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October 30, 2002

Yahoo! Makes Room in Its Backend for PHP

Dave Aiello wrote, "Over the last few days, many weblogs have pointed to Michael Radwin's presentation at PHPcon 2002 called Making the Case for PHP at Yahoo!."

"I'm not a proponent of PHP, but that's partly due to the fact I am so heavily invested in Perl. I think Radwin's presentation, however, is excellent. He provides good insight into the history of server-side development at Yahoo!. He also talks about important topics like:"

  • Costs of proprietary languages
  • How Yahoo! ended up picking PHP
  • Why not Perl?
  • Why not JSP, Servlets, or J2EE?
  • So why did we pick PHP?

Dave Aiello continued, "Michael Radwin does a great job of justifying Yahoo's architectural decisions. If you are a web developer, I'd definitely recommend reading through it."

Blogdex Renews Itself

Today, we noticed that Blogdex has released a major revision of its website. Version 2.0 apparently went live yesterday.

Blogdex is one of the original weblog headline aggregators. Many of the other sites that do this got the idea from Blogdex.

The most confusing aspect of the renovation may be the link text that says >> track this site. You might think that such a link would add the website that ran the original story to some set of personal preferences. Instead, it shows you a page that lists all of the weblogs that pointed to the story.

October 29, 2002

Vignette Acquires Epicentric for $32 Million in Cash and Stock

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier today, my friend Ed Anuff sent an email saying that Vignette has agreed to acquire Epicentric. I subsequently found out that the deal is an outright purchase, reportedly valued at $32 million in cash and restricted stock."

"At a time when many of us in information technology are doing everything we can to survive, Epicentric got itself acquired by a major web publishing infrastructure company. It sounds like a good deal to me. Congratulations, Ed."

October 28, 2002

Interchange Not Supported by Red Hat Anymore

Dave Aiello wrote, "For the past few business days, I have been investigating E-commerce Platforms for a client. My bias, particularly in this economy, is toward low cost, feature-ladened solutions. So, I am doing a lot of research into Open Source products."

"Red Hat acquired a small company in 2001 that had led the development of an Open Source E-commerce Platform now known as Interchange. Red Hat began offering Interchange as a product called Red Hat E-commerce Suite, and it was reviewed quite favorably in early 2002 by a number of magazines and websites, including ZDNet. So, I was surprised when I could not find much information about the product on www.redhat.com."

"Using Google, I located the key maintainers of the Interchange project at www.icdevgroup.com. There, I learned that Red Hat stopped offering Interchange as a product in June, although that has not affected the availability of the software."

"I wanted to point this out for a number of reasons. But, the main reason is that I want it to be easier for people who are researching Interchange to determine its status as a commercially-supported Open Source solution. It is not clear to me at the moment that any company is offering enterprise-level technical support for Interchange, but the community support that it has had for years is still there. As I do my first implementation of Interchange, I will try to report on the helpfulness of the Interchange support community."

Update, 12/05/2002: The Interchange Developer Group discussed the issue of Red Hat support for the project on their website on October 26. When this article was initially published, this was not apparent.

October 25, 2002

OpinionJournal: Cable TV Coverage of D.C. Sniper is "Pure Melodrama"

In one of the more candid opinion pieces published during the entire D.C.-area Sniper Case, Daniel Henninger of OpinionJournal.com likens the coverage of the investigation to the "Unreal City" that T.S. Elliot spoke about in his poem The Waste Land.

What we've all been watching on these stations lately is mostly live, so in some sense undoubtedly real. But what could be weirder or more bizarre than the unreal city of cable news, which reports, without discrimination, what it knows, what it almost knows and what no one knows?....

Not since long ago when villagers whispered that witches danced in the night-forest, has mere rumor been elevated to such high status in the life of a society.... Making such terrible events seem somehow unreal was a challenge. But we've met it. Trying to "report" live, much less talk about something like this for hours on end is not normal.

October 24, 2002

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: Terrorism?

Dave Aiello wrote, "National Review Online has quickly jumped on the Moscow Theater Attack with an excellent commentary written by Mark Riebling and R.P. Eddy. In it, the authors suggest that the theater attack may be closely related to U.S. intervention in Pankisi Gorge, in the Republic of Georgia, in addition to the more obvious goal of ending the war in Chechnya."

