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June 22, 2002

Amtrak Shutdown Would Cause Havoc for NJ Transit, SEPTA

For the last week or so, there have been news stories warning that Amtrak is in danger of running out of operating funds. Today, The Washington Post reports what may happen if Amtrak is forced to begin "an orderly shutdown".

An Amtrak shutdown, threatened for the middle of next week, would ripple far beyond intercity passenger train service to halt or severely curtail rail commuter service along the East Coast and California, officials said yesterday.

....In addition to the {Washington D.C.} area {commuter railroad} shutdowns, Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority would be largely shut down, as would New Jersey Transit....

"The operational chaos that will result from this is incalculable at this point. It's a disaster," New Jersey Transportation Commissioner James P. Fox told the Associated Press.

An orderly shutdown of Amtrak could begin as early as Wednesday or Thursday of the coming week, unless Congress appropriates money or the Federal Government extends loan guarantees of as much as $200 million dollars.

June 21, 2002

Jupiter Media Metrix Says Companies are Overpaying for Content Management Systems

In a recently-issued press release, Jupiter Media Metrix announces the key findings of a report that they published on the use of Content Management systems in large corporations. They say that companies are overpaying for content management systems to manage the information published to their web sites. Surprisingly, the report says:

Although just under one-third... of companies surveyed have developed homegrown content management systems, Jupiter analysts expect the number potentially to double by 2004 as companies recover from - and react to - expensive, failed systems. Jupiter analysts advise companies to consider a homegrown system if a content management initiative applies to a single Web property, the parent company has no desire to manage content across an organization, the number of contributors is fewer than 20 and the workflow is no more complicated than a few steps.

This is a justification for looking at web publishing systems like Slash, Manila, or Movable Type if their feature sets suit the content to be published on a specific web site. Most products at this level permit the use of at least one scripting language to modify or extend the functionality of the system beyond the basics.

David Schatsky, Jupiter's research director, encourages this approach when he says, "Web sites with specific content management needs often focus on a platform that will 'do it all,' rather than match specific problems to specific, often lower-cost, tactical solutions."

Developer Suggests Perl is to Programming what Yiddish is to Spoken Language

We stumbled onto an interesting opinion piece on the Internet the other day from a web developer named Yoz Grahame. He suggests that Perl is Internet Yiddish. He sites several similarities between the two languages, in spite of their vastly different uses.

Ultimately, Yiddish and Perl share the potentially detractive qualities of complexity and inconsistency, but turn them in their favour due to the huge amount of character they provide. This is because they have History. This has resulted in Culture and Community, and a great degree of affection.

The most interesting aspect of the article is the association that Grahame makes between regional Yiddish dialects and the time-honored Perl concept of TMTOWTDI.

Kuro5hin.org is the Latest Community Web Site to Ask for Donations

Earlier this week Kuro5hin.org ran an article entitled We're Broke: The Economics of a Web Community. Kuro5hin is a site that was started by a group that left the Slashdot community because it was interested in having the site's readers vote on the worthyness of submitted stories, instead of relying upon the editorial judgement of the editors.

Kuro5hin has always had a small fraction of the traffic that Slashdot has, although the stories that are run on Kuro5hin are often quite interesting. So, it's not surprising that the advertising placements that Slashdot has undertaken wouldn't generate the same revenue for Kuro5hin. This is not to say that Kuro5hin has actually tried all of the ad placements that Slashdot has. The manager of the Kuro5hin site spends most of his time in this article apologizing for the fact that the site needs to carry advertising in the first place:

I don't like this. I personally hate being a product, and I never got into this in order to lure all of you here and sell you to advertisers. I feel very strongly that one of the things one doesn't do is sell one's friends.

The idea of {Kuro5hin} is that it's a place, a community, for people to come and talk and listen to each other and be people , not products. I don't want to produce media and "package" it and ship it out to passive hordes. The world has about a million channels too much of that already. I want K5 to fulfill the promise of the internet, as a place where everyone gets a fair shot at an equal voice, and everyone gets the information they want, not what some company wants to sell you.

