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August 31, 2000

James Clark Hands Off Expat XML Parser to New Management

XMLhack is reporting that James Clark, author of the XML parser called Expat, is handing off management of the project to a team of developers lead by Clark Cooper. Cooper is the co-author of XML::Parser, a Perl module that CTDATA uses and recommends.

Expat is a C language XML parser that is used as a component by a number of other products that interface with Mozilla, Perl, Python, and PHP.

So much code depends upon Expat that some in the developer community feel that a commitment to produce a commercial quality shareable library needs to be made. Clark Cooper, Fred Drake, and Paul Prescod apparently are willing to make that commitment.

WSJ Personal Technology Reviews "Prosumer" DV Cameras

Stephanie Capparell wrote an excellent review and comparison of the Canon XL-1 and Sony DCR-VX2000 Digital Video (DV) cameras. These devices are referred to as prosumer meaning that they straddle the gap between professional and consumer video cameras.

These video cameras are both of high enough quality to be used for most business presentations. They also produce digital images which can be transferred to PCs or Macintoshes, edited, and in some cases, returned to tape.

We've learned some lessons since we started using a Nikon Coolpix 950 as our digital still camera. The biggest lesson thus far has been that an organization's ability to use digital image technology properly is primarily limited by lack of content management tools that effectively manage still images and video streams.

We would like to move ahead with the purchase of a DV camera, but we cannot even manage our still image inventory, as we hinted when we published the article Seeking Design Ideas for a Photo Extension to Slashcode.

Converting "slashd" and Other Slash Daemons to "cron" Jobs

On the Slashcode Mailing List, Leo Grapendaal asked, "Where I ... have a problem {running Slashcode} is with the daemons. A lot providers, including
mine, do not allow you to run daemons of your own, so running slashd and
portald is out of the question.
Does anyone {know} if there is a way to run without these daemons? It'll
probably impact performance, but that's ok with me."

CTDATA has taken its copy of slashd and converted it into a cron job. If you are interested in how this is done, read on.

CTDATA is running an implementation of the Slash Engine that is derived from Slash 0.3. This is the version that preceded Slashcode 0.9x. So, our slashd implementation may be somewhat different from yours.

The idea behind our slashd implementation is that we can turn the script into a periodic batch command by removing the outermost loop and the sleep statement that serves to keep slashd running at all times. Once that was completed, we divided the housekeeping tasks that are done periodically into three separate groups, and added a parameter to the typical command line invocation of slashd.

  • The stuff that needs to be done all the time, including the 0.3 subroutine called "freshenup" which checks for stories that need to be rendered, runs every two minutes and is invoked with slashd 2.
  • Tasks that need to be done regularly otherwise they will be obviously out of sync with the story flow, like the story count related statistics for the Section and Topic slashboxes, are run every 10 minutes by a call to slashd 10.
  • Tasks that need to be done once in a while, like regeneration of the Hall of Fame and Topics pages, and generation of our RSS files are done every 30 minutes. Of course, the command is slashd 30.

Even if the following code listing does not seem similar to the core functionality of your version of slashd, the code is written in a clear enough fashion to be indistinguishable from pseudocode.

# Start handling ARGV here.

my ($op);

if ($#ARGV > -1)
$op = $ARGV[0];
$op = "2";

slashdLog "Starting up Slashd with op = $op";

$dbh ||= sqlconnect();

if ($op eq "startup")
elsif ($op eq "2")
elsif ($op eq "10")
elsif ($op eq "30")
prog2file("$batchdir/hof.pl ssi=yes server=$ARGV[$#ARGV]",
prog2file("$batchdir/topics.pl all=on ssi=yes server=$ARGV[$#ARGV]",

system("$batchdir/syndication2.pl server=$ARGV[$#ARGV]");
slashdLog "RSS outbound syndication files written.";

# system("$batchdir/calendar.pl");
# slashdLog "Calendar HTML created/updated.";


$dbh->disconnect() if $dbh;

We added a second parameter to slashd rather quickly in order to accomodate multihoming. The second parameter passed is the equivalent of $ENV{SERVER_NAME} and simply allows Slash.pm to choose which database to access in the context of this invocation of slashd.

Anyone with any further questions should feel free to submit them as a comment to this story.

August 30, 2000

Red Herring Says TiVo and ReplayTV Working on Interactive Ads for PVR Devices

On Monday, The Red Herring reported that ReplayTV and TiVo are working on mechanisms to embed interactive content in TV programs. This would allow Personal Video Recorder (PVR) users to immediately order advertised products and might also create other, less transaction-oriented interactivity.

This will be quite interesting to some television viewers who are not the earliest adopters of this technology. But, we question how much this type of thing will appeal to people who bought a PVR six months ago.

For instance, CTDATA bought a TiVo unit when we learned that we could use it to record business-related broadcasts that are played during the day. TiVo and ReplayTV are both excellent vehicles for time shifting television viewing. However, we did not sign up for little interstitial messages that appear on screen offering us a deal on Tide.

It is on the basis of this experience with PVR products that we make the following statement: any attempt to weave interactivity into broadcasts to suit the commerce interests of advertisers needs to be done in a way that is extremely unobtrusive. Otherwise the advertisers who implement this technology run the risk of having the programs they paid for deleted by the people who consider PVRs productivity tools.

Camellia Batch Job Server Recommended for "cron-type" Functions on NT/2000

CTDATA has tested Batch Job Server from Camellia Software as a solution for controlling unattended server-based tasks on Windows NT and Windows 2000 servers. We consider it a reliable tool that provides more functionality than the UNIX cron system. In fact, we believe that BJS is a sophisticated job control system that mimics many of the mini-computer and mainframe batch control environments.

Read on if you want to know why we think so highly of it. We will also attempt to outline use strategy for this product.

