free markets philosophy", but they tend to be consistent, so so they also reject predatory monopolistic behavior, which is what Microsoft often engages in.

Second, regarding the specific assertions in the article, I don't think it is wildly off the mark, although I'd agree that it's not really new either. Murph's comment of "the [additional] products have to be paid for anyway" is accurate only in some cases. As examples, let me list Active Directory and IIS, both products that before had their own markets and that Microsoft successfully integrated into their server offering, built in, and for free. In the case of Active Directory, they've essentially killed off the competition (which was mostly Netware Directory Services, and, by the way, the product was invented by Novell too), and in the case of IIS the only thing that has been stopping them from owning the web server market is Apache/Linux.

Whether the products have to be purchased separately or not, however, is not the issue IMO. The article doesn't talk about the price, but about bundling, since the problem is not whether you're providing new products but whether you're using dominance of one market to leverage into dominance of others.

Regarding the server shipments stats, that Murph questions, I think he is right, there are many UNIX boxes that are not being paid for. But the fact that, even with that factor in, even considering it's a down market, they are still increasing their dominance is what counts.

In the end, it really comes down to whether Microsoft behaves or not. There is a fine line between doing "just bundling" and leveraging dominance in one market to conquer the next. As the article notes, Microsoft has had less success with XBox, and clearly the fact that they didn't have a market to leverage for that has been a factor.

I really think that Microsoft has what it takes to compete fairly so it's sad that they feel they have to revert to those kinds of tactics to ensure dominance. If I was an engineer at, say, the SQL Server group, I'd be pissed off that management thinks that they have to resort to these tactics to ensure the product wins, since apparently it can't win on its own merits. But maybe they feel they have no choice: given that they already dominate the PC/OS and office applications market, they have to move aggressively into other markets or their growth rate will stall. Oh well.

PS: Murph, you really should get a weblog! I think your comments would be a valuable addition to the blogsphere. :)

Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 2:30 PM

clevercactus: the UI changes

I've been meaning to post this since friday. So, finally, here it goes!

Some comments by email (particularly on the dev-list) had to do with the new UI of clevercactus. I want to talk a bit about that. But first, a screenshot:


(click on the image to see a larger version)

The difference that can be seen right away with respect to the alpha is that the tabs are not there anymore. This is temporary--let me explain. I have already talked about it on the dev-list, but I thought it was useful to do it here as well.

Apart from the "navigation bar" and more filters (to, say, "see only the messages received in the last week") The new navigation interface includes the back and forward buttons. The buttons get activated when switching any of the parameters (say, going from Messages to Contacts, or changing the sorting, or, again, viewing only messages from last week), letting you navigate quickly between views. The buttons don't keep state between runs (although if it makes sense they could do that eventually), and they maintain state when switching between spaces. Soon, each space will have its own navigation history. Additionally, the tabs will be back, but they will be dynamic. The final result will look very much like a modern browser interface: the back/forward and the view filters define the current view, and you will be able to create multiple tabs dynamically, making it look like "the old spaces" if needed, or maintaining multiple views that you normally use, for example, view all Unread messages, and view all contacts.

The tabs are, IMO, crucial, and as I said they will come back, but improved. The default setting of the tabs will make it look like the spaces alpha, and you'll be able to ignore the navigation features if you want, or use them. The idea would be to move further into the concept of information as something dynamic, "browse-able", in a sense your own personal web of data, rather than the more static view that Folders provide today in other programs.

As always, comments most welcome!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 1:58 PM

tracking SARS

From The New York Times: an excellent article on SARS, and its lessons for how diseases jump species and spread in the modern world. Reminds me of The coming plague.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 12:38 AM

a long day's journey... into the night

I found this a few days ago... a short article on a professor of history at Virginia Tech that is writing a book on how our perception of what is the night (in terms of how it affects ours activities), and what we do with it has changed over history:

Normally a morning person who thinks best before noon, Ekirch spends a lot of time these days thinking about night, particularly night as experienced by people before the coming of artificial light. "Along with changes in diet, dress, and forms of communication -- all nearly as different as night and day -- variations occurred at night in popular mores, including attitudes toward magic, sexual relations, social authority, and the nocturnal landscape," he says. Nighttime back then was "a rich and complex universe in which persons passed nearly half of their lives -- a shadowy world Ö of blanket fairs, night freaks, and curtain lectures, sun-suckers, moon cursers, and night-kings," Ekirch says.
I find this fascinating. Many times I do my best work at night, but I've been able to work well at any time. I also enjoy early afternoon, especially in the summer, and early-early morning. I wonder: I know of many programmers who also do a lot of work late at night. If working a "nightshift" was almost unheard of, say, in the 17th century, I don't think it's a coincidence that the very things we are creating at these late hours are what ... enables us to work on them. Like electricity. And so on.

The concept of "what's normal" is something that I usually talk about with friends or family, since I my hours are really strange. For example, the "weekend" such as it is, has no meaning for me. Of course, I am affected since the rest of society does care. But for me, personally, a day is a day is a day.

I suddenly remembered I've talked about this before. Instead of repeating myself, I'll just let that entry do it for me. :-)

Categories: science
Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 12:34 AM

trackback trouble

Koz apologizes for the multiple trackback pings to my previous entry on clevercactus beta 2. Apparently movabletype is responding that the ping failed, even if it didn't. Weird. Koz, don't worry, especially since it wasn't your fault! Good to know that can happen though.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 12:21 AM

same old microsoft

From The Economist:

Microsoft has said that it will make it easier for rivals to design software to connect with its Windows operating system. However, the company is also about to launch another server operating system that will be bundled and integrated with lots of other Microsoft products: exactly the sort of behaviour that got it into trouble in the first place.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 12:15 AM

WiFi and phones: coming together


Slightly old news--I'm still catching up on some things I wanted to comment on.

A few days ago cisco announced that it would release a WiFi Phone in June. Quote:

The 7920 phone is essentially a wireless version of Cisco's 7960 IP (Internet Protocol) phone, which uses a wired Ethernet connection to make and receive telephone calls. However, the 7920 will have a wireless handset that uses an office's Wi-Fi network to connect. The device will start shipping in June, executives said Friday. Its price has not yet been disclosed.
Now, this is definitely interesting, but the real test will be when one of the cellphone carriers comes out with a (four-band?) 3G-GPRS-WiFi Phone. One of the problems of WiFi is, besides its limited range, its power consumption. A WiFi phone would need to be huge for its batteries to last more than a few hours of use (of standby mode, with active transfers it would last even less). While one would imagine that WiFi in phones won't take us back to the brick-cellphones of the 80s, and certainly at some point WiFi will become less power-hungry (probably in one of the derivative transports) in the meantime, it makes a lot of sense to have a phone were WiFi can be activated if we know we're in presence of a hotspot, and transparently route the calls through it, hopefully making them cheaper, and then revert to GPRS or whatever when out of range. Certainly this affects the business models of the carriers, but hopefully they'll see that if they don't do it, someone else will. Just like IP phones have been growing and long-distance carriers have had to take notice, so will the cell phone providers. The next couple of years will show whether they have learned that they can't fight a trend like this, but they could reap the benefits if they jump on it.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 28, 2003 at 12:07 AM

clevercactus imap update

Regarding the IMAP fix in yesterday's release of clevercactus beta 2, it turns out not all the problems were solved. Gary reported that beta 2 fixed problems for him, but John and James are still seeing issues. I just saw as well that Koz gave it a try and found login problems, thanks for the report (and the nice comments)! Koz also commented that it would be nice if RSS messages used the more of the RSS information: I agree: there are many cool things that can be done with RSS and weblogs as well. For example I've been looking at OPML, which I've noticed some people use as a way of holding information on the feeds they read (although that's not its primary purpose. I admit I'm a bit fuzzy on that, if anyone knows more, or thinks I'm wrong, please let me know)--it would be great if clevercactus could just create a set of RSS feed configurations from reading a single OPML file off somewhere. Ditto for RSD.

