Archive for July 2005

Notes for people at the pool

To all the people doing very slow backstroke (and in some cases – backstroke with kickboards -> not using arms) in the “Medium Any Stroke” lane: Backstroke is inherently a slow stroke. Backstroke without using arms is even slower. This is not a suitable stroke for the “Medium” lane – the fact that 6 people were queuing right behind you should have been a hint in this direction. In future, please confine your backstroking activities to the “Slow” lane.

To woman in yellow swimmers: Initially I wondered why you were in the “Medium Any Stoke” lane when your pace was faster than that of most people in the “Medium Freestyle Only” lane. This wonderment was especially pronounced when you started overtaking everyone in the lane. Eventually thought I figured it out – you have no concept of pacing yourself, and you quickly tired, and started holding up everyone in the lane instead.

To the young boy constantly following us around the pool with his eyes: yes, you’re gay. No, we’re not a couple. If you’d like to talk about it, feel free.. I’m not at all sexually interested in you, so you have nothing to fear there.

To the nasty old man persistently being rude to me: I’m not at all interested in you, either. Not sexually, not in any other way. I ignored your deliberate physical contact as we were swimming as mistakes. Floating less than a foot away from me in the aquatherapy pool staring at me was unforgiveable though, as was sitting so close beside me on the ledge that I was forced to touch you every time I moved. I’m not interested, I made this abundantly clear, and still you persisted in bothering me. Your persistent staring was not appreciated, neither was your choosing to sit right next to me and openly ogle me in the shower and getting changed.

Microsoft back in the FUD game

Just when you though Microsoft were out of the FUD business, they’re back.

I’m going to mostly ignore the waffle about TCO – it’s far too complex an issue to go into here. I will say that something MS like to overlook is that things such as the skills that your existing team have can heavily influence the TCO – if you already have a fantastic team of linux admins, and developers used to working on linux, that’s going to create a huge cost if you switch to a Windows platform – and the reverse is true as well.

Near the bottom of the first page we get some classic FUD – much handwaving about how hard everything is on a linux platform.

You can build it, design it, and it will work great. The trouble begins when you want to add things to it, add some services and things like that. Because of the brittle nature of the platform, when you do that, other things break. We see that in the labs all the time, and our customers see that as well. So that has a (total) cost of ownership impact on it.

Well, yes, that’s true. There are plenty of situations where wanting to upgrade A means that code for B has to be modified – but this is true of all platforms.

Completely unmentioned are little things like XPSP2, which broke a whole lot of things.

This isn’t just a Linux/OSS problem; it affects all complex systems. This isn’t something you can address simply by switching to a Windows platform – problems like these can only be dealt with by planning for growth, testing solutions before they go live.

Immediately following this comes something I regard as a professional insult:

Well, first you have to define “people” because I can tell you that most IT professionals don’t want to be in the business of maintaining system-level software

That’s quite true, most IT professionals don’t want to be in that business. Most IT professionals aren’t in that business. However, some of us do want to be in that business, and some of us are.

I’m not quite sure what he’s trying to imply here – that if you switch to Windows, no-one has to maintain your servers? Clearly that’s not the case. Is he trying to imply that the opions of server admins aren’t important? I don’t know.. I’m very offended though.

Now we move on to poor logic:

And what is open source? It is interesting in how you define it. Is it in terms of source visibility? Then, OK, in Microsoft’s Shared Source program, people can access up to 65 percent of source codes for our core products. And through the government security program around the world, governments can access even more of our source codes, if they choose to. So we’re not an open-source company, and yet people can do that.

There are two main reasons why people care about source visibility: people want to know what a program is doing to their data; and people want confidence that they’ll be able to continue using a solution for as long as it continues to work for them. Here, Taylor is addressing the first point, but falling short.

In particular, he’s talking about concerns that governments and large corporations have about the security of their data: How do I know that Outlook isn’t secretely sending copies of my email back to Microsoft/my competitors/the FBI? How do I know that Word isn’t secretely leaking my confidential memos to the press/a hostile government/Microsoft/the FBI?