CTDATA considers Windows NT and Windows 2000 useful as a client operating system, primarily because of the vast number of applications available for it and the guaranteed compatibility with Microsoft's consumer operating systems.

However, for historical reasons that go beyond the scope of this discussion CTDATA has several Windows NT 4.0 servers in production at this time. Our intermediate strategy is to replace Windows NT Server with Linux or Solaris wherever possible. But, this takes time for companies of our size and in our position in the market.

Last month, we found ourselves attempting to install a Web application designed for UNIX on an NT server. This application had a couple of very important cron jobs that kept much of the data presented to the user current. So, we started looking for ways to implement cron jobs on a Windows NT Server.

Our typical toolkit for making Windows NT run UNIX applications is ActivePerl from ActiveState Tool Corp, and MKS Toolkit from Mortice Kern Systems. However, neither of these products really addresses the issue of scheduling and executing batch jobs.

Most people who need to run unattended batch jobs on NT resort to using the at command in Windows NT. The problem with this strategy is that Windows NT is known to be fairly unreliable for real-time tasks because the scheduler within the operating system is rather flaky. We were looking for a more reliable plug and play solution that would allow us to monitor execution of our batches without having to write platform-specific code.
The O'Reilly book called Essential Windows NT System Administration by AEleen Frisch recommended the Batch Job Server product for this purpose. We had never heard of the developer of the product, Camellia Software, but we were willing to give it a try for 30 days as they recommend.

We found that the product performed as advertised. It is implemented as an NT service, and this makes it just about as reliable as the core operating system. It does an excellent job logging the result of batch jobs as they are executed. It has a lot of batch scheduling, execution, chaining, and termination options. Several of these options go well beyond our requirements in terms of the flexibility that they provide.

There are a couple of features on our wish list that are currently not implemented. The most important of these are:

  • Scheduling of events to occur at regular intervals and at a specific time within that interval. A real world analogy: a news radio stations in the NYC markets runs traffic reports every 10 minutes, "on the eights". This means the report is at :08, :18, :28, :38, :48, and :58 past the hour. It is possible to use BJS to execute a task every 10 minutes, but the other dimension is not supported.
  • Ability to replace Windows batch language with other scripting languages. The initial script triggered by the scheduler must be a Windows batch language (BAT) file. Of course, you can write a stub batch file to call your favorite scripting language -- that is what we have chosen to do. However, we would like to be able to choose any scripting language that runs under Windows from the outset.

Other than those features that we would like to see implemented, we have not encountered any issues with the product.

Some users may object to the license cost of approximately $500 per server. However, we believe the cost is justifiable, if you have a "mission-critical" application that depends upon unattended batch jobs to maintain itself. We certainly have applications like that. Therefore, the cost of this product was justifyable to us.

August 29, 2000

CTDATA Developing Slash 0.4 Multihoming Capability

CTDATA is in the process of developing multihoming capability for our customized version of the Slash Engine. Our version is code named "Slash 0.4" because it is derived from Slash 0.3, the last major release prior to Slashcode 1.x.

This will allow us to roll out Slash Engine functionality to other Web Sites in our network. These Web Sites include RCNJ.org and AAHArefs.org.

A multihoming enhancement will allow us to operate more than one Slash instance on the same server. In the past, it has been very difficult to run more than one instance of Slash on the same server because of the way persistance is handled by Apache. However, since we do not use mod_perl in our implementation, this is not an issue for us.

RSA Digital Certificate Patents to Expire September 26

ZDnet is reporting that several key patents in the RSA Security, Inc. portfolio will expire on September 26. The expiration of these patents, which have effectively limited the number of people offering on-the-wire encryption products for use in the USA, is expected to set off a large number of product announcements from competing vendors as well as current RSA licensees who will have the freedom to use similar, equally secure security tool kits.

CTDATA uses RSA-based digital certificates issued by Verisign for key applications on ctdata.com. We don't know very much about alternative approaches, other than the fact that free trade in a lot of encryption tools is constrained by international trade regulations.

August 28, 2000

USPTO May Issue Broad Patent on International Commerce via Internet

The Wall Street Journal says that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may issue a broad technology patent covering "a process for
carrying out an international transaction ... using
computer-to-computer communication."

Of course, it's difficult to say what the true implications of this patent would be, if it is finally issued. But, if defense of this patent results in the encumberment of much international e-commerce, that would be a negative development for e-commerce and the software development industry.

This pending patent may be similar in its broad applicability to e-commerce to the Unisys patent on LZW compression that encumbers the GIF file format. CTDATA is not opposed to patents, per se. But we oppose the enforcement of basic technology and business method patents that may constrain trade over the Internet. This includes the Unisys patent, certain Amazon.com business method patents, and potentially, this one.

However, a careful reading of the DE Technologies press release indicates that the patent may only be covering the most technical aspects of International e-commerce transactions. Since we are not active in that area, CTDATA will have to wait until more thorough independent analysis and commentary are available before taking a position.

NY Times: Presidential Commission Recommends Government Support for Open Source

The New York Times is reporting that a soon-to-be released report from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee calls on the U.S. government to support the creation of Open Source software as one of the ways to address an expected shortfall in commercial quality applications.

According to the article, leaders of the Open Source movement say, "The point ... is not to destroy the profit motive that has helped
make software a $175 billion-a-year business worldwide. The goal
instead is to bring software development into the Internet era by sharing
knowledge widely, allowing programmers to build on each other's work
and accelerate the pace of software debugging and improvement. " (Note: Free registration is required to access content on nytimes.com.)

This article is excellent because it presents strong arguments for corporate and government support of the Open Source movement.

