diego's weblog: October 2004 Archives
it's all about simplicity
The latest Economist's quarterly survey on IT is more high level than usual, but quite good anyway. Quote: "The Next Big Thing is not a thing at all: it is simplicity." Also: an article on Complexity (suscription possibly required for the links).
eclipse visual editor
Turning back to software for a moment, the find of the day is the Eclipse Visual Editor, useful for quick prototyping and trying out ideas both in Swing and SWT, and easily installed through Eclipse Software Updates. Here's a good article (if a bit old) describing its basics. Add that to the list of things I didn't know about.
Thinking about Iraq and what it really means for a country to evolve from a dictatorship into a democracy (in the context of writing something about how hard the next few decades will be for Iraq, even if it is able to hold elections next January), I was reading a book on Argentina's experience between 1976-82, a time of military rule that coined the grim term "disappeared", and looking for some references I found this quote by Miguel Unamuno (Spanish writer, philosopher and poet):
Callar a veces significa mentirWhich, roughly translated, reads:
To be silent sometimes means to lieStrikingly appropriate to the times we live in.
By the way, the "disappeared" in Argentina where sometimes buried under the name "N.N." which is an acronym that dates back to the Nazis. In Nazi Germany N.N. meant "Nacht und Nebel", or "Night and Fog", the cover under which these unknown people had been taken.
Something to keep in mind about the consequences of dictatorships and the rule of fear.
the economist endorses Kerry
The Economist endorses Kerry. I find this significant not just because they endored Bush in 2000, but also because they were (and still are) supporters of the war in Iraq and of many of President Bush's policies. They bring up as crucial the subject of accountability, which is one of the topics of my second "questions..." post (upcoming).
chain of command
The Economist reviews Seymour Hersh's new book Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. I watched Hersh discuss the book a few weeks ago on Meet the Press and it sounded interesting. Another one to add to the list.
PS: I just remembered that I recently read House of Bush, House of Saud and I didn't comment on it. Hm. Must fix that.
PS2 (Later): Before that, though, I should talk about the book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers which I read weeks ago.
the return of the spammer
So today, as a background task, I did a full rebuild of the site, so that the new MT scripts were properly referenced in the archive pages and so on. And lo and behold, it only took about an hour for comment spammers to show up again. Except this time it took only three or four clicks to select all the spam they had already posted, delete them, and ban their IP address. I'm glad I switched over to MT 3.1 or I'd be pulling my hair out again already.
Now to figure out how much bandwidth those invalid posts are costing and how to stop them if possible...
the new eminem video
Mosh, from his upcoming album Encore, is online at GNN. A strinking video on its own right, and a potent political message. I wonder if MTV or anyone else will play it though--if they did, I'd expect a pretty strong backlash...
the only way to beat an ipod... is to be an ipod
Reading the news of Samsung's announcement of the first 5-megapixel cameraphone brought back some questions I had over media in current smartphones. I've had a SonyEricsson p900 for more than two months now, and this I can say with certainty: media center, this phone ain't (yet).
Considering, then, that the P900 is most definitely at the high-end of smartphones, it would be reasonable to say (even accounting for the differences) that in terms of media storage, display, and management, smartphones in general aren't there yet either.
Why, oh, why, do I make a statement that will surely enrage smartphone fans? :-)
Okay, I'll correct the statement a little bit. Against dedicated devices, smartphones still have a ways to go. As ocassional-use devices they are excellent, and hopefully they'll grow to more than that in some areas, but for day-to-day use they are still lagging behind dedicated devices.
Some of my reasons:
one week--and then four years
So one week from today, the US will elect its new president. Or, rather, the US will go to the polls. Whether the election will actually be decided that day and through votes (or later, and through the courts) is another matter.
So, for the next few days, I will (flu willing) be talking a bit more politics than usual. :)
(possibly) made-up proverbs for interesting times
Reading this post over at Jeremy's weblog I found myself nodding profusely, and then I noted he was pointing to this page that talks about the famous (for me and many others at least) Chinese curse (or proverb) "may you live in interesting times". It is possible that it's not a Chinese proverb at all. (Here is some more information).
As it happens, testerday I was thinking about the various tidbits of "knowledge" that I have stored up in my head and that I can't trace a source for (example: "Whales can use an ultra-low frequency signal that has world-wide reach, but by now it's likely that the interference caused by ships all around the world precludes them from doing so"). First I wondered about the social mechanisms that allow these memes (whether true, partially-true, or false) to spread and take hold (e.g., do they adjust to widely shared preconceptions?). Then what I was trying to do was assign them to some sort of "unchecked" mental category that would later imply a proper reference lookup before using them (or whenever I felt like it).