One way to be sure about this is to read the souce code; this lets you see exactly what the program is doing. Microsoft are saying that “We’ll show you 65% of the source”, as if that will allow you to be sure that their program isn’t doing anything malicious. However, this logic is clearly flawed – if MS truly were intending to do anything malicious, where do you think the malicious code would be – in the 65% they show you, or the 35% they don’t? Anything short of 100% disclosure is pointless.

Near the bottom of this second page, and overflowing onto the third, comes this classic MSism…

One area is just some fit-and-finish, and taking basic simple processes and doing it better. We have a feature called Configure Your Server Wizard, which allows you to go in and choose a server role so you can take a file server and (rebuild it as a) media server. That takes four to five clicks of a GUI (graphic user interface) screen to do that, and it takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes (to complete) based on size of server. In comparison, some guys I hired who’ve only coded on Unix and Linux all their lives showed me how long and the amount of effort it took to do that on Linux.

This is typical Microsoftism; they’ll create a tool that makes things “simple” – but the downside of “simple” is that it’s limited and inflexible. It might do the one thing that it’s designed for very very well – but even minor deviations from this are impossible. Many of Microsofts tools do one thing very well, and if that one thing just happens to precisely fit your need, you’re fine. If you need anything at all changed though, you’re look at a lot of fiddling with convoluted GUI interfaces – ignore that wooshing noise, it’s just the TCO inflating again.

Lastly comes the real jawdropper:

We’re always looking for new things that can allow you to do things uniquely different today. For example, this new feature tool we have would allow me to tunnel directly using HTTP into my corporate Exchange server without having to go through the whole VPN (virtual private network) process, bypassing the need to use a smart card. It’s such a huge time-saver, for me at least, compared to how long it takes me now. We will be extending that functionality to the next version of Windows.

That’s right. That whole smartcard thing – that was just there to annoy you. We designed it specially to cause you maximum frustration and stress, it doesn’t actually serve any useful purpose. That whole spiel we’ve been feeding you about how these access control measures prevent other people from reading your email – we’re just trying to make you scared so that we can control you.

Tell you what – now that you’ve seen through our fraud, we may as well get rid of all of it in one go. In future, just go to taylor.email.com and all your mail will be there – no need for any of that annoying login business at all. We’re sure none of your competitors, superiors, underlings, spouses, mistresses, friends etc won’t want to read any of it, no need to worry about that..

Seriously though, this disturbs me. Yes, security is an inconvenience. Yes, lowering security restrictions makes for a more pleasant user experience. Yes, a balance needs to be found between an appropriate level of security and a tolerable level of inconvenience.

To suggest that security constraints are merely an annoyance and that bypassing them is a good thing is totally irresponsible.

Foodlinc goes live!

A friend of mine has been working on a new venture, Foodlinc Dominions

To my mind, this conjures up pictures of slaves scurrying to satisfy my every culinary whim.. and indeed, that’s roughly what it’s about.

Foodlinc Dominions’ website is now up, although very rough.. check it out!

Scoble toys with MSN Virtual Earth

Just saw Scoble defending virtual earth again.

Scoble provides this link to the Virtual Earth view of Google’s HQ.

The most interesting part of this URL is this: “ss=*|Canada|Ottawa”. My experience with VirtualEarth this morning showed me that the “ss” parameter is inserted into the permalink when you type a search string into the “What” box of the search form.

So.. sometime before looking for Google, Scoble had been looking for “*|Canada|Ottawa”. I’m not quite sure how to parse that – my first impression is that “Canada|Ottawa” would be a logical expression meaning “Canada OR Ottawa”, while the * usually means “everything” – for instance, the sql snippet “Select *” means “select all fields”.

The ordering of these fields suggests a path though – * could represent “All maps”, then Canada would direct the search to the subset called Canada, then Ottawa would go for the subset of Canada called Ottawa.

Hrm, interesting.

Most interesting of all: Type “*|Canada|Ottawa” into the “What” box yourself and you’ll see what Scoble saw – Ottawa, Illinois. Scoble didn’t mention this of course..