"The article also suggests that the Chechen attack may be preview of attacks outside Russia yet to come:"

The Moscow event is especially portentous because the tactics of Chechen jihadists are regarded by the FBI as a possible indicator of al Qaeda methods in the U.S. This past summer, for instance, after Chechen terrorists bombed apartment buildings in Moscow, apparently by renting rooms and then detonating explosives stored there, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller warned that al Qaeda operatives in the U.S. might attempt this tactic.

If Chechen and al Qaeda operatives do kill from the same playbook, then reconnaissance and planning for a mass-hostage drama outside Russia may already be underway.

Dave Aiello continued, "Imagine how much more press coverage the jihad would have gotten if this sort of attack had been executed at a Broadway or West End theater."

Forrester Debates an Empty Chair on New Jersey 101.5

The Courier-News reports that U.S. Senate Candidate Douglas Forrester arrived at a scheduled debate with Frank Lautenberg on New Jersey 101.5 FM radio. The only unusual issue about the debate was that Lautenberg refused to attend, forcing Forrester to debate an empty chair. According to the station's news director, "Lautenberg is the first statewide candidate in about 10 years to refuse to appear."

Terrorists Take 500 to 700 People Hostage in Moscow

BBC News is reporting that Chechen rebels stormed a theater in Moscow, taking hundreds hostage. The attack has gone largely unreported in the United States, due to the focus on the D.C.-area sniper investigation. According to another report, up to 150 of the attendees had been released or escaped and "children and Muslims were freed from the theater" by the terrorists.

Root DNS Servers Survive DDOS Attack

The Washington Post called Monday's Distributed Denial of Service Attack on the 13 root DNS servers "the largest ever attack on the Internet." You could have fooled us, because the story never got close to the front pages of the mainstream media, given all the attention devoted to the sniper who is besieging the Washington, DC area.

Many of us in this country, including the police and newsmedia, are now fairly dependent upon wireless email devices like Blackberry pagers and Handspring Treos. These wireless devices are endpoints that depend upon data being routed to two or three different proxying servers between the time an email reaches your mailbox, and its successful delivery to the client device. If the attack that took place on Monday had been successful, communication to these devices would have been delayed or disrupted.

The media would still have their mobile phones and satellite uplinks. The police would still have their mobile phones and two-way radios. But, we suspect that a wireless email disruption would have had a profound effect on an intense criminal investigation like this one. This is a reason to take the concept behind the National Infrastructure Protection Center more seriously.

October 22, 2002

Political Candidates Run Ads Reminiscent of the Apple "Switch" Campaign

Camworld pointed out that The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Maryland Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bob Ehrlich is running ads reminiscent of the "Switch" ad campaign put on by Apple Computer. This is interesting because, as the article says, the candidates appear to be fighting over a few percentage points. Therefore, personal testimonials may shift the balance.

Latest Sign that Weblogging is a Fad: Doonesbury Strips on Blogging

We'd be remiss if we didn't point out that yesterday's Doonesbury comic strip was about weblogging. The story continues today, with a suggestion that webloggers are plagiarists. Not exactly subtle social commentary on Gary Trudeau's part.

Also, note the fact that the characters are gathered around an iMac. Is this a subtle criticism of the iMac or a plug?

Slash Book Author Writes on Development of Online Communities

Dave Aiello wrote, "chromatic, one of the authors of Running Weblogs with Slash, has written an excellent piece for The O'Reilly Network called Building Online Communities. In it, he discusses the intangibles that help to turn a website into an online community. These include letting the website have a simple and clear purpose, and the power of referrals from already successful online communities."

You'll know you have a healthy community when users comment publicly that "this is the best site I've ever used," "I came here because of the goal, but stay around because of the people I've met," amd "No other place on the Internet is like this." Happy users tend to talk in terms reminiscent of Manifest Destiny and settlers in a little-p paradise. It occurs in almost every healthy, somewhat-social community. Strongly-technical communities, like software development mailing lists, tend not to exhibit this behavior.

Dave Aiello continued, "I read every article of this nature with interest. This is because two of the websites CTDATA manages, AAHArefs and the Rensselaer Club of New Jersey, are online communities whose success can be measured by how often the sites' core users return and how much new information they contribute. "

Dave Aiello continued:

The AAHArefs website has come a long way toward becoming a community this year, but it still needs a compelling reason for community members to return on an on-going basis. RCNJ.org has those draws during the fall and winter sports seasons: RPI Football and RPI Hockey.