Of course, right after thinking about that, I remembered the following piece of dialogue from Annie Hall between Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton):
Alvy: I've got to see a picture exactly from the start to the finish, 'cause ... 'cause I'm anal.Anyway.
Now it seems I should add "may you live in interesting times" to that list as well.
Ain't that something.
what the bubble got right
rfc 822 dates in movable type
Yesterday, when I migrated to MT 3.12 I remembered that I was using a plugin to generate RFC 822 dates which MT didn't seem to be able to do. I had arrived at this solution a year ago (damn! a year ago? What the... anyway) because the basic $MTBlogTimezone$ in MT generated timezones in the format +HH:MM, while RFC 822 generally requires timezone abbreviations (e.g., GMT, PST, etc). But yesterday, while thinking about reinstalling the plugin, I rechecked the MT docs for tags and noticed that since MT 2.5 there has been a no_colon attribute for $MTBlogTimezone$ which removes the colon and thus matches one of the possible ways of specifying a timezone in RFC 822 dates, as +HHMM. The result is:
which gets you RFC 822 compliant dates on your RSS 2.0 feeds without requiring any plugins. With this knowledge, looking specifically for these terms tells me that this is a well-known solution, but maybe it's not as clear as it should be, it certainly wasn't obvious to me when I looked for this a year ago.
Now, this solution applies to MT from 2.51 and up. MT 3x introduced a specific RFC 822 format (basically a shorter way of specifying the tags shown above), used as follows:
Which makes the whole thing a lot easier, and which is included by default in the MT 3 templates. Cool.
two wired articles
Before I forget: two good articles in the latest Wired. First, The Crusade Against Evolution (pretty much a self-explanatory title, no?) and The Incredible Shrinking Man on 'godfather of nanotech' K. Eric Drexler.
PS: actually, three. Is that a pilot in your pocket?: "Somewhere in Florida, 25,000 disembodied rat neurons are thinking about flying an F-22."
all systems go
I'd say that the process is basically finished. I'm sure that things will keep popping up over the next few days, but most things seem to be working.
The last thing I did today was upgrade to movabletype 3.12. The new comment moderation, as well as other comment management features, and dynamic pages made it a good option for me. There was a little snafu when upgrading the database but it was a combination of me reading the docs wrong and the mt-upgrade script telling me that everything was fine when it clearly wasn't (the DB was getting trashed). A short (and suprisingly quick) exchange with MT support made me realize my mistake (I had do two format upgrades in a row, first to 30 and then to 31) but aside from the obvious thought that the upgrade script should be a bit smarter about this (obviously it has to be a common occurrence) it was a pretty smooth experience.
I made some measurements on the old machine: posting an entry (i.e., individual rebuild, plus related indexes) was taking 3:30 minutes (yes, that's three and a half minutes). Unbelievable how we get used to things and we stop noticing them. With the new machine it's taking about 30 seconds. I would expect (hope?) that after the MT 3.12 upgrade this will be even faster. We'll see.
So--to test the new new thing I'm reopening comments in this entry and re-enabling them on the weblog, with comment moderation turned on. Let's see how long this lasts! :)
If you're reading this...
...then it means that you're accessing my weblog on my new server. The DNS switch will take a couple of days to propagate fully, but it's my experience that almost everybody sees the changes within 12-18 hours.
Finally! I started a few hours ago and by now it's mostly done. Had a few interesting experiences which I'll talk about more later. I still haven't finished moving everything over, since Eircom (my home's ISP) still hasn't updated its DNS tables (I'm posting this through an alias, and not everything works).
After the transfer is done, it will take me a bit to verify that all is well and backups are in place (just in case...) but everything should be back to normal by early next week.
Finally: if I haven't replied to an email you sent recently, wait a bit more (or send it again). The migration implies changing email systems, and that will take a bit to stabilize as well.
ps: I'm still a bit sick: my left ear feels clogged ocassionally, which is extremely disorienting and quite a pain, and I'm generally pretty congested, but definitely feeling better. Funny how easy we forget how good it is to feel normal.