It also manages to include enough of the story of projects like Mozilla to explain that you cannot just slap the "Open Source" label on a software project, put the source on the Web Server, and expect your product to improve. There is often a time consuming process of redesign that needs to take place so that the source code is modular enough for Open Source programmers to comprehend.

August 27, 2000

O'Reilly Announces "University of Perl", Classes in Four Cities in October

O'Reilly has announced that its conference group will offer University of Perl 2000, a series of Perl training sessions that will take place in four different cities in the United States during October.

Members of the CTDATA staff have attended these tutorial programs in previous incarnations, and gotten a lot out of them. So, we recommend them highly.

We were particularly impressed with the Practical Web Site Maintenance tutorial taught by Dan Klein. He did an excellent job at the Perl Tutorials series that took place in Boston in April 1999.

Rationale for RSS 1.0 Articulated

Edd Dumbill has written another excellent article on the proposed RSS 1.0 standard. His most important point is that by increasing compliance with the RDF framework, RSS 1.0 can be more modular than RSS 0.9 and 0.91 are.

CTDATA has been looking for an opportunity to use RSS to indicate the most popular articles on its Web Site, as well as other Web Sites that use our version of the Slash engine. RSS 1.0 apparently will allow us to implement this type of service without making compromises to fit the current rigidly-defined RSS file format.

Syndicating the most popular story list from ctdata.com under the 0.91 standard would have required us to compromise the format of the information in order to make it fit the DTD. The RSS 0.91 DTD or file format contains the following major data elements for each story item:

  • title
  • link
  • description

According to Edd Dumbill, the extension of RSS will address this problem in the following manner:

The use of RDF has
enabled a modular approach so, for instance, financial news providers can
invent a module for sending ticker symbols and include it in their feed. Unlike
with straight XML parsing, however, this new information will simply be
ignored by processors that don't understand it or want to use it. This is a big
advantage over RSS 0.91, which was held in a straitjacket by its DTD.

If this is the case, we will add an extension to RSS that will provide information about the number of page views an article has received. This will allow us to implement a most popular stories headline syndication format.

August 26, 2000

Dutch Court Rules Weblogging is Legal

The Financial Times is reporting that a court in The Netherlands has found in favor of a Web Site called Kranten.com in a case bought against it by the leading Dutch media company, PCM. PCM had claimed that Kranten.com should not be allowed to place links on its site that bypass the PCM Web Sites' home pages, such as deVolkskrant.nl.

Essentially, this ruling appears to find that Weblogging is not a copyright violation in The Netherlands.

Rulings like this are important because many large media companies operating advertising supported sites have attempted to claim that third parties should not be permitted to link into the interior of their Web Sites without explicit permission. The media companies claim that such deep linking deprives them advertsing revenue that they would otherwise get if users had to enter their Web Sites through their home page.

People and companies operating Weblogs have argued that a substantial portion of the value of the World Wide Web is to be able to connect content produced by different people or companies together using hypertext links. Depriving Web Sites of the right to do this would, they argue, isolate information and reduce the value of all Web content.

August 25, 2000

rss-dev Group Arguing Over RDF Compliance in RSS 1.0

The RSS 1.0 Specification Working Group (also known as rss-dev) has been extremely active since it started ten days ago. We have not been able to keep up with the flow of messages, so we were a bit surprised to find out that the source of the activity is a dispute about how strictly to comply with the RDF specification.

Clearly, the issues being brought up right now are technical and beyond the scope of our knowledge (in terms of the XML that CTDATA has actually implemented to date). We are considering downloading the version of the XML::RSS Perl module that is compatible with the proposed RSS 1.0 specification and comparing it to the previous version which is compliant with RSS 0.91.

Amazon.com Changes its User Interface

It looks like Amazon.com has rationalized the number of index tabs appearing in the header of their home page. Up until recently, they had placed an index tab at the top of their home page for each major section of their on-line store. A review of the Google Cache page for Amazon.com's home page indicates that it had 15 index tabs.

Now, the Amazon home page has a total of two index tabs, "Welcome" and "Directory". A additional tab is displayed when you drill down into a store (their term for a major section of their site). In addition, they have added a set of buttons labeled "Today's featured stores" in the area that used to contain index tabs.

It is not clear if this is an improvement over their previous design, but we will keep a close eye on the site now that we have noticed the change. Amazon.com pioneered a lot of Web user interface design techniques that are used throughout the Internet today, so when they change their interface to this extent, it is worth analyzing.

Study Indicates Adult Onset Diabetes Soaring in USA

What good is all of the technology we are building if we don't have good health to enjoy it? Anyone who reads news accounts of the study just released in the journal Diabetes Care about the huge increase in adult onset diabetes has to ask himself this question.

Dr. Frank Vinicor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hit the nail on the head when he said that obesity is "not just a cosmetic issue anymore." Many in the computer industry will live lower quality lives or die prematurely if they do not change their ways. At CTDATA we believe it, and have done what we can to adjust our schedules. This has allowed us to get outside and exercise.

The thing we would like to see is studies to indicate that workers who exercise are more productive and have lower total health costs than do sedentary people. We think telling the public that they must exercise simply to avoid disease and death is unnecessarily negative. It would be a lot better if news accounts offered positive information about the benefits of exercise side by side with the side effects of sedentary life.

August 24, 2000

ActiveState Developing "Mail Filter Engine" for Sendmail

Sendmail is the most widely used Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) in the world. As such, it enjoys the advantage that most technical products with the largest market share in their niche share: a rich set of third party add-ons and accessories.

One of the most interesting Sendmail add-ons we've ever seen is PerlMx from ActiveState Tool Corporation. This product allows you to build sophisticated filering and performance monitoring tools into the back end of the Sendmail mail exchanger. The big advantage is that this can be done in Perl, not just in C, which used to be the only way to do it.