It's much easier for people to read about RPI sports results on our website than on others, because we look at three or four websites where sports information might be, and point to the best of sources at the moment. The problem with this strategy is that it generates return traffic, but not user-to-user discussion. Quite often, user-to-user discussion is the strongest indicator of an on-line community.

But, all is not lost in cases like RCNJ.org. chromatic points out that user-to-user discussion is an overrated metric:

Most people participate on the fringes. Most people read and never write. Most writers write only occasionally. Most community members have opinions about the various discussion topics but rarely speak. Don't rely on declarations of undying platonic love. Learn to find esteem in steady growth and repeat users.

When I am looking at my logs, I mentally subtract the number of hits from Google from the total number of hits, and look for a positive trend.

October 15, 2002

Wear a Light When You Run at Night

Dave Aiello wrote, "As we enter Fall, it becomes more and more difficult for me to find the time to exercise in daylight hours. This year, I am trying something new in order to allow me to enjoy running after darkness has fallen: a mountaineering headlamp. I bought a Black Diamond Gemini headlamp at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports in Princeton, NJ about two weeks ago, and I have been very satisfied with it."

"Black Diamond Equipment claims that the halogen bulb in the Gemini throws light up to 210 feet when its three AA batteries are fresh. This is important when you are running in very dark areas like the residential neighborhoods of Mercer County, where street lights are few and far between. The entire headlamp, including batteries, weight 7.8 ounces on my postal scale. I paid $38.50 for it, plus tax, so it was not the cheapest headlamp available, nor was it the most expensive."

"The Gemini fits very well on my head. There are two points where the straps can be adjusted. The battery compartment is shaped to fit against the back of my head at about ear level. The only design issue I have with the Gemini is that it should have a piece of reflective tape on the back of the battery compartment, to make me more visible from the rear. This is easily fixed, but, why not include it in the first place?"

Dave Aiello continued:

Drivers seem to see the light well when they approach me and it does not seem to distract them. I assume that it looks like a flashlight to many drivers, although a few have slowed down to see what kind of light I'm carrying.

If you are running at night in dark areas, I would definitely recommend using a lighting device like a mountaineering headlamp. I feel a lot more visible when I'm wearing it, and it makes it much easier to avoid obstacles on sidewalks and roadsides.

McGreevey Proposes Merger of Rutgers, UMDNJ, NJIT

The Star-Ledger is reporting that Governor McGreevey announced his merger plan for the state's universities yesterday. We discussed the possibility of such a merger earlier this year on CTDATA.com.

So little is known about the proposal, that it's hard to know how anyone could take a position on it at this point. The timing of the announcement, however, is curious. It comes very quickly after Governor McGreevey got heavily involved in the Torricelli-Lautenberg candidacy "transition", and could take the state-wide media's focus off of that issue for a few days. If you are a supporter of the Democratic Party in the Garden State, you might consider this a shrewd move.

Bali: Not in Our Backyard

Dave Aiello wrote, "Articles are beginning to appear in the Australian press indicating that the American press is ignoring the impact of the terrorist attack in Bali on Australia. Perhaps that is true of the mainstream press and television, although Talk Radio has been all over this issue."

"What's really amazing about this story is that Australians apparently didn't see themselves as being in danger until al Qaeda bombed a vacation destination in a nearby country. Apparently, they didn't look at the World Trade Center and see the Sydney Opera House or another famous landmark in Australia itself as a possible terrorist target."

"But now that perhaps 200 or 300 Australians have perished, that country appears to have realized it too is vulnerable. We, as Americans, must remember what a shock 9/11 was to us, and try to be supportive to the Australian people. And, we need to insist that our media pay equal attention to terrorist attacks wherever they occur."

October 14, 2002

Microsoft Switch Scam Uncovered

Microsoft has been caught red-handed in an attempt to manufacture a person who switched from using a Macintosh to using a Windows PC. The scam was exposed and documented in a little over three hours by the collective observational skills of readers of several prominent weblogs.

2:49 pm: The investigation began on Slashdot where the story Microsoft Tries a "Switch" Campaign documented an alleged first person account of a freelance writer who switched to Windows. Authenticity of the article was immediately questioned, because the freelance writer was shown in a photo, but not named.

3:02 pm: A Slashdot reader posts a comment pointing out that photograph that Microsoft used on its web page also appears on a Getty Images web site. Getty Images is a well known provider of stock photography.