I wake up this morning and there's this image, in my mind's eye, of the tiny LCD screen on the back of the 777's seats, a tiny map of the world in it and the tiny airplane approaching Europe, nearing the end of an imaginary line that, if it were high-res, would seem to be lifted from the well-known "travel sequences" of the Indiana Jones movies. I thought about this image and I wondered if this fixation with modern planes of showing us maps doesn't have a lot to do with what I think is a widespread confusion these days between the map and the territory.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, when globalization started revving up, fueled by worldwide trade and mass migration flows, traveling implied a transition that is hardly visible today. Any meaningful distance required weeks, sometimes months. You literally lived in a well-defined transitional stage, in some cases in relatively alien environments (such as spending weeks at sea). When you crossed oceans then, there was no denying that something big was happening. The transition for each trip was as different as each starting point, and destination. Map and territory where clearly different.
But now that distinction has become less visible ... I have this recurring question in my head of how modern travel has affected our idea of "place", since the transition phase of travel has become a well-orchestrated, relatively fast and almost boring, endlessly repeated and repeatable, predictable event (delays included), the transitions as uniform and similar to each other as lines drawn on maps. Or how fast travel affects our expectations for the culture we are about to encounter (if new to us) to re-engage in (if known). Or how we transfer our idea of self between the place we left yesterday to the completely new place we arrived today, twelve thousand kilometers away.
I wonder how much this is (and has been, for a few decades now) changing the way we deal with reality, especially when you couple it together with video-game like real-time news coverage and such. (Or whether we are dealing with reality at all.)
What also I noticed this last trip was that for the first time the Internet became, in my mind, a separate place, somehow. Another place that, unlike my surroundings, remained constant no matter where I was. What triggered the change? I'm not sure, but the feeling was definitely there, subsumed in the currents of the everyday.
Anyway. Enough philosophical pondering for one day no? :)
google desktop search: not yet for me
This is one of those things that has already burned its way through the blogsphere, but anyway...
One of the few things I did (was able to do) yesterday was install the recently-released Google Desktop Search.
Why? Two reasons.
Number one, I wanted to try the latest new new thing.
Number two, I wanted to find a particular document based on a particular set of keywords, and I was hoping GDS would make that easier. I could wait for a few hours for it to index my hard drive.
The download was quick. The installation was a snap. It apparently integrated with Firefox automatically (it wanted to close it before installing), but that wasn't mentioned anywhere. Whatever. Fine. I could see that it was a personal web server. Good solution, nice and seamless integration with Google web.
But I couldn't use it yet, because then there was the wait for Google to index some 60,000 "documents" it eventually identified in my machine. I honestly don't know how long it took--I left it running all day, and when coming back in the evening it was done, so 6-7 hours max.
Before searching, I tried closing it to see what would happen. It complained that if I closed it, any new files created or viewed (web) during that time would not be indexed at all. "Really?" I thought. "That seems kind of harsh. Anyway...". I didn't close it.
Finally I was ready. Double click on the taskbar icon. Search comes up. Type in keywords.
Scan the results.
Garbage. Images, mixed in with documents. Some things given precedence over others because, apparently, the keywords where in the directory name (I'm not sure though). A wave of dissapointment.
Hm. Of course that makes sense, you know, without hyperlinks to provide rank, it becomes more difficult to find what you want.
Okay, so I started trying more accurate keyword sequences. Different combinations.
Time after time, garbage. After a while, I started getting confused at the data I thought I knew. Hm.
I had to reply to email, etc. so I kept working on other things. I had to do web searches, which now, suddenly showed up with a first result that pointed to my own hard drive search results for that term. I mistakenly clicked on them. I did this a couple of times without looking--it took me a while to figure out what the hell was happening, and every time I ended up being left in the mess of my local result list.
It didn't take long before I simply changed my default Firefox search engine to A9.
Early this morning I uninstalled GDS. But guess what. I just realized that A9 is still my default search engine, and I'm starting to get used to the features I was mentioning the other day. Plus, I was browsing through Amazon and I discovered that using A9 gives you a small discount when ordering. Hm. Suddenly I might switch over to A9. I'm still not sure. I've switched back and forth before, but A9 doesn't seem to be as annoying as Yahoo! was with its ads.
So I started off yesterday as a Google user trying Desktop Search, and a day later I'm neither a user of GDS or of the web search? I thought: What the hell...?
I ordered the neuron to do some thinking on the subject and after a short argument, this is what I got to.
Clearly, this is, in part, because of the data I've got. I have many "subtopics" that I work on which contain references, ideas, texts, drafts... it becomes difficult to separate the tree from the forest (or whatever). But other search tools I've used on my data, such as Enfish, have never presented me with the seemingly chaotic results that GDS was showing.
