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September 29, 2000

Presentation on Salon.com's Content Management System

Scripting News pointed out that Ian Kallen of Salon.com gave a presentation about Salon's content management system at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference in July.

We think this is an excellent presentation, proceeding from general requirements for a content management system, to tools that can be used to construct such a system, to the way that Salon architected its publishing mechanisms.

We strongly recommend that CTDATA customers and others interested in implementing a high end content management system review this presentation. As we mentioned in a previous article about the Tea Content Management System, even if you don't implement the content management system that is being advocated, there is always something to learn from presentations like these.

Slashdot Hacked, Test Server Used to Gain Access

Slashdot is reporting that it was hacked last night by people who claimed to have good intentions. According to Rob Malda, the exploit depended upon the existance of a freshly installed copy of the base Slashcode distribution, existing on the same subnet outside their firewall.

There are a lot of things that could be said about the problems that this exposes in the existing and previous Slashcode architectures, the system administration practices of the people running Slashdot.org. Read on if you are interested in this from a Slash operations perspective.

One of the interesting places to look for information about this problem is undoubtedly going to be the Slashcode mailing list. Here is the Web Page that represents the current week's activity on the mailing list. A good thread of discussion about the exploit has begun there.

For what it's worth, it is fairly safe to say that CTDATA customers using our version of Slash are not likely to be affected by the vulnerability that was used to temporarily gain control of Slashdot. Of course, it never pays to tempt fate....

September 27, 2000

Arbitron Rates Top Webcasters for July

Arbitron is now providing server-side measurements of listeners to streaming audio programming. The results for July 2000 are reported in an article on the Arbitron Web Site.

The metric they use is something called Aggregate Tuning Hours (ATH). According to the article, ATH is "the sum total of all hours that listeners tune to a given channel during a month." According to Arbitron, the company measures listenership on "over 800 stations and channels, representing over seven million aggregate tuning hours in the month of July."

Most interesting, from our perspective, is the way that over-the-air radio stations' channels fit into the overall Arbitron ratings. WABC 770 AM in New York is the highest ranked traditional broadcast outlet. It appears that the largest number of American radio stations represented in the ratings are located in the Metropolitan New York and San Francisco Bay areas.

Another surprise in these ratings is the number of Canadian radio stations that have large on-line audiences. These stations figure prominently in the catalog of audio sites displayed by RealNetworks. It's hard to imagine any other explanation for their success, other than the fact that they are among the choices that pop up right away on the major media players.

We wonder how long it will be before Infinity Broadcasting relents and allows their stations to be streamed. Not too long, apparently.

September 21, 2000

New York Times Reports on "Email You Can't Outrun"

Martin O'Donnell points out a New York Times article on the Blackberry pagers -- further evidence of their fanatical adoption by knowledge workers across the nation.

"Members of the BlackBerry cult won't ask how you are in their electronic
communiqués. Nor are they very likely to give you their full attention when
you are in their physical presence, since the messages flashing on their
pager-size screens demand a quick glance, and perhaps a response. But they
will return your e-mail almost immediately, no matter where they are."

Some of the statements made in the story are simply hyperbole. Yet, we wonder how many of these pagers and PDAs can be sold and put into use before the data networks that they run on will experience noticeable degradation. Some CTDATA users report difficulty sending messages from the vicinity of Wall and Broad Streets in New York at the beginning, middle, and end of the business day.

Another Pundit Chooses Blackberry over WAP Phones

Stewart Alsop, venture capitalist and columnist for Fortune, has joined a lengthening list of contrarian pundits by finding the Blackberry paging and PDA platform superior to WAP based mobile phones.

In his latest Fortune column, Alsop compares WAP phones on the Sprint PCS and Verizon networks with Blackberry on the basis of what each device can productively do today. He says, "In the six months
that I used a Sprint wireless data phone,
I did not get one piece of important info
via phone that I didn't already have from
another source... Instead of buying... {the}
Sprint phone, I should have bought a
Blackberry from Research in Motion. One
after another of my techie friends has
bought this thing and become consumed
with its utility and design...."

We have been saying the same thing for several months.

September 20, 2000

Jakob Nielsen Picks Some Early Winners in Mobile Internet Access

In the latest Alertbox, Jakob Nielsen reports on his experiences at the DEMOmobile2000 Conference in Pasadena. Nielsen claims that the current crop of WAP devices has terrible usability. He prefers Palm devices and Blackberry pagers and PDAs.

