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December 22, 2000

A Real Correction, a Real Winter, and the Hope for a Real Government

Dave Aiello wrote, "Season's Greetings from everyone at Chatham Township Data Corporation. As the Year 2000 comes to a close, we find that business is better than ever. We have realized higher revenues and higher profits, and deployed a greater number of software products than ever before."

"It's been hard to read The Wall Street Journal for a while now, particularly since The Election. It's depressing to see so many newly minted Internet companies go out of business leaving their customers and employees to fend for themselves. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that the only thing those companies had in common with CTDATA is that we used the same technologies to communicate with the world. In the end, we have our paying customers, while the failed Dot Coms have -- um -- their memories."

Dave Aiello continues:

During the first six months of the year, these "Dot Com" companies got steadily larger on a rich diet of venture capital. At the time, they seemed so successful that it made me question the approach that CTDATA had taken beginning in 1990: that we fund everything we do from our own cash flow. This is why we are still so small in our eleventh year as a corporation.

In spite of that, there are two inescapable facts that keep me going in this direction:

  1. CTDATA produces a profit every year.
  2. CTDATA controls its own destiny.

A Real Correction

I'm sure most of you who are taking the trouble to read this are aware that the employees of unprofitable technology companies are not the only ones taking it on the chin this year. If you remained heavily invested in the NASDAQ in spite of the warning signs that began to appear in January and February, you are probably feeling significantly less wealthy than at the beginning of the year. Yet, I know that many of us were talking about the need for a correction, a rationalization of the share prices of the companies that make up this index. Now, stocks like Amazon.com are down 85 percent since the beginning of the year. Perhaps what we've experienced wasn't exactly what we had in mind.

I would still argue that we needed a real correction in order to establish what kinds of businesses ought to be built with this new technology. The fact that Amazon.com isn't 100 percent lower than it was in January may indicate that it has what it will take to survive as a thriving business. However, there probably won't be thousands of successful businesses in the space that Amazon occupies.

A correction of 10 or 20 percent would not have stopped the investment in single concept Internet retailers. I (personally) bought several things from Bike.com before it closed and sold its assets to Excel Sports, a real retail business in Boulder, Colorado. Bike.com, as it was constituted before it closed, was a great place to get Rudy Project sunglasses. But, beyond that, the business made no sense.

A Real Winter

Forgive me for being so politically incorrect, but I am a skeptic when it comes to the concept of Global Warming. So, it is with some pleasure that we note the possibility that we will experience a real winter this year in the Northeastern United States. Since 1996, we have not had the kind of cold weather and snow that we are told is typical for the New York Metropolitan Area. We look forward to the return of snowmen and skating on the lakes with anticipation.

The Hope for a Real Government

Speaking of anticipation, we also look forward to January 20 at noon, when President-elect George W. Bush will take the oath of office and replace Bill Clinton. You don't have to agree with Bush politically in order to look forward to the transition.

In an era when the Cluetrain Manifesto resonates with so many people -- when people will not accept unadulterated hype and spin from Corporate America -- why should we accept it from our Federal Government? I believe that most people in this country do not remember what it was like when our Government did not attempt to place a political spin on everything it did. We may not see an elimination of spin in the Bush Administration, but it's quite likely that we will see less of it.

We also desperately need to restore integrity to The Department of Justice. The hope for a real government that I suggest is the restoration of the principle that no one is above the law.

From my perspective, the Clinton Administration began with unreasonable expectations. If the Bush Administration begins with lower expectations, perhaps it can achieve more of the nation's goals.

The Successes of CTDATA in the Year 2000

Enough talk of macroeconomics and politics. What has CTDATA accomplished?

  • CTDATA successfully ported a news-oriented community Web Site framework from Linux to the Windows NT and Solaris platforms. That framework is called the Slash Engine, and was originally developed for the Linux Community Web Site called Slashdot. We published a good technical description of our development work on the Slash Engine on ctdata.com at the end of October.

  • We deployed our version of the Slash Engine at J.P. Morgan in March. J.P. Morgan has been our largest consulting client for several years, and we were able to work with them to adapt the Slash Engine to the needs of a corporate resource department that was looking for a basis for an Intranet Web Site that would also serve as knowledge management tool. We worked with Scott Bevier of J.P. Morgan and Richard Ziegler of Modis Professional Services to successfully complete this project.

  • We deployed the Slash Engine as the basis for CTDATA's Web Site in July. Since then, we have communicated with our customers and potential customers much more effectively. We are posting pages at an annualized rate of 400 documents per year with no measurable increase in Web Site management time or resources.

  • Based upon the success of ctdata.com, we relaunched the Rensselaer Club of New Jersey Web Site (rcnj.org) in September. This has been our experiment in running a community-oriented Web Site. Prior to this move, the RCNJ Web Site had become dated, and traffic had been falling steadily for the first nine months of the year. Once we established RCNJ on the Slash Engine, we were able to increase coverage of Rensselaer sports and on-campus news without increasing the time committed to maintenance of the site.