So the next step is to start testing with several different servers. So far I've been using a local server on WinXP and the one on my linux box. I've now downloaded courier 1.5.1 and 1.7.1 as well, which is what John Rubier uses, I'll try to get information on the server used from others for whom it's failing. I think it must be a small difference in how the command is set for those servers, or a slightly different interpretation of the standard.

Good progress so far though.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 27, 2003 at 5:50 PM

and, by the way...

...I just released clevercactus beta rev2 to the dev-list, with a few important fixes. Among them: one for IMAP folder parsing. Let's see if it behaves better now.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 27, 2003 at 1:31 AM

management by blog

Found this link somewhere (can't remember where--left the tab in Mozilla open all day...) from Business 2.0: Management by Blog?. I think it is inevitable that weblogs will become more widely used within companies--they're superior in just about every way to mailing lists. Even when counting on discussion software of some sort, or sharing, it's still a good idea to have a copy on an intranet, and that's a blog, not matter which tool you used to create it.

What I do hope is that they don't start to overhype blogs as "the next silver bullet" for management or whatever... it's just another tool. If the organization is screwed up, there is no amount of tools you can install that will fix it. Magazines have a way of lifting things up only to bring them down, too. So here's hoping.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 27, 2003 at 1:27 AM

gibson ending his weblog

According to Karlin, William Gibson is ending his weblog. His reasons:

"I do know from doing it that it's not something I can do when I'm actually working. Somehow the ecology of writing novels wouldn’t be able to exist if I'm in daily contact. The watched pot never boils." He adds: "I have to go do whatever it is I do, to find the next novel. Writing novels is pretty solitary, and blogging is very social."
I couldn't agree more. I have found that when I'm writing (and deep into code as well--but coding+blogging is easier to manage) I always blog less. However, I think that he is a bit mistaken about what a blog has to be. His blog entries are excellent, they read like short stories. There doesn't seem to be a big difference between his "writing" mode and his "blogging" mode, which is probably quite draining for him. I sort of automatically distance myself from the blog when I'm writing--maybe not ideal, but it's not as if I really control it. The entries become sparser, less... err.. "full of life", they dim down. The blog doesn't end--it just changes tone/direction for a bit. The energy is going elsewhere. I think that this happens to everyone who blogs with different degrees: sometimes the blog slows down a bit, or becomes less inspired, and sometimes you're firing on all cylinders. Like in life. :)

Posted by diego on April 27, 2003 at 1:20 AM

the day after

Okay, so in retrospect saying that I was going to post screenshots and other things I've been meaning to blog about later yesterday was overly optimistic. At that point I had been awake for 50 hours and it's probably to be expected that I was hallucinating :-).

I haven't yet caught up with all the emails/feedback on the beta, which flooded in yesterday after the release. I'll comment on some of those.

First, I am pleased with how the release went. There had been so many changes that upgrading a user base at this stage was difficult, but it went well. I want to thank those on the spaces-dev list for their feedback.

Curtis, who had tried unsuccessfully to import a large Eudora store into the spaces alpha, reported importing (after some hoops) 69,000 messages (!) into cactus, albeit after several tries (and with the problem that cactus was "splitting" mailing list digests into individual emails. Through some logs he sent, I have determined that the bug is in the parsing of multipart/digest MIME messages--so that will be fixed in the next rev. Memory usage also seems to be jumping over what should be expected, which is strange, since the VM memory settings are the default. Regardless, as I mentioned in a message to the list, the mere fact that we're discussing problems in dealing with 69,000 messages is, to me, a success. A lot of the work I've done over the past few months has been precisely aimed at dealing with large message stores, and it's getting there.

All considered, the migration process worked relatively well. Gerard, who has always given great feedback on spaces, was the only report of problems with the spaces-to-cactus migration (of the database) hopefully I'll get the error logs from him and so will be able to fix it.

There seems to be a problem with reading some messages--James Clarke has just reported something to that effect to the list, and I had seen it myself this morning: the messages appear empty after a point. I am looking at that now.

Another important problem that I'll work on over the next few days, before the public release, is some unexpected issues with IMAP: it seems that some servers are complying with RFC 3348, which specifies extended behavior for the IMAP server, and apparently the LIST commands are failing when looking at the contents of a mailbox. I would have expected that a server implementing extensions would implement standard RFC 2060 IMAP behavior as well, but that doesn't seem to be the case (admittedly, I might be wrong, but that's the best diagnostic of the problem I have at the moment). Both James Murphy, a.k.a. Murph, and Gary Coady have been very helpful with their reports, hopefully in a couple of days I'll fix the problems and they'll be able to use the new version. Murph in particular has been really patient in waiting for better IMAP support, and I don't want to dissapoint him :)

There were some comments on weblogs as well: Russ posted an entry with nice comments, and giving some of "Russ's rules for starting a company". Very cool. nf0 posted a comment and some screenshots of cactus running on OS X. Great! (Once the first glitches of the beta are fixed, better OS X integration will be a more important priority--I noticed that there are some layout problems still, which I've known to exist depending on font size settings--and they will be fixed). Matt also posted some comments, as did Anders. Thanks to everyone!

On the announcement-entry there were some comments from Bruno, Anthony and Russ regarding the name "clevercactus". Bruno noted that there is a product with the name "clever cactus" that is a ... "100% all natural prickly pear cactus perfect for grassland/desert tortoise and iguana species". LOL. This is the first hit for "clevercactus" on google (actually, the only hit for both words together, and the first for the words separated by a space. I had indeed seen it, and I don't think there should be problems with that. Trademarks apply in specific domains, and I think that software is far enough from cactus seeds for iguanas to avoid causing confusion. For example, if you look on google for "apache" you get, of course, the Apache Software Foundation and related links. However, if you look for "apache products" you'll notice that a lot of the links are a) companies that provide services for apache and, more importantly, b) companies called Apache or with products called Apache that sell Apache Indian stuff. That said, the naming of the product is not final at this point.

Anyway, I have some more specific comments on the new UI, but that's for the next post, along with the screenshot.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 26, 2003 at 12:40 PM

it's a CAT!



I've just released the beta of spaces, under its new name: clevercactus.

Lots of progress on the company side of things (more news soon). Clevercactus will be the company name, but the product name is still tentative, as is the logo--they're both in "beta" as well.

cactus is the cat's name, and the company's mascot. :-)

I released the beta internally to the spaces-dev list only, to allow for a few more days of testing, as well as polishing some details while starting to get feedback on it. The version will be released publicly next week. New features/Improvements include a streamlined UI with better navigation, more powerful filtering, optimized memory usage, speed, import speed and new implementation of the network protocols, among many others, and even a surprise new feature: Hotmail synchronization!.