So my neuron came to the conclusion that what was happening was that GDS was too adept at finding information, but, unable to discern proper ordering, it was actually making things worse. Ok, Google isn't God. We all make mistakes. No problem.
But why did I leave Google Web so quickly, and worse, almost without realizing it?
It seems to me that the answer is simple: integration. Google has gone to great lengths to make the local search experience be a seamless continuum with the web search experience, and viceversa. On principle, it's a great idea. However, I trust Google Web to deliver good results. When GDS provides the same experience, I expect the same results. But that doesn't happen (and it's doubtful that it ever can). So suddenly I don't trust Google Search, the experience in general. The web, which is now integrated with desktop results, gets dragged down into the mud by the crappiness of the desktop search results.
Consequence: Google loses a user for GDS. And then, because of the seamless integration, for all its properties. Even if that's not the case, the web results are now tarnished by sharing being equated with the local search results.
It is important to note that this is how I interpret my own actions since yesterday, things I did more or less "subconsciously". I'm not saying this would be a conscious thought process...
I also note that the GDS design integrates with the web design in a way the previous web design might not have been able to do--not cleanly at least. (Am I wrong?). This would prove that GDS has been on the works for some time---my point being that those journalists that say that GDS was "rushed" are wrong.
Keep in mind my only functional neuron is heavily congested, so it's possible I'm missing something, but I think it may be a mistake on Google's part to take the fight to obviously and directly to the desktop. That said, everything Google does is so scrutinized that it's probably impossible to make this a "low key" release.
The desktop is Microsoft's turf. The Web is Google's. I was kind of hoping that Google would behave differently than others in the past and just keep on moving into other markets, rather than retreat (at least partially) to fight into Microsoft's. GDS, together with Picasa (and the ever-present rumors of a Google Browser), seem to indicate that it's going to be a mixed thing at best, with Google leaning on its web side to pull in desktop functionality and users with integrated "seamless navigation" features (e.g., Picasa is to Google Image search what GDS is to Google Web Search, and so on).
Anyway. It was an interesting experience. Given that it was a smooth install/uninstall cycle, I'm certainly willing to give it another try when a new release is out.
PS: My experience was similar in some respects to Don's, but it never got that bad. He noted: "I don't enjoy writing code inside a jet engine". LOL. Also, Jon discusses Firefox integration and points to alternatives. Dave makes a good point about user formats (since one would expect that other major formats, such as OpenOffice, would eventually be supported), and exposing an API (which Jon would points out could be made by "reflecting" content in a format the indexer understands, in this case XHTML). Kevin ponders a lucene-based answer, and Om compares it to Blinkx as well as pointing to other reviews.
The MIDP 2.0 version installs and launches successfully on my P900 but it throws an error--to be expected since the P900 isn't yet on the list of tested devices. (btw, If you have tried the app on another MIDP-enabled phone, let Erik know the results as he notes here).
removing images from google's image index
Something that has increased load on my blog (and therefore server) beyond its already-high levels is the sudden appearance of images from my weblog as the first hit on many queries in Google Image search (example: "the lord of the rings").
This leads to people linking to the image from profiles in web boards or homepages, without hosting the image themselves. I ended up removing external linking for images, but the hits still arrive since people tend to copy the link without verifying that it won't work for them.
So that's a pain, and tempted as I am to replace the images with ads (heh) or something (such as an H2G2 'Don't Panic' image), I think a better solution is to remove them from the Google Image index altogether, which also means Googlebot won't be reindexing them all the time.
So, how to do it? The first search provided the answer. Done. Now to wait until the next google bot pass and google dance, and see if it works.
adblock (and other Firefox extensions)
A must-have Firefox extension: adblock. Not only improves reading content online -- it also reduces bandwidth usage. I use it with sites that I pay a subscription for and that still insist on bothering me with ads, or when the ads have become so large that they cover a quarter of a browser's window (otherwise, I allow ads, since it's clear that it's how a site pays for its bills, something we all need to do).
Update: Luke notes, via email, that adblock does not save bandwidth--it only hides or removes the elements from the display layer. Good point, and thanks for the correction! I wonder how hard it would be to add that feature... it would probably still require downloading in some cases, to be able to calculate the width and/or height of what you're not including (if the size is not available in the tag) to maintain the layout...
In this week's Economist: Molecular medicine. An interesting article on some changes that are coming in the way we understand and treat disease (at least where there's enough money).