CTDATA is not currently using Sendmail, but we are definitely looking at moving to it. Part of the reason is that we want to be able to monitor and control the mail server using the same tool sets that we use to develop solutions for our customers.

We are definitely keeping an eye on PerlMx and we will probably talk more about it on this Web Site in the future.

August 23, 2000

Wireless Developer Network Reviews RIM 957 Pager

Wireless Developer Network has just published a good review of the Research in Motion Blackberry 957 Pager / Personal Digital Assistant. CTDATA is quite interested in the 957 because we use both Blackberry 950 pagers and Palm PDAs. Therefore, the 957 represents an opportunity to converge two handheld devices into one.

The big question about the new Blackberry is whether it works well enough to justify giving up our Palm devices. Some of us use third party applications that only run on the Palm platform, so we could not totally give up the Palm platform. For others, wireless e-mail is much more important than the large library of third party apps that the Palm platform provides.

Another question about the newer Blackberry pagers is, do they presume that the user is channeling all of his e-mail through the Blackberry pager, or is the pager smart enough to allow its user to use the Blackberry as:

  • a wireless instant messaging client or
  • a short messaging service client on steroids.

Edd Dumbill Summarizes Latest Developments of RSS 1.0

Edd Dumbill, the managing editor of XML.com, wrote a nice summary of the latest developments in the evolution of the RSS (Rich Site Summary) Content Syndication protocol. He did a particularly good job of giving examples of features that people want to add to RSS.

This summary useful because the big new feature of RSS 1.0 was touted as "namespaces", but a lot of people could not relate that concept to a set of real world features.

August 22, 2000

Mail Interface on www.ctdata.com Fixed

A number of friends, relatives, and some visitors from Slashcode had tried to register as users on this Web Site. Although the database portion of the user registration process worked, the e-mail message that was supposed to be sent out automatically by the Web Site (providing the initial user password) did not.

We finally fixed the subroutine that sends e-mail in our implementation of Slashcode. Now, we are using the Mail::Sendmail Perl Module, just like Slashcode 1.0.7 and 1.0.8 do.

We caused the Web Site to kick out password reminder e-mails to all registered users of www.ctdata.com.

CTDATA Celebrates the Eleventh Anniversary of Its Incorporation

Dave Aiello wrote, "On August 22, 1989, Chatham Township Data Corporation was officially incorporated. We've come a long way since then, and we are now a small, thriving business."

"On behalf of my co-workers, I would like to thank our customers and friends for their support over the years. Without that support, CTDATA would not have survived long enough to find its niche developing virtual communities and other types of database-driven Web Sites. We look forward to making a name for ourselves in the OpenSource and Web Development communities in the coming year."

Democratic Convention Web Site Supposedly Outperforms Republicans'

Earlier this month, we pointed out that the Republican National Convention was running its Web Site on Apache in spite of the fact that it received $1 million in donations from Microsoft.

Now, Computerworld is reporting that the Democratic Convention Web Site outperformed the Republican Web Site. This could be one of the more subtle examples of spin to be foisted on the IT community in recent history.

As advocates of static redering techniques to improve site performance, we are torn when we read descriptions of the Democratic Convention Web Site like, "the Web staff designed the site with static pages instead
of dynamic pages, because the static pages take up less space and
take less time to download."

However, a more telling example of the fact that the Democrats, Microsoft, and Keynote Systems got their agendas out in print is evidenced by the paragraph that follows immediately after the previous quote:

He also said they used content management and had about 30 cache
servers spread throughout the country. This way, the content was in
close proximity to the users.

Well, if we built a Web Site using a service like Akamai and compare it to one that doesn't use caching, we could blow away the competition also, regardless of which HTTP server either site uses. They are probably comparing apples and oranges.

Then, if you consider the fact that everyone who analyzed the conventions agreed that nobody was looking at the Web for convention information anyway, shouldn't everyone be asking themselves why Computerworld thought this story was newsworthy in the first place?

Alternatives to Netscape 6 Preview Announced

A number of people we know are hoping that Netscape releases a new browser that is competitive with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Generally, these people have been disappointed by the preview releases of Netscape Version 6. However, today Slashdot mentioned two new browsers that are based on the Gekko Project-- the OpenSource project upon which Netscape Version 6 is based.

Kmeleon is a Windows browser based on Gekko. It is compared by its developer to Galeon, a Gekko-based browser for the GNOME environment on Linux.

These browsers may represent usable alternatives to Netscape 6 Preview 2, although they probably won't fully replace Netscape Communicator 4.7 for people who use it to read their mail.

August 19, 2000

eGroups' rss-dev List Appears Vital

If the first week is any indication the rss-dev Group on eGroups is going to be a real hotbed of discussion about content syndication. Only time will tell if the group activity will stay high once the RSS 1.0 spec is finished.

Regardless, this discussion has a number of interesting messages posted to it each day. It is worth following if you are supporting RSS, RDF, or another lightweight syndication protocol.

August 18, 2000

mySQL Developers Adding Transaction Support

A short article posted to MySQL.com states that a version of MySQL with transaction support is under development. Confusingly, they refer to this version as MaxSQL.

The article describes MaxSQL as "a MySQL distribution compiled with Sleepycat Software's BerkeleyDB support for transactions." Perhaps we do not use MySQL enough, but we do not understand the relationship between MySQL and the BerkeleyDB. Is MySQL implemented on top of BerkeleyDB, or is BerkeleyDB integrated as a datastore primarily to support the transaction management process?

August 16, 2000

Comcast Tells Telecommuters to Find Another ISP

Forbes has an article on its Web Site that discusses Comcast's recent change in its Terms of Service that attempts to take away their customers' right to use the @Home service for telecommuting. Forbes does not come out and say that Comcast wants to ban the use of its network for Virtual Private Networking, but that's what Comcast is trying to do. The specifics of the new restrictions were discussed on Slashdot earlier this week.