While I’m here, I’ll point out that there are a few things I do like about this interface. The “Permalink” pop-up windowlet thing is a very annoying gratuitious use of dhtml/javascript; but some of the other things on this interface – the search results box on the left and the scratchpad – are very, very nice. It’s very nice being able to customise the interface and remove the bits you don’t need to see so quickly and easily, without a page refresh. Having the help come up in a popup, without disturbing the page you’re looking at – that’s great too.

Still – no knowledge of any of the world except one country. Distances expressed in units used by only one country in the world (that I’m aware of). It’s still closer to Virtual United States than Virtual Earth.

What’s not so nice is the “Locate Me” function. I clicked on this link from within Firefox, and was given a choice of installing an activex control, just using my IP, or cancelling.

The ActiveX control seems far too much for such a simple function. Even if it works, it won’t work on either of my machines at home (Debian and OSX), and only one of two desktops at work (one is Fedora Core 4, the other runs windows). That’s one out of 4 machines that I use regularly. The whole idea of a Locate Me function is rather bizarre – I know where I am, thanks! – but even more so when the only machine I can run it on is tethered and never moves..

So, instead I tried the “Use IP only” link. Should have known better – it crashed Firefox.

Well done, Microsoft, well done.

“Use IP only” did work second time round though – one out of two ain’t bad.

MS Virtual Earth vs Google Maps

Let’s see how they compare.

I’ve already mentioned this comparison which mentions the World Trade Center. It also links to an article on The Register which mentions the problems with Apple’s headquarters. To make it easier for you, here’s some direct links.

Apple Headquarters, on VirtualEarth and Google Maps.

The (perhaps not-so-)former World Trade Center, on VirtualEarth and Google Maps

Just for completeness, I was going to show you what both sites show for “Sydney, Australia” – but Virtual Earth doesn’t know where that is. Google does though. I thought perhaps I’d just try searching for Sydney – it took me here for some unknown reason, and gave me a list of possible Sydneys – “Sydney, Hillsborough, Florida, United States” or “Sydney, Stutsman, North Dakota, United States”.

Okay, so Australia’s not the center of the world. Lets try searching for some locations that would be more famous.

The most powerful nations in the world today are the Group of Eight – France, United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. Their capitals are Paris, Washington DC, London, Moscow, Berlin, Tokyo, Rome and Ottawa. Let’s try searching for these – surely the eight most important cities in the world.

Running through the list then, we have:

Paris on Google and MSN – also offered were Parises in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Idaho, Ohio, Arkansas, Los Angelese, Indiana, and Iowa.

Washington DC on Google and MSN

London on Google and MSN. MSN offers suggestions of Londons in Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Moscow on Google and MSN. MSN offers suggestions of Moscows in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan.

Berlin on Google and MSN. MSN offers suggestions of Berlins in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Ohio, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, and Maryland

Tokyo on Google and.. sorry, MSN doesn’t know of a Tokyo.

Rome on Google and MSN. MSN offers suggestions of Romes in New York, Covington, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi.

Ottawa on Google and MSN. MSN offers suggestions of Ottawas in Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio and Oklahoma.

So. We’ve searched for the capitals of the 8 most powerful nations in the world. Google finds each perfectly, MSN instead finds some obscure location in the US – and suggests other locations in the US. Not one of the suggestions for any of these searches was outside the USA.

I can’t but agree that this should be called the Virtual United States.

Ah – apparently at least one person likes Virtual Earth – although they haven’t explained why yet.

(This post would have taken much less time to write if Virtual Earth’s “permalink” was more useable. Comparison: Google- Right click “Link to this page” link, select “Copy Link Location”. MSN – left-click “Permalink”, wait for window to draw, move mouse to the new link, right-click, select “Copy Link Location”, close permalink window. That’s 4 clicks and two mouse moves for MSN vs two clicks for Google).

MSN Virtual Earth – weak imitation of Google Maps

So, I thought I’d try MSN’s new Virtual Earth. Now, several days later, I’m actually able to try – I was getting various errors, mostly along the lines of “Timed out waiting for server” or “No response from server” every time I’d tried in the past.

Verdict: poorly executed clone of Google Maps.

Reasons it’s poor:

* No hi-res coverage of Australia

* No maps of Australia at all – just the outline. It’s nice knowing you live on a grey blob with no distinguishing features

* Just like Google, MSN have included a cool little bar showing the scale of the map/photo you’re looking at. Unlike Google, this scale is only in Miles – a unit that, as far as I know, only a single country in the entire world still uses.