Most people who run news-oriented sites without carrying advertising do it because they enjoy it and are willing to finance it using proceeds from other activities. Other motivations are to demonstrate a product they make, or a service that they offer. Maybe Rusty ought to hire himself out as an Internet site architect.

Update: Looks like the Kuro5hin user community has voted with their wallets. It's nice to see that an web site community can mobilize in this fashion. We didn't appreciate the strength of the Kuro5hin community.

National Public Radio is the Latest Organization to Try to Ban Linking to Its Site

WiredNews is among the hundreds of sites that have reported that National Public Radio is asserting that it has the right to demand that other websites not link to NPR.org without permission. Everyone else in the world is trying to build traffic to their websites, but sites like NPR, Runner's World, and The Dallas Morning News are concerned about the subject matter of the web sites that link to them, and perhaps the context of the links.

WiredNews is probably OK with us linking to them. So, we'll link to them talking about NPR.

June 19, 2002

Spolsky Applies Microeconomics to OpenSource Software

On his Joel on Software web site, Joel Spolsky, a former Microsoft manager discusses the economics of OpenSource software in his recent Strategy Letter V. In this article, he tries to explain the motivation of participants in the OpenSource software market in terms of substitutes and compliments, as defined in classic microeconomics. He suggests that OpenSource enterprise software can be considered a complement to computer hardware (in some cases), or consulting services (in more cases). This is one reason why IBM is investing so heavily in OpenSource projects like Linux.

The article also spells out in very simple terms what a Total Cost of Ownership calculation ought to include for OpenSource software. For example, if a new Linux kernel obsoletes a large class of hardware device drivers, that would add dramatically to the TCO. Too often, OpenSource advocates claim that such incompatibilities have no cost to the end user.

Jakob Nielsen Discussed How "Multiple-Location Web Users" Influence Design

About a month ago, Jakob Nielsen published an article on UseIt.com discussing the phenomenon of "multiple-location web users" and how their unique needs should influence the design of web sites. Among other things, sites need to recognize individuals instead of computers. This means that cookies are not a long-term solution for personalization. Sites should also preserve settings across more than one computing device.

What would you think if Amazon.com recognized that you were using their sites from two separate machines? Would that please you, or would it bother you? Interesting question....

June 18, 2002

Disney Shifting Film Animation to Linux

Martin O'Donnell pointed out that today's New York Times is reporting that Disney's film animation division is migrating its workstations to Linux. This is not a surprise because many film production businesses in Hollywood have made the switch to Linux in the last two years. What is interesting, however, is the fact that the Times chose to initially refer to the operating system as "GNU Linux". We wonder if the writers and editors fully appreciate the political connotations of doing that.

June 17, 2002

Dave Winer Reportedly to be in the Hospital for a Week

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier today, I learned that weblog pioneer Dave Winer is in the hospital and is expected to remain hospitalized throughout the week. Dave writes Scripting News and is the founder of Userland Software, a company that has written a number of widely-used, inexpensive content management tools."

"I want to wish Dave a full and speedy recovery. He's one of the web publishing industry's most interesting people. I have learned a lot from him in terms of how to write for the web and how to develop an audience for a small website. Hopefully, he'll be back on Scripting News soon."

Phone Functions of Treo 180 Touted by Stewart Alsop in Fortune

CTDATA.com was on a hiatus of sorts last week. During that time, Stewart Alsop published a column in Fortune that says the greatest feature of the Handspring Treo 180 is that it works so well as a plain old cellular telephone.

Its "telephoneness" is precisely what makes the Treo great. The Treo is a telephone that just happens to have a full, but tiny, keyboard built in. The best use of that keyboard is to look up phone numbers; I have more than 4,000 people in my contact list, and I can call any one in fewer than five key clicks on that keyboard. Who needs speed dial?