If you want to download the beta to check it out, you can join the dev list, or and I will reply with download instructions. Offline for a while now! Over the past couple of days I've accumulated a few things I wanted to comment on, but I simply didn't have time. All of that (and some clevercactus beta screenshots as well!) later today.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 25, 2003 at 9:38 AM

full speed ahead...

...on the beta of spaces, and so zero-time for the blog, along with other minor things like sleeping. However, I do think that if I had DSL I would blog even when working--I do take short breaks, but I don't immediately think of connecting. When you are already connected, though, the situation changes...

Anyway. It's probably a couple of hours away from being release-ready: I'm doing final testing on several new features to make sure they work properly. More news soon.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 24, 2003 at 10:38 PM

50 years of DNA

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the first release of Mosaic. In two days it's the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. (And, totally unrelated, it's also William Shakespeare's birthday!).

Categories: science
Posted by diego on April 23, 2003 at 7:14 PM

six apart announcements

Six Apart (the company behind Movable Type) today made several announcements today, including new weblog software, new board, and an investment. Cool! Congrats to Ben and Mena. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 23, 2003 at 6:10 PM

a brush of slashdot

I have slept about 2 hours in the last 36, but the pre-beta release of spaces is almost done. In the meantime, I've been so consumed by it that I mostly stopped checking news, stats, technorati and everything else. And lo and behold, what happened? Yesterday there was, predictably, a thread on the Chandler 0.1 release, and two people made comments pointing to spaces (here and here) with the (also predictable) jump in downloads. It took a while to find (I first knew about it because of an email) because the first comment, which appears close to the beginning and so would generate the most hits, has the URL for dynamicobjects but not a link, so it wasn't showing up on the referrers list. To the people who posted the comments, thanks! :-)

Btw, the first comment on Chandler on the slashdot thread is funny. It reads:

already emulating Outlook well

Since I just managed to crash it.

No virus propagation yet though, it is only 0.1 I suppose.

The perils of native code... not that Java will never ever crash, it just won't be a common occurrence and would normally result from a bug in the JVM.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 23, 2003 at 4:32 PM

Karlin interviews William Gibson

Karlin has posted some thoughts on an interview she did today with him. The text of the interview will run in the Irish time around the end of this week. Must get it! I am definitely going to read Pattern Recognition, his new book, once the work surrounding the beta release subsides. As I've said before, I think that Gibson is one of the best writers ever, and not science fiction writers, but writers, period. Very cool.

Posted by diego on April 22, 2003 at 8:06 PM

Chandler 0.1

OSAF has released Chandler 0.1. Russ is a bit dissapointed (he also posted a screenshot). I haven't had time to download it yet, even less to run it. Interesting though.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 22, 2003 at 5:50 PM

good software takes ten years

I found this old article from Joel on Sofware: "Good software takes ten years, get used to it." I don't agree with the ten-year rule for adoption, (I'd say that a large percentage of the most commonly used software today did not have ten years of evolution under its wing before it was massively adopted, most notably web browsers, and a ton of web applications. As for the product to be mature, and not require more updates, ten years is probably right.

In any case, a great read.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 22, 2003 at 12:44 PM

of pet psychics and google servers

An article by Robert Cringely from a couple of weeks ago where, besides describing an amusing anecdote about a 'pet psychic' he consulted, he talks about many disconnected things that are nevertheless interesting. Example:

First there is Google, which runs four enormous data centers around the world containing in excess of 10,000 servers. It is the largest Linux cluster of all, and is constructed entirely of generic beige box PCs interconnected by 10/100 Ethernet. These are not racks and racks of state-of-the-art blade servers, just el cheapo PCs. So the magic must be in the software.

Now here is the part that sticks in my mind: the fault tolerant nature of the cluster is such that if a machine fails, the other machines simply take over its functions. As a result, whenever a server fails at Google, THEY DO NOTHING. They don't replace the broken machine. They don't remove the broken machine. They don't even turn it off. In an army of drones, it isn't worth the cost of labor to locate and replace the bad machines. Hundreds, maybe thousands of machines lie dead, uncounted among the 10,000 plus.

We have reached the point where we are totally dependent on computers, yet the marginal cost of a computer -- at least for Google -- is nothing. This may be an historical first.


Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 21, 2003 at 8:00 PM

Mosaic turns 10

Tomorrow, April 22nd, is the tenth anniversary of the first release of Mosaic. has been running a series of articles to commemorate the event. Good reading, but it omits one glaring fact: that the browser existed before mosaic was released.

Mosaic had one big advantage over the others: it was able to inline images with the text (yes, that was one of the big Mosaic innovations). Other UI elements where also first built into, or refined, in Mosaic. It wasn't the first browser, but it was probably the first one that was usable.

Ah, the memories. I remember the first website I ever did, an intranet for the company I was working for. God it was ugly. And HTML didn't even have tables. Tables!! Windows 95 didn't come with a TCP/IP stack at first, you had to install it yourself... And downloading the first public beta release of Navigator (version 0.9 was it?)... and everyone just switched to it since it seemed like a nicer version of Mosaic.

This is sort of a cliche by now, but... to think that ten years ago the web (as such) didn't really exist: only the technologies that made it possible did. Windows 95 was the greatest thing in the tech horizon. Netscape was a word no one had heard of. And Java was a kind of coffee, or an island of Indonesia, depending on who you asked. When I woke up in the morning, I didn't think of checking my email, and if I wanted to get news, I had to get the newspaper, turn on the radio, or wait for the TV to give them, that is, unless you had CNN (which back then had just emerged as a news powerhouse, after the first Gulf War).

I mean: wait for the news!. What a concept.

Happy birthday, Mosaic!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 21, 2003 at 1:52 PM

I'll take that with some reverse engineering on the side

So I'm coding away, to the tune of U2, INXS, and Jerry Lee Lewis, as the pre-beta release of spaces is approaching fast.

I've spent the past couple of days redoing a lot of configuration infrastructure, trying to make it easier to configure mail accounts and so on, which are now Synchronization devices. To take breaks from the grueling UI work (adjusting locations or spacing by a few pixels to make things look good is never a lot of fun), I've been reverse engineering the HTTP access protocol of a certain web-based mail application <wink>, not just to include support for it in spaces, but also because it is useful to better understand different usage models for the internal synchronization abstractions that I'm using. WebDAV is used for some of the query mechanisms, so I've been looking at that. And for the reverse-engineering, I've found useful to fire up Network Probe. I've had to go through some hoops to do it, since I don't have DSL, and so my internet connection is modem-based... and Network Probe latches onto Ethernet or Firewire devices only. So I'm routing internet access through a wireless hub, dialing on the notebook, and using it as NAT router. Twisted, but it works.

In the process I discovered that this web-mail app is violating some parts of RFC 2109 (for cookies) among other things. Good thing I'm ignoring the cookies, or I'd have to find ways around that too.

Guess whose app it is. :-)

And, btw, yes, I can download messages now from this "certain web-mail app", although the ability to do so will remain limited until there is more time, after the pre-beta is out. Right now it can get messages from the Inbox, and the performance is not optimal. But it works!