4:56 pm: Dave Winer of Scripting News points to the controversy, lamenting the fact that Microsoft removed the web page from their site.

5:30 pm: Dave Winer reports that several of his readers provided links to screen shots of the Microsoft web page or cached copies of the web page.

Update: Now, the Associated Press has jumped into the fray. But, instead of confirming the entire ad is a hoax, they have run a story claiming that the AP identified the actual person who gave the testimonial.

October 13, 2002

NY Times: Could Slashdot be the 21st Century Model for Internet Publishing?

Monday's New York Times contains an article called Site for the Truly Geeky Makes a Few Bucks that is entirely about Slashdot, one of our favorite websites. There are a few tongue-in-cheek quotes from Rob Malda, as if he would ever say anything out of character for publication. Jeff Bates plays the straight man in the article, acting as if he is the only member of the Slashdot management team who gets the nuances of the business.

There are also a few gratuitous comments from industry experts who are there to give the article gravitas. What makes their presence in the article funnier is that they seem to have gotten their experience at defunct web sites. This must make them qualified to put Slashdot's success in perspective.

October 11, 2002

"The Cell" Makes the Potential of Radical Islamic Terrorism More Understandable

Dave Aiello wrote, "I just finished reading The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, And Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It and I recommend it highly. Before I started reading 'The Cell', I had read as many news accounts of the War on Terrorism as I could. But, the depth and complexity of newspaper and magazine articles on this or any subject is limited."

"I found that this book helped me put together a lot of the pieces of information that I had gathered from news accounts. For instance, I remembered that Meir Kahane was assassinated in New York City in 1990, but I was not aware of the extent to which that assassination was linked to subsequent terrorist activity in the United States and abroad. John Miller and Michael Stone, the co-authors of this book, draw clear connections between the Kahane assassination, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and 9/11."

"The book also delves into the politics of the relationship between the NYPD, the FBI, and the CIA. All of these organizations were proud of their independence and protective of their roles in terror attack investigations and counter intelligence. This contributed to the myopia that caused all levels of government to miss opportunities to stop the 9/11 attacks. But, the book also points out a number of coincidental developments that diverted the government's attention from what would have been productive investigations."

Dave Aiello continued:

'The Cell' also recounts an interview that John Miller did with Osama bin Laden for ABC's 20/20 prior to the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa. In retrospect, bin Laden served notice on American television that his organization was planning major attacks on U.S. interests. It's interesting to hear Miller's perspective in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, particularly since he was so close to a number of the investigative people who lost their lives on that fateful day.

But the real power of the book, in my opinion, is its ability to create in me a sense of the potential damage that radical Islamic terrorist groups could inflict on Western countries in the future. Once I got into the book, I began seeing connections between seemingly disconnected events. Only then did it become clear to me that these organizations had built up their capability to attack the United States from within over a period of years. The attack on 9/11, therefore, was not beginner's luck.

The best way to head off attacks that might occur in the near future is probably to infiltrate groups that are already present in the United States and other Western countries. But this infiltration must occur on a much deeper level than had previously been possible. Counter intelligence agencies also need dramatically greater access to cultural resources: translators, experts on Middle Eastern culture, and historians. Had some of these resources been available prior to 9/11, anti-terror investigators might have pieced together information they already had to uncover a part of the plot.

Norwegian Rope-a-Dope

The New York Times reported that Jimmy Carter was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. But, the Times article goes on to say:

In remarks to reporters after the announcement, {Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Gunnar} Berge said that Mr. Carter had been nominated for the peace prize "many, many times" but that a major reason that he was finally selected was that he represented a counterpoint to the militancy of President Bush.

In many ways, it's surprising that President Carter would accept the award after the chairman of the committee put his selection in that context. His acceptance of the award may be considered by some further evidence of the end of the time-honored saying that American politics ends at the water's edge.

We view the explicit politicization of President Carter's award as an insult to both President Bush and President Carter. The Nobel Committee says that this is an opportunity for them to make up for the fact that they failed to award President Carter the Peace Prize in 1978 for his work on the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Agreement. But, their chairman's crude attempt at insulting President Bush makes this an even more hollow gesture than it otherwise would be.

October 9, 2002

Slate Predicts End of TiVo, At Least as We Know It Today

Slashdot pointed out that Slate is running an article that says the demise of TiVo is inevitable, at least in its current form as a free standing digital video recording appliance connected to your TV.