  • CTDATA is now able to measure the number of visitors to our sites as well as what interests them most. The Slash Engine offered us integrated traffic reporting tools, and we significantly enhanced them October. These tools give us a good idea of who uses our sites, how often, and what they are interested in seeing. This is an important feature for revenue and non-revenue sites, and experience with developing customized traffic analysis tools is sought after by clients.

On behalf of my co-workers at CTDATA, I'd like to thank our clients for helping us to achieve remarkable things this year. Thanks also to our partners at other companies who played key roles in the completion of our projects and the smooth operation of our Internet services:

  • Martin O'Donnell
  • Max Murad
  • Richard Ziegler
  • Scott Bevier.

Best wishes to you and your family during this holiday season.

Dave Aiello


Chatham Township Data Corporation

December 21, 2000

NORAD to Track Santa's Christmas Eve Flight

For the 46th consecutive year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will provide continuous updates on the progress of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Children of all ages can stay up to date by visting www.noradsanta.org.

The story of how NORAD became the world's leading authority on Santa tracking is quite heartwarming. When we hear stories like this, we are reminded that the greatness of America may be measured in small acts of volunteerism like this one.

Slashcode Can (and Should) Learn from Scoop

Since we began enhancing Slash 0.3, CTDATA has looked to a variety of sources for new feature ideas. Of course, our primary source of ideas has been the subsequent versions of Slashcode itself. However, recently, we have been looking at other Weblog toolkits primarily to ensure that we are not developing tunnel vision.

We find Scoop, the code framework that was developed for Kuro5hin, very interesting. While we are not sold on using moderation techniques to manage a Slash-like Site's submission queue, there are a number of interesting features that are designed to encourage more user participation.

Features we find particularly interesting:

  • User Diary

    We like the idea of the User Diary because users who submit stories that are ultimately rejected are still able to place them somewhere on the site. Of course, the side-effect of such unmoderated posting is that it may appear to be part of the main story flow. Some casual users of K5 sites may be confused by this.

  • Your Comments, Your Stories

    These features actually appear to be lifted in some way, shape, or form from Everything2, but we like the added dimension of pulling the story submissions into the user's personal area.

  • Simple list of allowed HTML tags wherever HTML is permitted

    Not really a revelation, but well implemented. Also, had never seen the HTML Primer for Weblogs, which we will have to incorporate in our sites at some point.

December 19, 2000

Technical Problem Disrupts CTDATA-related Web Sites

A technical problem in our Denville office triggered a disruption in Web Services on the CTDATA, Rensselaer Club of New Jersey, and the Atlantic District Officiating Program Web Sites. These sites experienced some impairment on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

December 15, 2000

Drudge Report: Rush Limbaugh Highest Paid Info Broadcaster

Matt Drudge is reporting that Rush Limbaugh's earnings in the year 2000 will exceed those of Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw combined. With total compensation estimated at nearly $30 million, Drudge concludes that Limbaugh is the "highest paid info-broadcaster in history."

We don't think Drudge was criticizing Limbaugh. Instead, he was marvelling at his ability to attract an audience. Rush Limbaugh probably earned more than the big three TV anchors because he had a better year than they did. At least he called the presidential election in the State of Florida correctly the first time.

Another thing we find interesting about this story is the fact that Rush Limbaugh's compensation package is reported to be entirely comprised of incentives. As we understand it, he draws no salary, just a percentage of the ad bookings on his program. This approach seems gutsy now, but it was probably what got the program on the air in many markets. It's amazing how much money he could make under such a model.

Drudge estimates that Limbaugh receives $968 per broadcast minute. We ask, what will it take to make it an even $1,000?

December 13, 2000

Web Techniques Publishes OpenSource Weblog Comparison

Dave Aiello wrote, "Brian Jepson wrote one of the most interesting articles that has appeared recently in Web Techniques. He decided to do a comparison of the costs and benefits of implementing several OpenSource Weblog Toolkits: Slashcode, Squishdot, and Thatware."

"My first reaction when I read this was: Why didn't I think of doing this myself? After all, a lot of people wanting to build Web Sites that have a form similar to that of the classic Weblogs would benefit from some independent, professional advice. Then I thought through the idea and realized how long it would take to be able to do this sort of analysis fairly, and I realized that I never could have devoted the time without CTDATA being fired by its clients."

"I was very impressed with Jepson's analysis, considering the length restrictions that impact on any magazine article. He does an excellent job of pointing out issues that a non-expert would run into right away with many of these packages. In particular, he clearly identifies the Weblogs that require root access for successful installation. He also points the degree to which each Weblog depends upon specific versions of underlying software packages, such as mySQL."