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 20, 2003 at 7:59 PM

why the Apple-Universal rumors

Last week I was ranting a bit about the rumored deal of Apple buying Universal Music. I just saw this article by Robert X. Cringely, where he explains his theory as to why Apple would enter discussions like these at all, and, moreover why would Jobs allow the story to leak, letting the stock take a hit (which was a foregone conclusion in this market, and with Apple's and Universal situation).

Now, who can say if it's true, but it's a really interesting theory. Or should I say "entertaining"? :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 20, 2003 at 2:48 AM

TimesTalk: An interview with Bono

An interview with Bono from the New York Times' TimesTalk.

Speaking of U2, Daniel sent me an email in response to an entry a few days ago in which I mentioned Stay (Faraway, So Close!) mentioning this cool entry related to it, U2's music, and other things.

And... on the interview I linked to above, Bono talks about the new album. When they released Best of 1990-2000 last year there was talk of a new album being released this summer. Almost there!

PS: btw, this is my 1000th blog entry. :-)

Posted by diego on April 19, 2003 at 8:50 PM

science doesn't need hype

[via Philip Greenspun]: A wired article: The Lab That Fell to Earth. Quote:

The house that Negroponte built is dealing with a nasty postboom hangover. Corporate donations once accounted for 95 percent of the Lab's budget, with much of the booty coming from thriving sectors like telecom. Now the struggling companies of the world are, needless to say, no longer as liberal with their loot. The Lab's techno-optimism and demo-centric approach to R&D has fallen out of favor. Like many private-sector startups, it has responded with belt-tightening, layoffs, and lots of rhetoric about alternative funding. One look at the vacant lot next door, though, and it's obvious the crisis isn't over.

Even worse, the financial shortfall is dredging up long-festering issues. When times were flush, no one rocked the boat. Now the hard-science groups are bucking for independence, claiming that the Lab's art-meets-technology focus is passé. Students complain that egocentric professors are undermining the Lab's interdisciplinary spirit. And the Lab's reputation as a scientific lightweight - "all icing and no cake," as Negroponte sums up the rap - never seems to die. Designing props for the wacky Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling troupe isn't exactly what the Nobel committee is looking for.

The Media Lab, I think has suffered more than anything from its own hype. The vision its people described, Negroponte in particular, has always been cool, and in many cases right on the mark.

But for whom?

What I mean is, who would use the technology? I knew a person that got an advance copy of Being Digital in 1996 and I borrowed it. Of course, I read it avidly. But even as I read what I dreamed of, even as I found myself inspired by it, in a hidden corner of my mind I was thinking: This is all very good, but who is going to be able to afford it? Who can benefit by the holographic screens and having your refrigerator do the shopping for you? Certainly not most of the people in Africa, or Asia, or Latin America, or, hell, anyone who doesn't live in a few choice cities, mostly in the Western World, and their surrounding suburban areas. From the article:

Much of that reputation stems from Negroponte's punditry, especially the predictions that peppered his bestseller Being Digital. He was right about quite a bit - the untethering of data, the genesis of the digital video recorder. But there were also the outré prophecies about pill-sized computers that will diagnose illnesses and Barbie dolls that will go online to order new dresses. Crowd-pleasing stuff, but easy targets once the luster wore off technology's star. Britain's The Register now adds snarky quote marks to the phrase "technology expert" when reporting on Negroponte's latest flight of fancy.

To be fair, other Lab alums and personnel took even more outlandish stands. In 1997, Danny Hillis, a Lab graduate and founder of Thinking Machines, was touted in a Los Angeles Times Q&A as a biotechnology guru. Among his predictions: Telephones would be farmed, cabbages manufactured, and trees modified to produce kerosene. The performance earned Hillis the Technoquack of the Month award from the hype-busting Crypt newsletter and bolstered the Lab's reputation for goofiness.

Now, I don't mean that science shouldn't be pursued because it's not going to provide tangible benefits today, or tomorrow, or in ten years, or in the next century. Particle physics, just to take one example, is not really "useful" in that sense. But breakthroughs in science, and specially fundamental science, always end up trickling down to people, even to poor people, sometimes with far-reaching consequences.

But Negroponte's vision, and the Media Lab hype in general, always had this implication that this is going to change the world now, and for everyone. Wide ranging descriptions of how "everyone would do their shopping" (for example) in the future were, and in some cases still are, the norm. In part I imagine it was a sign of the times: if someone could think that selling pet food over the Internet was a world-changing paradigm, then certainly the Media Lab was entitled to, and with more reason. But then again, I wish they hadn't bought so deep into the self-promotion, and the hype.

Doing science, fundamental science, even things that other people consider useless, freaky, or strange, or ridiculous, is just fine.

Hyping it, pretending to know the future and telling everyone that you're the next hot item is not.

At least not if you're doing science. There's a name for that. It's called Marketing.

On top of that, the Media Lab's funding model is heavily tilted towards corporate money, and so makes it hard when recessions, or near-recessions, hit.

You know, like now. As the following paragraph from the article explains:

Unlike other university research entities, the Media Lab has relied almost solely on corporate money: Currently 125 sponsors each kick in a minimum of $200,000 annually, entitling them to license any Lab invention royalty-free and consult with the faculty at whim. In the halcyon days, that was good enough. Company executives happily camped out in the Lab on the off chance that a professor's random brainstorm might have the whiff of IPO about it. Now that corporate excess is out of vogue, sponsorship is a tougher sell. Stung by the telecom sector's demise, a Lucent or a Nortel is now loathe to sponsor the quest to build a "conversational humanoid," a current project in the Gesture & Narrative Language group. "Those companies are fucking dead," says one especially blunt Lab professor. "Where do we get the money from now? I don't know."
The funding model probably needs to be revised a bit, no? Recessions are not really new...

What's happening is also part of the way it goes: behind the hype, the naysayers follow. The truth is usually somewhere in between. If the hype stops, so does the counter-hype. And then the Media Lab could prosper again.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on April 18, 2003 at 11:56 PM

decentralization, take 2

The past few days I've been thinking a lot about synchronization, decentralization, sharing, and so on, as I move to connect the pieces that will make all of those things possible in spaces without making it difficult to use. Perchance, I found this article by Kevin Werbach on decentralization. I had linked to exactly the same article before, except that then I had found the CNET version of the article. The CNET and ZDNET articles where published in tandem, in a form of "decentralized synchronization." Heh

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 18, 2003 at 1:57 PM

on mobile phones and pricing schemes


Talk about barriers to entry...

Mobile phone pricing is downright baffling. For all the flexibility that is built into how you pay (contract, pay as you go, subsidized handsets or not, data prices, and so on), it is incredibly complicated to try to make an informed decision on what to buy and from which carrier. Yesterday I made some comments regarding pricing here in Ireland, and Murph corrected me, saying:

Oh dear, you've been done by the misleading (downright bad) way phones are priced - the provider subsidises them and you pay them back for so long as you stick on the same contract.

This is bad because people think phones are cheaper than they are (real UK prices and because the monthly service charge includes a clawback of the subsidy.

So I don't quite get how giving you a discount (subsidy) of ~300 euros against a simm free price for a 7650 is "ignoring the customer"?