The early comments on Slashdot point out that Slate is a Microsoft publication, and has not been above spreading Microsoft FUD in the past. These critics say that Microsoft would rather have you buy an Xbox with TiVo-like functionality than TiVo itself.

October 7, 2002

Article Points to Design Issues in Current Apple Titanium Powerbooks

Stephan Somogyi wrote an article for ZDNet AnchorDesk called Apple's iBook: Why it's not just for home, anymore. In it he makes a number of points about Apple's top-of-the-line laptop, the Apple PowerBook Titanium 800MHz G4 that have not been widely publicized. Among them:

  • "It still gets quite warm after prolonged use"
  • "{It is} a bit larger than desired, especially when you're trying to get work done in {an airplane}", and
  • "{It has} poor wireless connectivity" in spite of the fact that it has a built-in Airport {WiFi} network interface.

The revelation about poor wireless networking is particularly interesting, in light of Apple's leading role in development of wireless networking. The article takes the form of an appeal to Apple to make a business-oriented version of its smaller laptop, the iBook. But, in our view, it says more about reasons to consider holding off on buying Apple's flagship laptop until these issues are addressed.

BBC: Small Craft Rammed Oil Tanker Prior to Explosion

The BBC is reporting that French shipping officials believe that a small craft rammed their oil tanker prior to the explosion in the Arabian Sea over the weekend. According to the report, "A junior officer on board the Limburg reported seeing a small craft 'fast approaching' the tanker in the port of Ash Shihr... and believes the two vessels touched before an explosion occurred."

The article goes on to say that the "Limburg was a new, double-hulled ship, and was barely moving at the time of the explosion, which took place during good weather.... {The} force of the apparent impact had pierced both hulls and penetrated 7-8 metres into the cargo hold.... {Only} a very large ship, or one moving at 'serious speeds' would be able to cause that damage."

All of this information calls into question the Yemeni government suggestion that the explosion was not the result of sabotage. Maybe Yemen is making a distinction between sabotage and a terrorist attack.

October 5, 2002

Forbes ASAP is Latest New Economy Magazine to Close

Dave Aiello wrote, "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that The New York Times reported yesterday that Forbes ASAP has ceased publication. This was one of the first magazines dedicated to the so-called 'new economy' that is now so out of favor. The most interesting comment I've read about this story is on Werblog by Kevin Werbach."

"Commenting on the notion that there will be another boom in the business cycle, and new magazines will be born to cover it, Werbach said:"

That's absolutely the wrong way to think about things. It's true that business is cyclical, but it's not a perfect sine wave. You could have said during the 1972-74 bear market that stocks would come back, and you would have been right. They came back... starting in 1982. The period between 1994 and early 2000 was extraordinary, the likes of which we may never see again in a lifetime. I'm an optimist about the future, both in terms of technology and business opportunities, but we have to put out of our minds the notion that the current doldrums are but a temporary pause.

October 2, 2002

We're Number One on Google! Whoops. What a Minute....

Dave Aiello wrote, "I noticed that Dave Winer has been speculating that Google has tweaked their PageRank algorithm because his site isn't number one when you search for Dave anymore. He then went on to point out a whole discussion thread where people who refer to themselves as search engine optimizers are complaining that Google is monkeying with their livelyhoods. I agree with Dave Winer when he says:"

When people {who do search engine optimization for a living} say they're taking food out of their family's mouth, I think they should get a real job. Depending on the vagaries of an algorithm programmed by engineers at a VC-backed Silicon Valley dotcom-vestigial company is not a good idea. A bit of friendly advice.. Don't tell the loan officer at the bank that's how you're making your mortgage payments.

Dave Aiello continued, "Search engine optimization makes selling used books on Amazon.com look like a straight-forward way to make money."

Microsoft Rolls Up Another Set of DRM Patents

The Register reported that Microsoft has purchased the Patent library of Liquid Audio. This provides the company with another suite of Digital Rights Management (DRM) patents that may make it easier for them to control the distribution of copyrighted entertainment in the future.

The scary part of this story is the price reportedly paid for the patents: $7 million for 20 or more U.S. and foreign patents. Seven million dollars is a very low price, considering what Microsoft will probably be able to charge in the future when it uses its formidable library of patents in conjunction with the newly acquired ones.