* I don’t like any of the interface elements, they feel very clunky. They’re also not responding properly to my mouse – not responding to clicks etc. Google can get this right, why can’t Microsoft?

It was bad enough having to put up with Scoble’s childish little “I know something you don’t know, doo-dah, doo-dah” dance for weeks prior to launch.

Oh gawd.. I just made the mistake of looking at the comments page for Scoble’s original post about VirtualEarth. There’s huuuge lists of what’s wrong with this product there – and Scoble’s attempt at proving that it’s better than Google maps appears to boil down to “But if you click this, then this, then this, it can show you a location that may, or may not, be where you are right now!”.

Typical. Scoble likes to pretend to be fair-minded and equitable – but the man is totally blind. He’s made a few good calls, but in the main, he parrots the company line like a.. well, like a parrot. He consistently pretends that Microsoft products are superior to anything else, even when they’re clearly not.

Frank over at Bisonium did a good job, so I won’t bother ranting about Scoble any further – just go there and read.

To be fair, a lot of this is probably because Scoble works for MS and doesn’t get any chance to get away from their brainwashing machine. Yes, Virtual Earth is a very cool thing, and no doubt took many talented people a long time to create. It’s understanable that the people involved feel very excited and proud of what they’ve produced, and rightly so. It’s just a pity that Scoble’s let their enthusiasm blind him to what is blindingly obvious to external observers – this product falls far short of the standard set by Google Maps.

[EDIT] My spy network has unearthed more reasons why Virtual Earth sucks.

Schneier speaks sense

In a troubled word, Schneier is increasingly the voice of reason. I really hope our national leaders pay some attention to what he’s saying before they rush ahead with knee-jerk reactions (such as national ID cards) that deprive us of civil liberties while giving a false appearance of protecting us from terrorism.

Yum Cha.. Always an adventure

I’m going to Kam Fook, Chatswood tomorrow for brunch..

The reviews are interesting – everything from “terrible” to “superb”.. no idea what to expect.

One even says:

Ambience – apart from faux gold pillars – the place is a noisy barn. No music, just the clatter of plates and the sight of staff running here and there. Perhaps if the lighting were toned down from the harsh fluro effect, and maybe some subtle asian music in the background I would rate it better. Let us not fool ourselves, this place is nothing better than an asian feeding hall.

Well um.. yes. Clearly written by someone with very different expectations of yum cha than mine..

Site theme available for download

I’ve mentioned in the past a few times that I’ve made a few tweaks to the theme used on this site.

The basis for the theme is the Friendselectric theme.

The tweaks I’ve made are, as far as I can remember, very minor: I’ve tweaked the main page so that CSS trickery is used to pull the left navbar to the right place – it’s actually located in the page after the main page content. This has two benefits: the main content displays first, you don’t have to wait for the navbar to download. This is good if you’re on a slow link.

The other advantage is that if you’re using a text-based browser (which I do a lot to make updates) you don’t have to page down two or three times just to get past the navbar in order to see real content.

If you want the theme, feel free to download it from here.

NB: as with Friends Electric, this template requires PHPTemplate.

And, of course – you need Drupal to use this at all :p

[EDIT] This theme is known to be broken in Internet Explorer – the left-hand navbar doesn’t show up at all.

Take a look at the sidebar-left element in style.css if you want to fix this.. if you figure out what’s wrong, I’d love to know..

iPod annoyances

Often when I start playing something with my iPod, this will happen:

* I turn iPod on

* I go into Playlists->Unplayed Podcasts, find something I want to play, hit the center button

* Details for the track flash, disk starts to spin, I think “good, working”, put iPod into belt holder

* The track following commences to play.

* I say grr, bloody iPod, it’s done it again, pull it out of the holder, go back a track. The iPod has now lost its bookmark (I use iPodderX, all my podcasts are bookmarkable-AAC – so when I go back to something I’ve been listening to earlier, it starts playing from where I left off) and it’s starting at the start again – I have to skip forward and find where I was at.

Anyone else experiencing this?