We have a number of Fortune 100 companies as customers, and they are all moving toward VPNs in order to expose their Intranet applications to employees working at home. Attempting to impose these restrictions at this point is laughable.

VPNs are one of the most promising ideas for creating better work / life balance for employees of medium and large corporations. They hold the key to reducing polution and traffic congesting during commuting times. Looked at in this light, Comcast's decision is an impediment to further economic growth in its service areas.

That's why we are sure that other corporations will exert pressure on Comcast to change its shortsighted policy. If not, the governments of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the other states with Comcast territories will have to do the job.

August 14, 2000

RSS Development Mailing List Moves to eGroups; RSS 1.0 Spec Posted There

Rael Dornfest of O'Reilly sent out the following e-mail to subscribers to the RSS list that had been started by O'Reilly:

Bet you didn't remember you were subscribed to any such list :-/ .
This list, rss@lists.oreillynet.com, is being shut down in favour of a new
RSS-DEV mailing list housed at eGroups. I invite you to wander on over to
http://www.egroups.com/group/rss-dev, subscribe, and get involved in the
further development of RSS.

Hopefully this will increase participation. We already found some useful documentation in that discussion group's file area: the RSS 1.0 Specification Proposal.

August 13, 2000

Summary of RSS Modularization Debate on XML.com

XML.com has summarized the current proposals for modularization of RSS. The number of new features proposed for inclusion to this specification, and the number of high level developers engaged in the debate indicate how important this standard is.

It's really important that the RSS spec stay unified because it is working so well as a mechanism for integrating independent Web Sites. So, the issues that have been raised over the past six weeks must be understood and closely monitored. This article looks like a good way to get up to speed.

Northwest NJ Deluged with Rain

A number of media outlets reported that Northwest New Jersey was hit by a huge storm that dumped seven to 14 inches of rain in a six hour period. Some people that have contacted us wonder how bad the damage is. Although we can tell you that the damage is pretty bad (CTDATA is 5 to 10 miles away from the hardest hit areas), we can't get near the areas of worst damage because many roads are impassable.

We did manage to take a couple of photos in Denville and Dover on Sunday morning. Read on if you are interested....

News accounts:

Water over road on Bloomfield Avenue in Denville

Water over the road on Bloomfield Avenue in Denville.

This picture is fairly typical of conditions after a heavy rain storm in Downtown Denville. This is about 1/4 mile from the intersection of Main Street, Broadway, and Diamond Spring Road.

Car under water in Dover

Car under water in Dover. Do you think the price will be reduced after this?

This car is parked in a low lying area of Dover, NJ, across the street from the Rockaway River flood plain.

Kathleen Kuykendall and Dave Aiello in Dover

Kathleen Kuykendall and Dave Aiello near Lakeland Bus Depot in Dover.

This photo is taken near the same location as the submerged car. We're not sure that having Kathleen and Dave in this picture gives it any additional perspective. Perhaps if Dave had waded into the water 25 feet west of this location, it would have given the picture more depth....

Author of "The New New Thing" Reviews TiVo in New York Times

Dave Aiello wrote, "For the last few months, I have been telling friends that a TiVo personal video recorder is a must buy product. It allows you to time shift television viewing and to get more value out of your cable or direct broadcast satellite subscription."

"Michael Lewis, author of one of my favorite books of the Year 2000, The New New Thing, has written an article in the New York Times Magazine profiling TiVo and ReplayTV. Lewis believes the widespread purchase of these units by consumers is inevitable. The article discusses the many ways that this technology will change broadcasting and mass marketing to consumers. In short, TiVo and ReplayTV represent the end of broadcasting as we know it."

Dave Aiello continues, "As a result of purchasing a TiVo, we were able to watch all of the highlight programs from The Tour de France on ESPN and The Giro d'Italia on the Outdoor Living Network. Until we got TiVo and it started recording programs about cycling and mountain biking based on my profile, I thought OLN was just a channel about camping, hunting, and fishing."

August 11, 2000

Visa Publishes 10 Commandments for On-Line Merchants

Computerworld is reporting that Visa U.S.A. announced their Cardholder Information Security Program, a program designed to increase the security of all credit card transactions where the cardholder and his credit card are not physically present.

The Visa announcement included a list of best practices, dubbed "ten commandments" by Computerword. Many of these sound like common sense, but, we are constantly surprised by the number of installations that we visit or hear about where all of these best practices are not implemented.

We hope that all of our customers and trading partners look at these security best practices and realize that most of these practices should be used even when on-line transaction processing is not part of the Web Site's feature set. We are not providing this level of security to every customer today, but you can bet that we are working toward providing it ASAP.

WSJ Exposes Its Op-Ed Content on opinionjournal.com

The Wall Street Journal continues to expose more of its content on the Internet. The latest Web Site to debut is Opinion Journal, a collection of the articles that normally appear on the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal.

We had one basic question when we first looked at this site: is this intended to be a free site? It's unusual to have to ask this question since so many content Web Sites are not based on a subscription model. But since the Wall Street Journal is among the few subscription-based sites, we believe it is a fair question.

Robert Bartley posted a column which obliquely addresses the issue a couple of weeks ago. In it he says, "now through
the election, OpinionJournal.com will carry the first team: exclusive material
by Contributing Editors Peggy Noonan, Mark Helprin and Seth Lipsky, as well
as Detroit News star columnist Tom Bray. Running commentaries by John
Fund and Dorothy Rabinowitz, and even a column, Scene & Heard, by and
for the under-30 generation. Plus our view of what's going on around the
Web. We hope it attracts readers; but we're sure we'll learn something
about wave filtering."