We'd all be better off if they charged the rrp for the phones (with nice consumer credit arrangements to spread the cost) and we purchased the service separately - which is more or less what I do (-:

Obviously I was wrong about the UK prices, but I want to point out that the prices I was mentioning for the phones are not SIM-free. They require a contract, 12-month minimum. SIM-free prices are twice that at least. The 7650 can be purchased SIM-free for Euro 469 at Vodafone, and about the same price at O2. The UK still wins on that, I think.

Now, my question is, why does this confusion happen at all? Certainly one could see the "logic" in keeping prices obscure, difficult to understand: the carriers get less mobility of users since it's not clear at all whether you win or lose by switching (while the problems of switching are clear). But in the end, this kind of behavior from the part of the companies simply means angry customers that will switch to something else the second it becomes available.

On top of that, carriers play certain games with their offerings that are difficult to understand as well. I went into a store today to inquire about the SonyEricsson P800 and the Nokia 3650. While the 7650 is available here in Ireland, those two phones aren't? The reason? According to sales people from Vodafone and O2, the carrier hasn't "certified" the product to be sold.

Excuse me? Certified?

To me, plain and simple, they prefer to keep milking their existing product lines with high prices, since they know that once higher-end offerings are available the basic phones must be sold for less. This is ridiculous in more than one sense, since the added services (for which they have invested billions in infrastructure) should bring more money, it's in their interest to move users to the new platform.

And, while we're at it, how can this happen at all? The EU was supposed to bring these barriers down, wasn't it? This might (emphasize, might) be understandable in the more-fragmented US market, but when you've got basically two major players (Vodafone and O2) in Europe, there are no market reasons for this to happen. The P800 has been available for some time in other european countries. And this is not new. I remember almost two years ago when the first GPRS phones appeared (e.g., the Nokia 6310) it took for them about nine months to show up here in Ireland. They have no problem in hyping the technology and spending millions in advertisements, but somehow they won't, or can't, deliver it.

The carriers should wake up: giving customers more choice is good. Clearly showing the costs of something is good. Fight on features and service, instead of artificially maintaining their market position. Once that arrives, the market will expand, I'm sure, and the lives of developers and users would be easier as well.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 17, 2003 at 1:04 PM

a chat with russ

Had a cool chat with Russ tonight... he showed me a short spec of the new stuff he's working on, VERY cool. Can't wait to see it running!

I gotta get myself one of these intelliphones... for cool new things like what Russ is working on, and also to test spaces synchronization against it. Finally the Nokia 7650 can be obtained here in Ireland... but the 3650 is better, and while they supposedly have it, most stores don't. On top of that, it's really expensive, even with a contract. The 7650, which was one of the first intelliphones out there, can't be obtained for less than $100, and that's if you sign a contract for Euro 50 a month for a year at least. My own provider (O2) will not upgrade me for less than Euro 200 (!!) because I haven't spent more than Euro 1500 a year (!!!!). Talk about ignoring the customer. And all that, with the UK having incredible prices... shipping across the Irish sea must be really, really expensive no?

Oh well.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 16, 2003 at 12:33 AM

weird day

For whatever reason I woke up before 6 am, even though I had gone to sleep at 2:30. So got to work early. But then, it's only 3:40 pm and I've had this feeling in my head that it's past 5 pm.... since at least 1 pm! I guess that since I woke up before dawn my perception is totally confused. Interesting though. The day seems interminable! Good when you've got a lot of things to do. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 15, 2003 at 3:27 PM

when abstractions don't work

As I've been reimplementing the functionality provided by the JavaMail API for spaces, I've realized that JavaMail has one important flaw: its level of abstraction. That is, it's too abstract.

Theoretically, from a design point of view, the JavaMail API makes sense, you've got Folders, Sessions, Transports, and so on, with the appropriate subclasses. But then...

POP3 and IMAP4 are for receiving, but they are very different. IMAP essentially provides a server-side back-end for a mail client, while POP provides only transient storage between sender and receiver (although you can use it for long-term storage, it's not really designed for it). IMAP supports folder hierarchies. POP doesn't. IMAP supports searching and understand the structures of RFC822 messages. POP can tell you the size of a message and a server UID, or you have to get the entire message. IMAP lets you subscribe to a folder. POP doesn't even know that folders exist.

And then, of course, SMTP is for sending, rather than receiving.

Similar "impedances" could be identified, for example, for NNTP, something else that is sometimes implemented with JavaMail interfaces.

In the end, the main thing that these things have in common is that they: a) deal with Mime Messages (or RFC822 plaintext), b) they require connection, disconnection, and possibly login. Everything else is different.

So, does it really make sense to fit these wildly different systems under the same interface?

Having used JavaMail on the server side, I understand that there is an advantage to its abstraction, and it's relatively easy to use. But when you need it to build the functionality of a full email client on top of it, the abstractions start to become unwieldy.

That said, I don't think it was intended for that! (or was it?) I think it was something that provided basic mail functionality to applications that needed it, but where it wasn't central. Maybe I just got carried away!

Talk about rants that come full circle. So this was a feature of the design then, and not a flaw? Depends on how you look at it...

Yeah, too much coffee, I know... :-)

Posted by diego on April 14, 2003 at 10:54 PM

apple goes into... music


Yes, apparently.

This NY Times article says that they are going to come out with an online music store. (Yes, the article focuses on them investing in Universal music, but that's not really the important part IMO).

What are they thinking? I understand it must be tempting, since their users are loyal and iPods are flying off the shelves. It might even make some money. But isn't it stretching Apple's capabilities too far? Isn't apple a technology company, not a music service, or whatever? Wouldn't it be better for them to concentrate on what they know how to do?

I dunno.

A net-second later: I found this story that says that Apple is looking at buying Universal Music (?!?!?!). Makes even less sense. But I guess that since Jobs has some knowledge of managing a content-creation business through Pixar, it wouldn't be an outright disaster right away. Not too confident it would work out in the long run nevertheless.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 13, 2003 at 12:06 AM

steal this barcode

Found through this Salon article:

The Web site parodies the design and chipper lingo of's "name your own price" shopping site. It invites shoppers to "recode your own price," by making their own barcodes using the site's barcode generator. The theory: There's just a 10-digit number standing between you and a better deal on anything that you want in a store, and this site will help you crack the code.
One of those strange things that the net makes eminently easy. The article wonders: "Is it social commentary, or shoplifting?". On one hand, it certainly sounds like an interesting thing that this can be possible. On the other, it doesn't feel entirely right. One thing's for certain, it's yet another way in which the Internet has shown the problem with "old techniques". Same as in the music industry, where before you could copy things if you wanted, but the quality was probably not goot, and it was a chore. Suddenly it's easy, and everyone is doing it (Not that everyone is stealing barcodes, I assume...). But it does come from an unexpected source, doesn't it?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 12, 2003 at 4:43 PM

the beta is approaching

A short update on spaces: the beta is coming along well. One (further) reason for a delay is (aside from work unrelated to it that's going on as the term in Trinity finishes, and other things) is that I've been rewriting large portions of the JavaMail API. This is slightly nuts, I wish it didn't have to be done, but to support things like S/MIME mail there's little choice, since Sun doesn't have any support for that (not that S/MIME will be supported in the beta, but it should be supported eventually). Also, sharing through email (transparent store-and-forward sharing) requires a good grasp over the underlying message parsing and code/decode. Finally, performance can also be tuned better.