The article goes on to compare the Treo to the RIM Blackberry 5810: "...the new BlackBerry is an e-mail device that happens to have a telephone built in. In fact, the only way that you can make and receive a phone call is with the ear bud that comes with the product. If you lose your ear bud, the device doesn't have a microphone and receiver, and you can't make and receive phone calls! I've lost the ear bud for my Treo, but I can still use it as a flip-phone."

June 11, 2002

California Startup Develops Cheap Wireless Broadband Technology

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Etherlinx of Campbell, CA has developed a wireless broadband router that could cost as little as $150 in quantity. They envision this as a way to provide high speed Internet access to the home, rendering DSL and cable modems obsolete.

Their secret weapon is a technology known as a "software-designed radio," which has permitted them to create an inexpensive repeater antenna that can be attached to the outside of a customer's home. The device, which the Etherlinx executives said they believe can be built in quantity for less than $150 each, would communicate with a central antenna and then convert the signals into the industry-standard Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, signal for reception inside the home.

June 10, 2002

Congratulations, Dr. Aiello

Dave Aiello wrote: "On Friday, June 7, Kathleen Kuykendall Aiello received her Doctorate in Medicine from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. As I said at a dinner in her honor that night, congratulations to the hardest working and most honest person I know."

NY Times Magazine: Internet Used Book Sales "An Actual Internet Success Story"

The New York Times seems to love used book sales on the Internet, as do we. Yesterday's New York Times Magazine published a story providing numerous examples of different Internet used book success stories. One of the most staggering revelations: "Used books now account for more than 15 percent of Amazon's sales."

We agree. CTDATA buys and sells used books on Amazon.com all the time. If you need a specific book, but you can wait five or six days, you'd be crazy not to go to Amazon and look at the prices for used copies of that book.

June 5, 2002

Hopes of Entertainment Industry Dimmed by Lack of Agreement on Digital TV

The New York Times reports that the Entertainment Industry failed to reach an agreement with the Electronics and Software Industries on Digital TV standards. The report that was issued by the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group revealed substantial disagreements between the participants. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also participated, representing the interests of individuals who want to experience digital entertainment. The article says, in part:

The dissenters in the consumer electronics industry were also joined by Microsoft in objecting to the degree of control that the studios wanted to exert over which technologies would be deemed to meet their copy-protection standards.

"They were proposing criteria that were largely subjective," said Andy Moss, director of technical policy for Microsoft.

Of course, the real problem is that the Entertainment Industry wants to eviscerate the concept of Fair Use as defined in the Copyright Act and legal opinions issued over the years by courts in the United States.

CTDATA's Phone is Ringing with Potential Projects

More people have contacted CTDATA about doing new business this week than in any other week since the beginning of April. We're hoping that this is an indication of an upturn in the IT market in the Metropolitan New York Area.

One thing we've noticed over the years is that the worst times to be looking for new IT business are between July 4 and Labor Day, or between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King's Birthday. With this in mind, we think that the number of calls we've received this week may be an indication that businesses waited until around Memorial Day to decide which projects to start in the third quarter of the year.

June 4, 2002

Earpiece on Treo 180 Fails After 3 Months of Use

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last Thursday, I discovered that the Handspring Treo 180 I've been using since since early March was no longer working properly. Although the mobile phone components themselves were largely working, the speaker contained in the earpiece was not working at all. This meant that the Treo was unusable as a phone unless I had the headset plugged in and the earbud connected to my ear."

"I didn't do anything unusual to the Treo, like drop it or get it wet. Without going into more detail, it appears that the switch that determines whether the screen cover/earpiece is flipped open had failed."

"After talking to Handspring Technical Support on the phone twice, I was offered a working, advance-ship unit delivered in 1 to 2 working days for a $25 fee. This seemed like a reasonable warranty policy to me, so I went for it. I received the new unit today, and it is working well."