Nielsen says, "Informal discussions with conference attendees showed that Blackberry is taking off as the
best and most loved product for mobile connectivity."

CTDATA has two developers using Blackberry pagers (specifically, the RIM 950). We are trying to determine if we can upgrade one of those units to the RIM 957, the device that combines wireless email with PDA functionality.

CueCat Could be the Worst PC Accessory in History

What if you paid for a subscription to a magazine, and its publisher gave you a bar code scanner so that its advertisers could better determine the effectiveness of their ads? Would agree to use the scanner without being paid to do so?

Apparently, the publishers of Forbes, Wired, and several other magazines think that you will. It's called CueCat and we cannot think of a device that is a greater insult to the intelligence of a magazine subscriber.

We gleefully note the following articles that concur with us on this: Scott Rosenberg's September 15th article on Salon, this Slashdot article documenting CueCat's attempt to prohibit use of its scanner with Linux, and Jakob Nielsen's current Spotlighted Link on useit.com.

What did Steve Forbes get in exchange for agreeing to subject his subscribers to this abomination? Do you think that CueCat offered to donate $1 to his campaign's debt relief fund for every scan by a Forbes reader? At least they could have printed "Capitalist Cat" on the scanner that was sent to CTDATA.

New York Times: NBC's Olympics Ratings are Worst Ever

Confirming our prediction, The New York Times reports that NBC's Sydney Olympic Games coverage is getting the worst ratings in U.S. broadcast history.

According to the article, "Many sports and television executives blamed the long delays
between the results, which are now widely reported on every
news media outlet and the Internet, and the coverage. 'Even
the morning papers are giving results,' said Barry Frank, the
senior group vice president of the International Management
, and a longtime negotiator of television rights for the

Just how bad are the ratings? Again, according to the article, "Monday's rating,
which the network had pointed to as one of its key nights
because of the men's team gymnastics event, fell to only a
13.8. The Olympics barely beat ABC's Monday Night
for the night, which had a 13.2 rating.... {During} the Seoul Games, the Olympics proved far more
potent against football, beating the two games on Monday
nights by 4 rating points one week and 6 the next."

NBC, stop trying to turn back the clock. Show the games in real time and let the chips fall where they may. You can still replay the popular events in prime time. Just don't lie to people.

The International Olympic Committee needs to understand what's happening to its broadcast revenue model in the United States, and adjust its plans accordingly.

September 19, 2000

GE HomeGen 7000 Residential Fuel Cell to be Sold by NJ Resources

On Sunday, Slashdot broke a story about the announcement of the General Electric HomeGen 7000 Residential Fuel Cell Power System. This is the first fuel cell system that we are aware of that is designed to be installed in residential and small business applications.

Close examination of the GE MicroGen Web Site indicates that GE has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with New Jersey Resources for deployment of the Fuel Cells in New Jersey.

CTDATA is very concerned about the reliability of the public power grid in the Northeast and California. This fuel cell product looks like a way to improve the reliability of electric power delivered to our business locations and our homes.

We have difficulty imagining how fuel cell access will not be a requirement of a co-location facility once the technology becomes widely available. Everyone in the computer industry has focused on deploying Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) behind every server in order to increase up-time. Fuel cells will change that equation.

We will all have to watch carefully in order to see the total cost of operation (TCO) of one of these units.

September 15, 2000

Linux.com: Is the OSS Model Failing?

Linux.com is carrying an article called Is the OSS Model Failing? The author of the piece, Serge Egelman, cites the proliferation of slightly different open source projects as evidence of the fact that only older, well established projects are benefitting from Open Source development techniques and the GPL.

He also wonders (rhetorically) why people start projects that are only slightly different from one that already exists. His primary conclusion is that wanna-be developers want to see their names on sites like SourceForge and Freshmeat.

CTDATA is the primary force behind a fork from the Slashcode project based on an early version of the code base that ran Slashdot. The version of Slashcode that we began our project with is known as Slash 0.3. If you are interested in why we haven't merged our efforts with the main Slashcode branch, read on....