So that's going really well. More news soon.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 11, 2003 at 4:36 PM

blogs, scopes, and human routers

Jon Udell has posted an interesting entry on the nature of distributed communications:

If I am seeking or sharing information, why do I need to be able to address a group of 3 (my team), or 300 (my company), or 300,000 (my company's customers), or 300 million (the Usenet)? At each level I encounter a group that is larger and more diffuse. Moving up the ladder I trade off tight affinity with the concerns of my department, or my company, for access to larger hive-minds. But there doesn't really have to be a tradeoff, because these realms aren't mutually exclusive. You can, and often should, operate at many levels.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 10, 2003 at 5:36 PM

version control systems: the comments

Several good comments, through email and on the weblog, to my short review of SCM systems.

First point is regarding Perfoce. Jason said that I was overestimating the cost of hardware, and Chris Bailey agreed. Although I did mention the hardware/maintenance costs, I didn't say that Perforce would end up being more expensive than BitKeeper, I said: "[BitKeeper] it is probably cheaper in the long run (at the very least, the cost should be similar)". By "long run" I meant as the dev teams get bigger.

I think that it depends on how centralized and "careful" is the organization. If it's a freak-control org (and they have money!), then probably they will end up having an admin just for the SCM server (software+hardware). I think that most cases would probably be like Jason described. My guess (note: I say guess) is that the cost of BitKeeper and Perforce would end up being similar (specially since BK is leased rather than licensed). So cost would not seem to be much of an issue. And in any case, this factor can be big when you have more than a couple of dozen developers. In that case, you probably can afford either one, so again cost is not so much an issue, but rather usability and features.

In fact, if CVS was somehow wiped out of the planet today, I'd switch to Perforce. The tools are excellent, branch management is very good, it's relatively easy to manage, and it integrates well with the underlying platform. BitKeeper, while "cooler" because it is decentralized, probably makes sense only when you have an all-*NIX shop. The Windows version is just awful. That said, I think the "staging" concept of BitKeeper is brilliant, I wish all tools had it.

Chris also mentioned CVS's default that files are read-write, saying he liked it better than Perforce's "check-out-to-edit" (which is more like RCS). I definitely agree. Having to check out every single file I have to work on is a pain.

Finally, both Alsak and Christian were commenting on my shunning of Rational's ClearCase. I think they are right, it is difficult to use and complex, and I didn't consider it much partly because of that. The only Rational tool I've ever been able to use for an extended period has been Purify, and only because what it does is so simple that you'd need to work actively to make it complicated, and because when you're working with C/C++ code it is absolutely essential. The other thing that is a big problem with Rational is their licensing process, which is the most convoluted I've ever seen. They have "node locked licenses" that are essentially tied to a single machine (!), or "floating licenses" which are several times more expensive. I wasn't surprised when IBM acquired Rational, the top-down approach IBM gives to its tools (the shining exception being Eclipse) is just like Rational's.

ClearCase is an expensive, ugly beast that is probably useful if you're using other rational tools (they integrate well, I'll give you that) but in few other cases. That's why I didn't consider it much.

It seems to me that if Perforce adds some level of decentralization (for example, the ability to handle multiple server-side repositories that synchronize transparently), then allowing things like staging, it will end up being the leader for a while.

Okay, on to other things now...

Posted by diego on April 9, 2003 at 4:24 PM

The Daily Show online

Chris pointed to this site where comedy central has videos of the The Daily Show, on which I was commenting yesterday. Very cool. Too bad I still don't have broadband! Maybe soon...

Posted by diego on April 9, 2003 at 3:40 PM

John Stewart's show

Salon has a review of John Stewart's fake news show on Comedy Central. Quote:

Stewart and company [...] can articulate their derision for the state of American public life without demanding that we admire their maverick élan. In fact, "The Daily Show" regularly advances the notion that self-satisfied white guys might sometimes be part of the problem and not just the blameless (yet rakish!) casualties of moral crusaders run amok. The show specializes in satires of bogus experts: No matter what the subject at hand, for example, Stephen Colbert is introduced as the show's "senior analyst." He's the senior U.N. analyst, senior media analyst, senior theater analyst, senior death analyst (commenting on a Texas execution), etc. He can always be counted on to speak utter drivel with unflappable authority.

After the war started, Stewart had the following conversations with Colbert, who was wearing his "senior media analyst" hat:

Stewart: What should the media's role be in covering the war?

Colbert: Very simply, the media's role should be the accurate and objective description of the hellacious ass-whomping we're handing the Iraqis.

Stewart: Hellacious ass-whomping? Now to me, that sounds pretty subjective.

Colbert: Are you saying it's not an ass-whomping, Jon? I suppose you could call it an ass-kicking or an ass-handing-to. Unless, of course, you love Hitler.

Stewart [stammering]: I don't love Hitler.

Colbert: Spoken like a true Hitler-lover.

Stewart: Look, even some American generals have said that the Iraqis have put up more resistance than they were expected to.

Colbert: First rule of journalism, Jon, is to know your sources. Sounds like these "generals" of yours may be a little light in the combat boots, if you know what I'm saying.

Stewart: I don't think I know what you're saying.

Colbert: I'm saying they're queers, Jon. They're Hitler-loving queers.

Stewart: I'm perplexed. Is your position that there's no place for negative words or even thoughts in the media?

Colbert: Not at all, Jon. Doubts can happen to everyone, including me, but as a responsible journalist, I've taken my doubts, fears, moral compass, conscience and all-pervading skepticism about the very nature of this war and simply placed them in this empty Altoids box. [Produces box.] That's where they'll stay, safe and sound, until Iraq is liberated.

Stewart: Isn't it the media's responsibility in wartime ...

Colbert: That's my point, Jon! The media has no responsibility in wartime. The government's on top of it. The media can sit this one out.

Stewart: And do what?

Colbert: Everything it's always wanted to do but had no time for: travel, see the world, write that novel. I know the media has always wanted to try yoga. This is a great time to take it up. It's very stressful out there -- huge war going on. Jon, hear me out, it was Thomas Jefferson who said, "Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach."

Stewart: Stephen, Stalin said that. That was Stalin. Jefferson said he'd rather have a free press and no government than a government and no free press.

Colbert: Well, what do you expect from a slave-banging, Hitler-loving queer?


Too bad I can't don't have satellite or something of the sort.

Posted by diego on April 8, 2003 at 2:13 PM

an interview with the inventor of mobiles


Martin Cooper, who made the first cell phone call, speaks out in this interview against "featuritis" and the need to solve the problem of giving good voice service first, and then worrying about the rest. It reminds me of the Motorola dreamers that came up with Iridium (remember Iridium?), which were clobbered because the coverage that people had was "good enough" and not everyone needed to make phone calls from the South Pole. It is true that quality is still not as good as it should be, considering all the money being spent on multimedia services and such. But to me, once we get to good data transmission, the issue will be moot. We have problems now because it's analog. With digital, and enough bandwidth, quality should be easily set by the user (more bandwidth == more quality == more money, and so on). Regulation is the main factor, I think, as I've argued before. One of those cases were less is more. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 7, 2003 at 11:04 PM

more learning

I have a bad cold... so I'm spending time learning and trying out different code options for things that will have to change in spaces to make it more robust. One thing I have to grok is the IMAP spec (RFC 1730) and the other encodings, such as Base64 and Quoted-Printable, which are described in RFC 2045. I'd much rather not get too much into this, but the javax.mail.* parsers tend to fail in extreme cases and it gets difficult if not impossible to fix a problem. Oh well...