December 12, 2000

The Dawn of Slashdot

Dave Aiello wrote, "The other day, I was searching Google for references to Slashdot. I was looking for information that I did not know, whether it was new information or old."

"What I found was an article about Slashdot that appeared in LinuxWorld in 1998. The article, written by Rob Malda, is described as a 'technical history' of Slashdot. I found this article really interesting because it provides insight into the evolutionary changes in Slash engine code base."

Read on for more analysis of the article...

Dave Aiello continued:

The article also gives some insight into Rob Malda's technical experience. For instance, the choice of mySQL was not entirely based on Rob's personal preference for OpenSource software products (at least initially). Instead, it was governed by issues of cost and database server availability on the DEC Alpha / Linux platform:

I was quite familiar with SQL after using Microsoft's and Sybase's respective servers to write assorted applications. It seemed like the ideal way to black box my data storage. Neither of these servers were good options though, as each would have cost significantly more than I could even dream of paying.

I spent some time with three different freeware possibilities. mSQL, PostgreSQL, and MySQL. There were pros and cons to each, but eventually I settled on MySQL. It lacks some of the nice features other major databases offered. The biggies were:

  • Stored procedures
  • Subselects
  • Foreign key support

{After reading the article, Rob Malda said that he never really considered using Microsoft SQL Server and Sybase because he "had terrible luck with both of them, from Sybase's
clumsy administration, to MS SQLs bloat and tendency to crash. I
hated them both with a passion. I only mentioned them to illustrate
that I knew that SQL was the way to go."

Nevertheless, a lot of these points justify the development of Bender, also known as Slashcode 2.0. This is the version of Slashcode that will support several different SQL database alternatives. Why shouldn't you be able to run a Slash-based site on top of an Enterprise-class SQL database?

Coming back to the fact that Rob used Microsoft and Sybase in his pre-Slashdot career, it's interesting to note some additional technical drawbacks to using them as the basis for a Slashdot-like system. These two database servers are historically worse at managing blocks of text than is Oracle. Also, I ended the database choice quote before Rob talks about the performance advantage mySQL has when running simple queries.

Rob also has some interesting things to say about the choice of scripting language for Slash. He said:

As far as I was concerned, the two real contenders were PHP and Perl. All I knew was that either would be much better than the IDC (Internet Database Connector) and ASP (Active Server Pages) I had written so much of during my nine-to-five job.

This is interesting because you have to think back to what each of these tools was like in 1998 (and before) in order to appreciate what he is saying. I worked on an ASP-based project at a major data processing company in 1998, and I know from experience that Perl would have been a much more palatable choice then. The only problem I had was that I did not know how to write CGI scripts back then -- I only knew how to write batch jobs that were executed from cron or the command line.

In summary, I find this article quite interesting. It puts Slash 0.3 and earlier distributions into proper historical context. It also indicates that the early development of Slash was driven on purely practical, rather than ideological, grounds.

December 11, 2000

Engagement Announcement Appears in Inquirer

Joyce Kuykendall (Kathleen's mother) successfully placed an engagement announcement in the December 10 (print) edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. We found it today in their on-line edition, which is how we are able to point to it from here.

We assume that this page will persist for a while, but recommend that you take a look at it and print it out if you are interested.

December 6, 2000

VMware Reveals its Server Strategy

VMware recently announced the release of two new server-class virtual machine products.

The GSX server allows an administrator to create multiple virtual servers on a single large Linux-based server. This would clearly be useful for running Windows-specific server software without dedicating separate servers to it.

The ESX Server is the closest thing we have seen to IBM VM that has been deployed to a PC-style server using the Intel architecture. If this product were combined with clustering, we think it will represent the ultimate in high availability for service provider markets like large-scale Web farming and Application Service Providing.

Martin O'Donnell wonders how long it will take for people in the co-location business to realize the implications of these products? If processor speeds continue to improve and the Intel architecture continues to scale, we may find that the era of rackmounting dozens of small servers in a data center is coming to an end.

Useit.com Suggests a Balance Between Security and Usability

Jakob Nielsen wrote an excellent piece called Security & Human Factors for his Alertbox series. In it he points out many of the obvious problems with password-based security systems in general, and the security provisions imposed by corporate IT departments in order to minimize the risk of password misappropriation in particular.

Things like minimum password length, denial of password reuse, and short password lifetimes almost guarantee increased technical support costs due to end-user confusion.

CTDATA increased security on many of our systems last year, and our experience is that the increase in support costs has greatly exceeded the increase in overall system security. If we had to do it over again, we would have sought a different solution.

We think the best security systems ask the user to provide either:

  • more than one piece of personally identifying information that cannot be provided without access to multiple personal identity documents, or
  • user-supplied questions and answers that allow a Web application to identify a user with 90 to 95 percent certainty (example: What's your favorite color?)

Security mechanisms as simple as these can be implemented if authentication failures are being logged and analyzed in real time.