So, we can presume that the $64,000 is, what will Opinion Journal become after the election?

Rush Limbaugh Rolls Out Enhancements to His Web Site

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh has enhanced his Web Site to provide supplimentary information for his daily radio program.

The idea behind this Web Site is interesting. A lot of Web Sites for broadcast stations and programs provide little more than a means to tap into the broadcast using RealPlayer or Windows Media Player. Rush Limbaugh's site provides access to the streamed program, but it also provides stories associated with highlights of the program. Even more interesting is that the Site is providing access to audio streams containing song parodies. These parodies are often closely guarded so that they are not rebroadcast without permission.

From an architecture standpoint, rushlimbaugh.com seems to be running without a Content Management System. This is an expensive proposition for a Site that will have to maintain high production values in order to stay on people's radar screens. Is the lack of CMS a risky scheme?

Rush's Web Site looks good at the moment, but they really need a Content Management System will probably hinder them in the intermediate term because it will become difficult to maintain the site as the volume of content grows. Anyone who has maintained a popular Web Site or a Web Site with a great deal of content with lasting value knows this already.

It is hard to know what CMS would be most appropriate for this Site, in part because it feels like a work in progress. At this level of development, they could easily run under Allaire Spectra (if they wanted something out of a can), Slashcode or Zope (if they wanted to go for the ultimate in configurability and low cost). Things like Interwoven and StoryServer look like severe overkill for them at this point.

We will have to revisit this site in a few weeks and see how it evolves. Perhaps then we can make a better recommendation.

Web Techniques Magazine: an Important Resource for Web Developers

We are adding Web Techniques Magazine to our Quick Links slashbox because we find ourselves referring to it several times a week. It is doing a good job of providing coverage of Perl, Java, and various scripting environments through its Script Junkie column. They've produced some excellent discussions of infrastructure technologies, including one of the most sober analyses of ICE we've seen.

One of the things that CTDATA has identified as a key to identifying a good monthly developer publication is cross-platform focus. Web Techniques is one of the publications that covers UNIX and the Windows platform with equal emphasis.

We are planning to keep adding sites to our main Quick Links box as we identify Web Sites that we visit regularly.

August 10, 2000

ZVON.org Provides Good Material on XML and XSL

Linux Today pointed us to a Web Site called ZVON.org which provides a lot of good information and tools to manipulate XML and XSL.

XSL is a particularly important technology to us because it is used extensively in advanced Web authoring and content integration platforms. One of the times where XSL knowledge is quite helpful is when you are running an Epicentric Portal Server.

August 9, 2000

W3C Provides Concise, High Level Introduction to XML

In the course of reading all of the information on backend.userland.com, the content aggregator for My Userland, we discovered this concise introduction to XML published by the W3C. Read on if you are interested in why we chose to point to this, and how deep our present XML knowledge is.

It's not a particularly long story, it's just that it's only tangentially related to and somewhat less valuable than the W3C's XML Site....

Recently, CTDATA has been receiving feedback from users who are impressed with our content syndication capabilities that we implemented through RSS. RSS is an XML-based content syndication protocol. A lot of the follow up questions have been basic questions about XML and its uses.

We admit that we know very little of the fundimentals of XML. A lot of what you see us doing with RSS, XSL, and related technologies are more the result of following instructions that we've found on other companies' Web Sites to permit us to integrate our Site with theirs.

However, the more we get into high end Content Management System development, the greater the need is to actually understand XML. That's why we are doing what we can to bring information that we uncover about XML to our Web Site. After all, there is no better way to learn about a subject than to try to explain it to others.

Web Site Offers Easy Way to Evaluate Strength of Development Teams

Scripting News pointed to this article on Joel on Software which provides a simple way to evaluate the efficiency of a development team. It is delivered in the form of a 12 question test where each question can be answered "yes" or "no".

We feel that the test is more oriented to classic desktop or client-server application development than it is to Web development, and it focuses a lot more on good team management practices than on any specific programming techniques. Regardless, it is something worth looking at and seeing how your team measures up.

Speaking for CTDATA, it's kind of scary how few of these questions we can respond to with "yes" at the moment. But, most of the infrastructure is now in place to allow us to improve things substantially. The issue now is finding the time to implement and configure everything we have available to us at the moment.

August 8, 2000

Serious Flaw Documented in Netscape's Java Implementation

A number of Web Sites, including Linux Today, have pointed out that a potentially serious flaw in Netscape's Java implementation has been discovered. Netscape Communicator Version 4.74 (the most current we know of) and earlier, as well as all versions of Netscape Navigator on the following platforms are vulnerable: Windows 95/98/NT/2000 and Linux.

CTDATA customers that use Netscape browsers will be notified when a new release of Netscape Communicator is made to address this problem. Until then, we suggest that you read and understand the documentation associated with this vulnerability, and explain the problem to any fellow users who you feel may be at high risk but would not know it.

Usability Experts are from Mars, Graphic Artists from Venus

Curt Cloninger does an excellent job of articulating the differences between the two major approaches to Web Design in his article on A List Apart. Although we are definitely from the usability side of the house, we know an accurate portrayal of the Web Site as graphic art piece viewpoint when we see one.

CTDATA feels that there needs to be more of a balance between the two approaches. For instance, Web Sites that are primarily used by people sitting at desks should not look best under Lynx. What bothers us and other fans of things like consistant site structure, obvious navigation, and information architecture is that the artists tend to take the approach that if you don't like Flash, DHTML, Javascript, and large graphic images you are not really a professional Web Site designer. Sorry, but them's fightin' words.

Perl Monks Publishes Guide to Its Site

One of the problems we have had with the Perl Monks Web Site is that we had difficulty understanding what the specific purpose of each major section was. We just discovered that Everything Development Company has published the Perl Monks guide to the Monastery. So, if you were wondering what sections like "Seekers of Perl Wisdom", "Meditations", and "Craft" were about, this is the document for you.