Too bad there isn't some molecular thingamagic to relieve me from this wretched cold/flu right now. Aside from that old medicine called "sleep and rest"...
just. blog. it.
ps: it's also missing the ability to show the "preview" button in movabletype. But that's a minor detail and probably a movabletype issue more than anything.
back, sort of
I got back to Dublin yesterday, after a trip that was ok but tiring as usual, with the added bonus of having either a cold, or the flu, or both, which didn't particularly help matters for stabilizing my jetlagged body once my feet touched the ground again.
Plus, I had not checked email (or anything else) in days, and it turns out that the web server had crashed for some reason on Saturday, probably just about the time I stopped checking email (and everything else). Predictable.
Right now I feel terrible, but I'll be doing some stuff throughout the day anyway, including answering some of the email that has been waiting "in the queue" for way too long. I also have to get going that server upgrade/transfer/whatever thing before the month is out. This last server crash was a good reminder of how inadequate what I'm running now is.
ps: and thanks for additional comments (via email) from readers regarding my comment spam problems. Once the server switch is done hopefully I will be able to reactivate comments---even if I have to deal with comment spam rebuilding the site should be manageable until I settle on a solution. Of course, I'll post about whatever solutions, be them temporary or otherwise. :)
more than just words and hyperlinks
Sometimes a post, succint or not, leads in so many interesting directions that it deserves a category on its own for thought-provoking ability alone--the post, the info to which it links, sets off a storm of ideas in my head that takes a while to get under control. Today's examples are Dare's Why I love XML-DEV and Scott's the spirit of startups past. Most excellent.
Amazon's A9 search engine has been adding some intriguing new features. "I like, I like!" :)
I've been actually musing (in my head) about personalization and search during the last few weeks. This adds some more datapoints. When the ideas are organized to a minimal degree, I'll write something up.
the system of the world saga
A few days ago Salon's Andrew Leonard reviewed Neal Stephenson's System of the World saga, of which I've only read the 'prequel' Cryptonomicon. Will have to make some time to read the rest, now that all the books are out.
per-coffeemug is better
Don, patents are serious stuff, and you're foolish in not taking them seriously. I wish you would. The growth of patents such as these should be not just accepted but applauded. I am thus compelled to reply. If my language appears overly circuitous, it is only because I avoid vitriol through an overextended misuse of formalisms. Which also excuses this redundant explanation.
I was saying.
Patents provide "glory" as the News.com article says, and this is for a good and simple reason: patents are the work of Heroes. Paraphrasing attorney-at-law Lionel Hutz: "I don't use the word Hero very often. But patent applicants are among some of the greatest American heroes of all time."
Let me, Don, also point out some of the problems in your childish proposal.
First, floormats are not common in software development environments.
Carpets, maybe. But not floormats.
And something else: what is up with static electricity and carpets? It hurts when I touch metallic stuff and the spark or whatever goes off. I wish that would stop. Can't we invent a system to make electricity only come from some kind of socket on walls or something?
But I digress.
Second point: many programmers share desks. How are you, Don, going to get around that? How about when a chair breaks?
Third, I am already filing per-coffeemug patents which will box in youir per-chair and per-floormat patents in no time.
Per-coffeemug is also superior to per-employee, which is login based. Users are very protective of their coffee mugs, more than they are of their login/password combinations.
I will soon have the world-wide market on software pricing patents cornered. I will then sell the license at a fair price (reference for that can be the price of a box of Windows XP for example) and use the proceeds to purchase a coconut farm on an island in the Caribbean (preferably one that comes with monkey-butlers).
PS: I am also patenting this blog entry. Just in case.
Related to my comment spam problems (and the drastic solution I "implemented" of simply disabling the script), Toni recently pointed specifically to scode. I looked at something like this (and it led me to consider something similar but with a random text string instead of an image, and in a random hidden text field included in the form), the problem with an image-based solution is that it increases load on the server (every static page calls a script) and I don't want to do that until I switch servers (any day now! :)) since this server is edge already.
Then again I haven't looked for other solutions since late August. I need to get this done eventually -- at this point I am probably just being lazy. Or "spring feverish". :)
Reason for not blogging this past week or so: officially: travel and such. Unoficially: blog-rest. Even more unoficially: blog-sloth.
For some reason I decided to look up synonyms of sloth (see two paragraphs up). You've got (predictably) "laziness", "sluggishness", "lethargy", "indolence". But you've also got (less predictably) "spring fever" and "lotus-eating."
Lotus-eating? What the...?
"slothfulness" is, btw, another synonym for sloth.
And I'll stop with the synonyms already.
Copyright © Diego Doval 2002-2011.