Here are some of the reasons why we have not been able to join the main Slashcode project up to now:

  • Delay in the start of the formal Open Source project

    Rob Malda and his co-developers did not release an upgrade to what became the Slashcode project for more than one year. In the mean time, we had to choose between starting with the code that was available at the time, or holding off on projects until the new Slash Engine release took place. There was never any guarantee that the process would result in an updated version of the code base. So, we decided to go ahead with work based on Slash 0.3.

    Of course, within 2 or 3 months, Slash 0.9 was released, followed fairly quickly by 1.0. By that time, we already had a lot of work in the mods we'd made to 0.3.

  • Increasing Platform-specificity of the Main Project

    We aren't sure if this is a problem in other OpenSource projects, but the evolution of Slashcode has been such that each subsequent version has depended more and more on the Apache - mod_perl - MySQL - Linux platform. This has made it more difficult for developers who won't or can't use any or all of these components.

    Having said this, we are aware of the fact that work is underway on the so-called Bender release of Slashcode. This is supposed to abstract much of the platform specific functionality, at least with respect to the database that drives the Slashcode-based site.

    We welcome this development and sincerely hope that we will be able to join the project by the time Bender becomes available.

Now, our version of the Slash Engine is arguably a bit more complicated than the vi replacements that Serge uses as his proliferation example in the article. However, we believe that the increasing platform-specificity of some of the Open Source Web applications is a fairly widespread problem at the high end.

September 12, 2000

AOL to Delay Results of Olympics, at User Request

Scripps Howard News Service is reporting that America OnLine will offer its customers the option of not receiving news about Olympic event results until after the event is shown on NBC.
According to the article, "The Internet giant decided to give its United States customers the options after
75-percent of more than 1,000 users polled said they would prefer not to find out event
results before getting the chance to watch them on TV and experience the suspense."

We have no idea how the poll was conducted or whether its results are reliable. However, the fact that AOL is willing to consider this in the first place is yet another indication that NBC is acting against the public interest by delaying the broadcast of the Olympic events by 16 or more hours.

Why shouldn't the broadcast networks conspire to keep major news events off TV and radio until prime time? After all, that would serve to increase viewership, which is NBC's reason for delaying the results of the Olympic events.

It simply should not matter that the IOC grants NBC monopoly broadcast rights to the Olympic Games in the United States. They should not be able to unilaterally decide to delay the broadcast of certain events. The only justification for this policy, in our view, is if it makes some of the less popular sports more available to sports fans. We thought that this was the intent of using CNBC and MSNBC as supplimentary channels anyway.

September 8, 2000

Measuring the Impact of a Content Management System on a Small Company

This is the one hundredth article posted to the ctdata.com Web Site since it was converted to a modified Slashcode architecture on June 21, 2000. From May 21, 1998, when we adopted NetObjects Fusion until June 21, exactly 25 months, we published only 33 articles to our Web Site.

Is there any doubt that CTDATA is a more effective organization since it began using a database driven Web Site? We suggest that all small and medium-sized organizations force themselves to adopt some sort of content management system. It is the only way for such organizations to use this medium effectively.

In spite of the fact that we have been drinking the CoolAid since we read Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing by Philip Greenspun, we did not realize the profound effect that actually adopting a content management system would have on our business.

At this early point, it is difficult to articulate exactly how the business has changed since we put our new Web architecture in. However, it is possible to say with complete certainty that CTDATA is being exposed to more business opportunities today than it was prior to the deployment of the new architecture.

We are also experiencing increasing returns, in terms of developer productivity, from our decision to drive as many of our Web projects on to the Slash Engine platform as we could.

The new ctdata.com Web Site makes us look like a much larger business than we actually are:

  • If a potential customer is interested in staying up-to-date on what we are doing, he or she can sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter.
  • If we are trying to assess the interest levels associated with the articles we produce, we can see that by reports that tell us the daily total number of page views, broken down by individual article. These reports are aggregated over time in the form of the running page view counts that are displayed next to each story in the backSlash (content editing and system administration) environment.

Now, we are gradually deploying this architecture to the sites that we operate for a couple non-profit organizations in the New Jersey area. (The first example of this is www.rcnj.org.) The idea behind this move was to reduce the amount of time it takes for us to perform this pro bono work. But the real advantage is the community building features of the Slash Engine that the non-profit may use to its advantage.