August 7, 2000

Trying to Identify Commercial Support for Apache

One of our clients has asked us to identify companies that will offer commercial and/or enterprise support for the Apache Web Server. Our initial research indicates that several obvious candidates only support Apache if it is being run on Linux. Our client wants to run it on Solaris.

The early results indicate that VA Linux Systems may have a program that meets the client's need. Another possibility is Covalent Technologies Apache1st Program.

We will provide more details if we successfully develop a short list. Hopefully, there will be more than one vendor from which to choose.

Userland Provides a Good Set of RSS Reference Materials

Dave Winer of Userland Software has been a driving force behind the Rich Site Summary (RSS) content syndication format. He has one of the best sets of RSS reference materials on the Web today. We are pointing this out because people have been asking us where they can go to get more information about this increasingly important Web integration standard.

Jakob Nielsen Cites Lower Usability as Reason for Reduced Affiliate Sales

Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox explains why Doc Searls, a popular figure in the Linux movement, is no longer able to generate any sell-through for books he recommends on his Weblog. The reason Jakob cites is the poor usability of Doc Searls' affiliate partner Wordsworth, relative to his previous partner, Amazon.com.

The main point of Jakob's analysis, a comparative deconstruction of Wordsworth, is excellent and worth reading just from an e-commerce UI design perspective.

Doc Searls has already responded on his Weblog, explaining that he thinks the problem is Wordsworth's pricing, which is generally higher than Amazon's. We, however, think that the root problem is the politics of the OpenSource movement.

You'd have to be asleep if you are a Web developer or a UNIX / Linux user not to know that many in these communities have a serious problem with Amazon.com's position on securing business method and technology patents. They have used these patents in the past to tie up some of their competitors in court, with the goal of increasing their competitor's costs through the collection of royalties on Amazon's patent library.

We may all regret the US Patent and Trademark Office's tendency to grant patents on basic Web development techniques that many sites use. It even makes sense to write Amazon and complain about their litigation strategy. But, leaving their affiliate program, if it is working for your site for such a philosophical reason is a mistake.

Big companies sue each other on one issue while partnering with each other on different issues. Why shouldn't smaller companies and individuals take the same approach? If you believe strongly that a company's business practices are wrong, it makes a lot more sense to engage them as a customer or a trading partner than it does to break off all relations and then criticize them in public.

Finally, it's obvious that Doc Searls has made the effort to change affiliate partners on the basis of avoiding doing business with Amazon. That does not make good business sense to us, regardless of how small the sales commissions flowing back to him were at the height of his site's referrals.

Netscape Enterprise Server 3.6 to be "Discontinued" in September

We don't know if anyone else noticed this, but CTDATA has determined that Netscape Enterprise Server 3.6x has been designated as Discontinued by iPlanet as of September 2000. NES 3.6x is the Web Server that CTDATA and a number of its corporate clients use most.

What does the status Discontinued mean to iPlanet? According to this page of status definitions, it means that not only are new releases not being worked on anymore, but also no technical support will be provided.

We think this is progression is designed to get corporate customers to upgrade to iPlanet Web Server 4.x, the next release. But, it may also have the effect of moving people to Apache who otherwise wouldn't.

If you are a serious developer, you would be crazy not to be constantly evaluating Apache. There is just too much of a critical mass of high end development going on that platform to ignore. And, of course, the price is right.

Matt Sergeant Releases Simple RSS Mirroring Tool

The Web Site xmlhack is reporting that Matt Sergeant has written a small RSS mirroring tool in Perl that also has the ability to clean up certain HTML entities that do not translate well in RSS files. By this we mean things like non-USD currency symbols, accented characters, and so on.

This script could be a useful tool in building a robust RSS validator. As far as CTDATA is concerned, there are not enough trustworthy public RSS validators available on the Internet at this time.

August 5, 2000

O'Reilly Hosts RSS Discussion Forum

We just noticed the O'Reilly Network has a discussion forum devoted to RSS issues. It doesn't look too active at the moment, but perhaps it can be a more useful resource if more sites that use RSS publicize it.

August 4, 2000

CTDATA Salutes Rensselaer - LSC Internship Program

On Thursday, the Rensselaer Club of New Jersey and Liberty Science Center held a reception to recognize the achievement of the participants in the Rensselaer - Liberty Science Center Internship Program. Dave Aiello, President of Chatham Township Data Corporation, represented the company and spoke briefly to congratulate the interns.

The interns that participated in the program this year are Robert Hopkins, Kentari Sugimoto, and Taryn Winkle. All of them are residents of New Jersey and students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

This is the fourth year that CTDATA has co-sponsored the internship program. Dave Aiello serves as President of the Rensselaer Club of New Jersey and on the Rensselaer - Liberty Science Center Internship Committee.

CTDATA Congratulates Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, on Her Birthday

Dave Aiello wrote, "On behalf of Chatham Township Data Corporation, it gives me great pleasure to post this message congratulating Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother of Great Britain on the occasion of her one hundreth birthday. She is deserving of recognition by all who value freedom because she acted with great courage during the darkest moments of the Nazi bombardment of England during World War II."

"It is unlikely that those of us alive today will ever see another person who will have such an unbroken record of leadership in service to any nation. Although CTDATA is a small company, our Web Site provides us with the ability to speak to a world audience. We ought not hesitate to briefly recognize historic milestones and the people who achieve them."

Making Progress with HTML::Parser

Dave Aiello wrote, "By continually plugging away at writing code that implements HTML::Parser, I have gotten it to work. I leaned heavily on the best how to article I could find on the subject Parsing HTML with HTML::Parser (unfortunately a subscription to Perl Journal magazine is required to access this)."