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 7, 2003 at 10:47 PM

version control systems: a short review

Last week I spent some time looking at Source Control Management (SCM) systems (previous related entries here and here). Before my impressions, it's useful to state what I was looking for.

For one, I wanted to get a feel of how SCM had evolved in the last couple of years. I've been using CVS for the last 2 years or so, and before that I mostly used Visual Source Safe. I knew that both CVS and VSS had remained largely unchanged since then, but I had also heard about new systems that had recently appeared that made some things easier. Once of the things that was important to me was better branch management, and possibly looking for something that helped the process aside from helping manage the code base itself.

Anyway, so, the three main systems I looked at were subversion, Perforce and BitKeeper. There were others I found in the process of looking, but nothing major or too evolved.

Subversion looks promising, but it's just getting started. It's not easy to find plugins for many development tools, and there doesn't seem to be one available for IDEA, which is what I use (with the new machine I tried switching to Eclipse, but kept wasting time trying to find my way around it for refactoring features and other things, including keyboard shortcuts, so I gave up after about one hour. No time for that. Another thing: I use a local CVS repository. Eclipse only supports remote repositories! So I had to install a CVS server locally to even try it--ridiculous). Subversion does have a plugin for Eclipse though.

Perforce is a good improvement over CVS. Good client GUI tools. They use their own terminology for many things (for example, they have "submits" instead of commits), which can be confusing. The client is loaded with features, but that can be confusing as well. You can use Perforce for free for up to 2 developers, after that you enter a commercial license and it's $750 per developer, including support costs.

Both subversion and perforce are server-based, so as you scale you need to add hardware (and the time of the person that has to maintain both the server software and the server itself), so for many developers the cost will actually be more than it looks just from the license (Subversion is free and open-source, btw).

BitKeeper, however, is fully distributed, so there is no server cost that grows as the number of developers grows (you have a main repository facility for all the code, but it doesn't have to scale with the organization). The main repository in BitKeeper is used only as a main storage facility were the changes from the child (and even grandchild) repositories typically end up. Another cool feature of BitKeeper is staging. It allows you to stage the commit of a set of machines to one machine (a sort of "mock" main commit) and test from there. I can see this greatly helping when work from several teams has to be integrated into a single release, where you want to test all the commits before putting everything into the "real" main repository. As for cost, BitKeeper is free for one developer, then $1750 per developer, in the form of a one-year lease, so it's actually $1750 per year. Apparently you can purchase the license outright but this makes sense only after having a 5-year license on the seat. It sounds pretty expensive, but then again there's less cost in terms of server and management, so it is probably cheaper in the long run (at the very least, the cost should be similar).

In terms of ease of installation, Perforce wins by a mile, with Subversion coming second. The BitKeeper installlation process is just awful, requiring three different sets of installs in Windows (Cygwing, Tcl, and then BitKeeper), and in the end you end up with... a bash shell. There are Tcl-based GUI tools though. BitKeeper is very clearly a UNIX tool with a Windows version that feels more like a hack rather than a product.

All of these tools support something that to me is crucial (and that CVS doesn't have): atomic commits. When commiting multiple files, the whole set is commited or nothing is, so an error in one file will not mean that the version now in the repository is now broken.

So, conclusion?

Some interesting new tools, but you need a reason (like requiring atomic commits, for example). Most small to medium sized projects are probably okay with CVS, and maybe eventually subversion. Both Perforce and BitKeeper are more sophisticated systems, but prepare yourself for the learning curve (and get out your wallet).

Posted by diego on April 7, 2003 at 9:36 AM

the IMAP connection

While looking for information on the IMAP protocol, server compliance and so on, I found this: The IMAP connection. Very useful site, maintained by the people at the University of Washington, who also maintain one of the best UNIX IMAP servers available.

Posted by diego on April 6, 2003 at 8:28 PM

JDK 1.4.2 beta

The JDK 1.4.2 beta was released a couple of days ago. It includes an improved look and feel for Windows XP! Here are some screenshots. Too bad Sun has to chase a moving target in terms of UI conformity, but they are doing a reasonably good job. If JDK 1.4.2 is out within a month or two, then they'd be about 6 months behind the OS release for UI changes (not to mention good side effect of all the bugs they fix). Maybe I won't need to find another look and feel for spaces to have a more modern UI.

Categories: clevercactus,
Posted by diego on April 6, 2003 at 12:53 AM

acting and writers

In a little bit there's Nora on RTE, a movie about James Joyce's wife, Nora Barnacle, or possibly their relationship, with Ewan McGregor playing Joyce. I was thinking (yeah, it happens once in a while, what can you do): when an actor is playing a musician, say, a piano player, they can do some camera tricks to convince you that the actor is playing. Which, if the actor is acting properly, goes a long way towards creating character. But with a writer, it's just all in the head. Flunting pieces of paper around won't do. Which brings me to my point: how is it that people that have never written (fiction in particular) relate to that? Is there some kind of society-wide mental image of what a writer must be? And how does that affect the price of potatoes in the winter?


Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 5, 2003 at 8:11 PM

spring nighttime bliss

It's one of those nights... cool outside, the train station across the river relatively quiet. A soft breeze comes in through the window. I'm working (slightly) and listening to Stay (Faraway, So Close!) (I don't really have to say performed by who, do I?) and the music seems to be written for this moment. The music, not the lyrics, mind you. Okay, maybe part of the lyrics...

Faraway, so close Up with the static and the radio With satellite television we can go anywhere Miami, New Orleans London, Belfast and Berlin

And if you listen
I can call
And if you jump
You just might fall
And if you shout
I don't believe you

If I could stay... then the night would give you up

Three o'clock
in the morning
It's quiet
and there's no one around
Just a bang
and a clatter
as an angel runs to ground

Just the band and the clatter
as an angel
hits the ground

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 5, 2003 at 8:07 PM

TEXTing in the US


The Economist has an interesting article this week about why TEXTing hasn't taken off in the US. The article states:

[...] although texting has become commonplace in Europe and Asia, it has failed to take off in [...] America. Globally, the average number of messages sent or received each month by a mobile subscriber is now around 30, or one message per day. Each message costs an average of $0.10 to send. In some parts of Asia, such as Singapore and the Philippines, where large numbers of free messages are thrown in with monthly pricing plans, the number of messages sent per subscriber per month is as high as 200. But the figure for America is just over seven, according to the Cellular Telecommunications Internet Association, an industry body. Why is such a high-tech nation eschewing texting?

The short answer is that, in America, talk is cheap. Because local calls on land lines are usually free, wireless operators have to offer big “bundles” of minutes—up to 5,000 minutes per month—as part of their monthly pricing plans to persuade subscribers to use mobile phones instead. Texting first took off in other parts of the world among cost-conscious teenagers who found that it was cheaper to text than to call, notes Jessica Sandin, an analyst at Baskerville. But in America, you might as well make a voice call.