TiVo-Enabled Ads Begin Appearing on Encore

Following up on our previous story about interactive advertisement development taking place at TiVo and ReplayTV, today we witnessed the first use of the so-called TiVomatic recording scheduler.

When an ad for an upcoming movie appeared on the cable network Encore, a small TiVo icon superimposed itself on the upper right hand part of the TV screen. It indicated that something would happen if you clicked on either the "Select" or thumbs up buttons of the TiVo remote. We decided to try it to see what would happen.

When we clicked one of those two buttons, it caused TiVo to ask if we were interested in recording the next available broadcast of the advertised movie. It took a little while to figure out what was going on, in part because the first time the TiVomatic icon appeared, it was in an advertisement for a program that had already been recorded and was presently being viewed. This could be really confusing to people, especially when coupled with the fact that this feature is not (yet) widely supported.

It is, however, understandable that a network might want to run a 15 second promotional ad for a movie right before that movie is scheduled to be played. Another alternative would be to conditionally display the TiVomatic icon if the viewer has not already recorded the program. The business rules for that could get really complicated.

September 7, 2000

News Media Begins to Compare Windows ME to 2000

We note the coincidental publication of two fairly thoughtful comparisons of Windows Millenium Edition (ME) and Windows 2000. For anyone who has been out of the room for the past year, these are the next generation consumer and corporate operating systems from Microsoft.

Walter Mossberg in today's Personal Technology Column in the Wall Street Journal calls Windows ME "...the final, sputtering
iteration of the aging consumer Windows product line that last saw a really
significant release five years ago, when Windows 95 came out." This is surprising, in that Mossberg is not a dependable Microsoft basher.

Molly Wood and Jim Aspinwall take a different approach in their comparison on CNET. They divide the analysis into two broad categories: Windows at Home and Windows at Work. Then, they attempt to compare the two operating systems and tell why one is better. On its face, this analysis strikes us as pretty pointless. It would really be news if Windows ME wasn't a better home operating system than 2000, right?

So, we believe that Walter Mossberg's analysis is more trustworthy, even if his piece is much briefer (due to the constraints of his main distribution format). He is always willing to tell his readers how he really feels, and never hesitates to remind us of statements vendors have made in the past that they wish customers would forget. Here is an excellent example from his current column:

At one time, Microsoft had far more ambitious plans for this Millennium
release. It was supposed to have a dramatically simpler interface and to have
such major stability improvements that the tentative marketing slogan for the
product was: "It Just Works." That bold claim was dropped and the plans
scaled way back to leave a minor Windows upgrade I can't recommend for
existing PCs.

That paragraph says a lot, and we admire a journalist who is willing to tell it to us straight.

Here's a question that CTDATA would like to see answered with respect to the ME - 2000 comparison: Which operating system runs better under VMware?

September 6, 2000

CTDATA Migrates rcnj.org to Its Slash Implementation

Earlier today, we successfully migrated the Rensselaer Club of New Jersey's Web Site, rcnj.org, to our own implementation of the Slash Engine. This represents the third successful implementation of Slash 0.4, our enhancement of the Version 0.3 of the Slashcode Open Source Project. It also represents the first production implementation of our multihoming enhancements to this code base.

Work began on the multihoming extensions to Slash 0.4 on August 29. It proceeded fairly rapidly because we were convinced that we had identified most of the issues associated with adding this functionality.

The biggest obstacle that needed to be overcome was segregating the activity log information for each Slash instance so that they could be analyzed separately.

The implementation of rcnj.org as a Slash site will undoubtedly result in higher productivity for everyone working at CTDATA. As alluded to in the first article posted to rcnj.org, it had actually become more of a burden to run RCNJ as a static Web Site than it will be to run it as a Slash site.

CTDATA Internet Services Disrupted Due to Facility Move

CTDATA's Internet servers are located in Seattle, Washington. Due to a planned facility move that took place 12 hours earlier than scheduled, CTDATA Web and E-mail service for all of the domains that we host was interrupted for about 12 hours. Please read on if you would like further details.

Intellidyne, a company that has been closely affiliated with CTDATA for several years, is moving from one place to another within the same building in Seattle. Qwest, the local telephone company in Western Washington that used to be called USWest, did not honor our request to move the Internet connection after the close of business on September 6. Instead, it began the move at Midnight (Pacific Time) on September 6.