"I feel that way the code is written is unintuitive and I can't believe that HTML parsed to your specification is not explicitly returned by a call to $parser->parse($html)."

Dave Aiello continued, "I am going to post a question to a mailing list to confirm the validity of the approach I used to write my parser. Once I do that, I will post more detailed information about my experience and the code that I wrote."

August 3, 2000

Seeking Design Ideas for a Photo Extension to Slashcode

CTDATA and some of the CTDATA Network Sites (particularly RCNJ.org) have amassed hundreds of digital photos over the past 18 months. We would like to manage these photos under our modified Slashcode system. Would you care to make suggestions as to how the user interface should look?

One idea that was stumbled upon, totally by coincidence, is the 16photos Web Site. This is an example of one of its pages. What is interesting about this page is the fact that it displays several photos at once, it's clean, and fast loading. We might want to use a layout like this as a sort of index page from which you could drill down to individual pages that provide more information about a specific photo.

This is not a statement of design direction. It is just an observation. Let us know if you have seen sites that do this in a way you particularly like, or if you have ideas that you have not seen implemented elsewhere.

GOP Gets $1M from Microsoft, Runs Web Site on Solaris Anyway

The Register is a British IT magazine known for its irreverent streak, and no better example can be found than this. According to a story on their Web Site, the Republican National Convention Web Site is running on Apache and the Solaris operating system. This is apparently true despite the fact that Microsoft has donated $1 million to the Republican National Committee.

August 2, 2000

NBC to Air Olympics in USA on 16 Hour Delay

In another excellent article, the Wall Street Journal reports that the International Olympic Committee will not authorize the streaming of video or audio from the Olympics in Sydney. This should not come as a surprise, since the IOC generates so much of its operating revenue from selling the exclusive right to broadcast the Olympics on a country by country basis.

The more surprising and upseting aspect of this story is the reason that NBC will not air any live coverage of the events at all: "Even when it could show snippets of events around
5 a.m. on the East Coast — prime time in Sydney — NBC
and its cable arms, MSNBC and CNBC, will hold off.

The reason: Once
NBC’s video enters the
public domain, newscasts
and talk shows can replay
it, which would undermine
the uniqueness of NBC’s
coverage during U.S.
prime time."

While the intent of this is to deprive other networks of an opportunity to provide supplimentary news about the event, what it actually does is deprive enthusiasts with advanced recording equipment like TiVo and ReplayTV of the ability to timeshift their viewing as they can with nearly any other sporting event.

What right does NBC have to embargo coverage of sporting events as significant as the Olympics for 18 hours?

Back to the IOC's embargo on streaming media presentations of Olympic events: how dumb does the NBC - Quokka Sports deal to produce nbcolympics.com look now that the IOC has rendered it's decision?

Welcome to Visitors from Slashcode.com

This morning, Slashcode ran a story about ctdata.com in its Yet Another Slash Site (YASS) section. We would like to welcome those of you who clicked through to us from Slashcode, and also to thank the guys running the Slashcode Web Site for linking to us.

CTDATA is pleased to be a part of the Slashcode community, and we look forward to the opportunity to contribute more of our own technology in the months ahead.

A Search for Documentation on HTML::Parser

Dave Aiello wrote, "For the last three days, I have been searching for usable documentation and examples for the HTML::Parser module for Perl. Everything I read on-line says that this is the way to implement an HTML parser in Perl, but you'd never know it from the information that people have posted about how to actually use it."

Dave Aiello continues, "I will continue to search for useful information about the module and report anything that actually helps me solve my problem."

"FWIW, I am trying to write a simple parser that strips HTML from a block of text, and leaves the plain text. For instance, I want all of the text in a paragraph including the text inside tags like '<a href...>', '<b>', '<i>', etc."

August 1, 2000

ChexSystems, National Database of Bad Check Transactions, Profiled in WSJ

A company known as eFunds maintains a database called ChexSystems that contains bank customers who have been involved in checking account transactions that have resulted in charge-offs by its member banks. According to the report in the Wall Street Journal, ChexSystems is "a national
database to which 80% of bank branches in the country
subscribe. Once lodged in ChexSystems, you automatically
stay there for five years, whether your offense was bouncing
a check or two or committing serious fraud. The large
majority of banks using ChexSystems reject any
checking-account applicant they find in the database."

The article goes on to state that the majority of the seven million people who are listed in the database are of modest means (i.e. middle to low income) and are often rejected for new checking accounts or credit cards for a five year period.

We found the service offering that the WSJ speaks of on the E-funds Web Site. Looked at from the perspective of the retail bank trying to manage its risks, this looks like a really important tool. However, as is the case with every consumer credit reporting mechanism in existance, data quality must be kept high so that innocent people who make mistakes aren't hurt.

Finally, the thing that probably upsets a typical consumer most is that they often would not know that ChexSystems exists, or how it works, until they are already a part of the database.

For the record, eFunds is a subsidiary of Deluxe Corporation.

WSJ: PayPal Steps Up Security to Reduce Fraud

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that PayPal will offer its customers reimbursement if they are defrauded by vendors that PayPal has verified.

If you haven't heard of PayPal before, perhaps that's because you do not participate in on-line auctions very much. PayPal is referred to as a "person-to-person payment system" that allows a buyer to easily pay an individual seller of goods or services for an on-line transaction.

The primary innovation in person-to-person payment systems is that a seller can accept most modern forms of payment, including credit cards, with substantially less of a banking relationship than has traditionally been required by banks offering credit card merchant accounts. Of course, this feature has also made these systems a vehicle for widespread fraud. It will be interesting to see if this new service offering from PayPal makes their service less fraud prone or more acceptible to reticent consumers.