That's really only part of the story. There are many uses for texting for short communications, and it has nothing to do with the call cost. Making a call in those situations is simply more cumbersome and generally unnecessary.

Example: I am going to a meeting, but running late. A co-worker, who is already at the meeting, is stalling for time while I arrive. Now, in this situation, you don't want to interrupt the other person. So sending a message that says "Stuck in traffic. Be there in 10 minutes" is much better than calling. All the necessary information is in the message. My co-worker can get it without having to interrupt his conversation, and if necessary he can give me a call. Sending a text message is clearly better in that situation, but there are many other cases. Anything that requires specific, short communications is better served by messages (another example: wife, while bathing the baby, sends a text to her husband, who is at the supermarket "Remember to buy lettuce!" or whatever).

The bigger factor to me, then, is implementation: since the networks in the US are generally incompatible for cross-sending of text messages, people can't really use them efficiently. I think that once that's solved, it will take off, just like everything else. For proof, look at the success of the BlackBerry, which has been mainly in the US, and which is a more expensive (and fancier, true, with more features) version of the same concept.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 5, 2003 at 2:50 PM

3G and WiFi

A collective effort from us mobitopians: 3G vs. WiFi.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 5, 2003 at 2:36 PM


[via William Gibson's Blog] Heard on Sky News:

"Umm Qasr is a town similar to Southampton", UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons yesterday. "He's either never been to Southampton, or he's never been to Umm Qasr", said one British soldier, informed of this while on patrol in Umm Qasr. Another added: "There's no beer, no prostitutes, and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth."

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on April 4, 2003 at 9:18 PM


[via Russ]: VentureBlog. Interesting!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 4, 2003 at 9:11 PM

spaces on OS/2

Four words: "Write once, Run anywhere".

I know that this became the joke du jour in tech circles, quickly replaced by "Write once, debug everywhere." But now the joke no longer true. Spaces has so far run on every system that it's been tried on, including Windows, Linux and Mac OS/X, with no modifications or work required on my part. (Okay, I did have to fix one bug that was appearing only on Mac at the beginning, but that was it). In fact, I developed the program entirely on Windows machines and except for a friend that ocassionally did Linux testing I never ran it on anything else before the release, or after, until recently, when I got VMWare installed a few days ago.

And now, OS/2.

Over the past couple of weeks I've received several emails from happy users of spaces on OS/2. Very cool. Julio Cezar Salgueiro da Silva was kind enough to attach a screenshot:

(Click on the image to see a larger version).

It kinda looks like the Metal L&F doesn't it? What gives it away is the window controls at the top-right. Very OS/2. I guess that as more Java apps are available they will breathe new life into older systems.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 4, 2003 at 8:54 PM

a great day

Busy, yes, but great. No clouds, warm sun and a cool breeze that came and went, just at the right moment. Normally here in Dublin you get days like these around the first two weeks of may (Last year my advisor said "Did you like the past two weeks?" I said, yes, then he said, "Good, because that was summer."). Heh. Anyway, we've had two or three days like these in the last couple of weeks, but today was the best. Very cool.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 4, 2003 at 5:25 PM

going, going...

In its latest SEC filing AOL has disclosed that its dial-up user base is shrinking dramatically. Not a surprise in itself, but certainly good news in terms of how fast it seems to be happening.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 3, 2003 at 9:05 PM

microsoft and software quality

Murph posted a couple of comments regarding my previous entry linking to a article that said that a new study has found that three-quarters of security experts found Microsoft software to be unsafe. Murph was wondering if this was empty Microsoft bashing. His first comment said:

MS bad, everyone else good?

Don't anyone mention sendmail...

To which I replied:
No, I don't think so.

But I do think that as monopolists and having so much influence they should be more responsible with the products they put out there. They have the brainpower. They have the resources: $45 billion of them. They only seem to lack commitment, as long as they have no competition, they're ok.

And Murph added:
Its not so much that they don't have the commitment as that they've taken so long to realise that this is a serious problem and that they now have to do something about it.
This would maybe be acceptable (and I say maybe because given Microsoft's size and the resources they spend to kill competitors, I'm sure they could spend some time in security and quality) if it were true, but it's not. By Microsoft's own admission, they "didn't add security options to their software until their customers were ready to pay for it". Even their "security" is bad. Murph added to his second comment:
For example, XP has a built in personal firewall - although naturally its not enabled by default.

A better example is Windows 2003 server which turns usual MS policy on its head as by default no extras are installed and everything is locked down (really /really/ locked down - e.g. shares start out seriously read only).

Sorry, but that is not security, but rather the pretense of it. This amounts to a government saying "You are perfectly safe in this city, as long as you stay inside your house."

As an example of how they've mishandled things, take Java vs. ActiveX. Java is very secure for applets, while Microsoft made the conscious decision of letting ActiveX controls, downloaded from the Internet, execute with full privileges locally. Then they realized it was a bad idea, and they started adding "security zones" and a miriad of related options: patchwork. Why couldn't they sit down and think before releasing something?

It's the same case with Outlook, which is one of the greatest digital virus carriers of all time. It was full of holes. The solution? Patch after patch after patch. Finally, in Outlook XP, they added a new "feature" first, by default, executable files don't appear at all as attachments. Second, the automation clients that access the Outlook store require the user clicking a dialog box every ten minutes to provide authorization (default settings).

Finally, if "they were not aware, but they are now", what's this?

Final note: as I've said before, I'm not anti-Microsoft. I'm not pro-Microsoft either. I just think they should take responsibility for their immense power, and use all their money to start caring about users instead of extending their market dominance even further. (Or, hey, do both, but at least don't just care about dominance!)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 2, 2003 at 1:46 PM

overloading the whitespace operator

My friend Martin sent me this through email: A paper by Bjarne Stroustroup on overloading the whitespace operator in C++. It would allow expressions such as z = x y instead of z = x * y and other interesting and (incredibly useful!) applications. Most interesting of all is the impact of this new operator on non-ASCII character sets, and the final recommendations they make for implementing it, near the end, so that it can be useful in 3D display devices. A must read.

Chris then sent another, more current (from this year) effort in this direction: the Whitespace programming language:

Most modern programming languages do not consider white space characters (spaces, tabs and newlines) syntax, ignoring them, as if they weren't there. Whitespace is a language that seeks to redress the balance. Any non whitespace characters are ignored; only spaces, tabs and newlines are considered syntax.

Posted by diego on April 1, 2003 at 6:49 PM

do you trust microsoft?

An article from

Three-fourths of software security experts at major companies do not believe Microsoft's products are secure, according to a new survey from Forrester Research.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 1, 2003 at 6:38 PM


This week salon is publishing excerpts from a book called "After: How America Confronted the September 12 Era" by Steven Brill. Looks very good, judging from the first in the series.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on April 1, 2003 at 12:14 AM

keegan on the war

[via Chris]: John Keegan, the famous military historian, is running a series of articles on The Telegraph analyzing the war. Here is the latest one. The full list can be obtained by going to the main page of The Telegraph and running a search for "Keegan". Recommended.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on April 1, 2003 at 12:11 AM

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