After we realized that service had been disrupted, Martin O'Donnell of Intellidyne rushed to move the servers and reconnect them to the Internet. But, since Qwest had not completed the installation of the Internet connection at the new location, the servers did not come back on-line until 12:00 Noon, Pacific Time (or 3:00pm New York Time).

CTDATA apologizes for any inconvenience that this disruption may have caused our customers.

September 2, 2000

Infoworld Articles Expose Contradictions of DMCA

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a cause célèbre in the international Web Development Community. Infoworld appears to have joined the debate with a pair of columns penned by regular contributors to its publication.

Sean Dugan points out the inheirent contradictions in the Motion Picture Association of America's legal position in his current "Net Prophet" column, concisely entitled I Guess the Only Solution if the MPAA Has It's Way is to Shutdown the Internet. P.J. Connolly takes a position somewhat to the right of Dugan in his current piece called The Sharing Debate: When Source Code is Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Have Source Code.

Both columns seem to be saying that the DMCA's provisions that attempt to provide an explicit definition of fair use, while also defining reverse engineering of a copyright protection scheme as illegal, render the law useless (or at least nearly so) in terms of its ability to be applied fairly by the judiciary in disputes between consumers and intellectual property owners.

We see these issues as part of a vast gray area on the Internet, made grayer by the attempt of national governments to apply laws extra-territorially. Perhaps the best solution would be for a court in the United States to declare the DMCA unconstitutional. But, that would not end the debate over how much control rights holders should have over the terms underwhich licensees use their intellectual property.

After reading these columns, you may find yourself wondering if any entity operating a search engine or a Weblog will be able to avoid some culpability under DMCA according to the position that one U.S. District Court seems to want to allow the MPAA to take. We certainly asked ourselves that question. Sean Dugan seems intent to bring the issue to a head by pointing out that many MPAA members are in violation themselves.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between identifying a problem with thievery in a society by identifying a crook, and being an accessory to theft. A trade association probably ought to be commended for its attempt to maximize its members rights under the law. But, neither the MPAA's current position, nor that of the most extreme leftists in the intellectual property debate, can be adopted by the Judiciary as an equitable legal standard.

September 1, 2000

Amazon.com Revises its Customer Privacy Policy

Computerworld is reporting that Amazon.com has revised its customer privacy policy. Reportedly, the policy change is intended to clarify which data is collected from customers and what it does with that data. In a relatively unique development, Amazon.com also attempts to give customers an idea of what it would do with their information in the event of various major changes in its corporate structure or governance.

Reaction to the privacy policy changes was mixed. For instance, on Slashdot, the story questions a company's right to transfer its customer database to an acquirer. This was an issue in the Toysmart case, but that was a bankruptcy auction.

A lot of people seem to have weird reactions to mergers and acquisitions in the e-commerce space. After all, how many stories were posted on Slashdot when Bank of America merged with Nationsbank? Wasn't that also a customer database transfer?

Jeff Bezos reportedly said, "In revising
our privacy policy, we tried to take into consideration not only our
current activities, but also those things we could imagine possibly
happening in the future." We see no issues with trying to do that.

Of course there is a lot of information incorporated in Amazon's privacy policy. We reserve judgement on whether it is, in fact, a diminution of Amazon's customers' rights. But in our view, a lot of the commentary elsewhere on the Web looks like snap judgements.

Bill Clinton to Small Businesses: Drop Dead

Although the people who work at CTDATA have strong political views, we try to limit the number of political stories posted to our site. We feel compelled to make an exception for President Bill Clinton's veto of the Estate and Gift Tax Phase Outs, technically known as H.R. 8.

These taxes destroy small businesses by forcing many of them into liquidation upon the death of the founder or major shareholder. As long as these taxes are not repealed or scaled back, they will be a major issue for any successful small business, and that includes CTDATA.

We would like to see the Federal Government exercise some restraint and tax income only once. On this basis alone, the estate and gift taxes are unfair.

Many Democrats in the House and Senate supported this bill because it is a high priority of their constituents. So, it is beyond us how the President, who will be out of office 20 days after the tax change would have gone into effect, can thumb his nose at his fellow party members and their constituents.

There is an obvious way to demonstrate to our current President the error of his ways. That is to deny his protege the office that he seeks.