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April 27, 2003

AP: Buggy Software Increasingly a Problem with Consumer-Oriented Goods

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier today Slashdot pointed out an article that CNN published from The Associated Press called Spread of Buggy Software Raises New Questions. This is a very timely article that calls attention to a lot of little problems that people experience on a day-to-day basis, frustrate them beyond belief, but are never fully addressed due to the lack of focus on total quality in software. The article begins:"

When his dishwasher acts up and won't stop beeping, Jeff Seigle turns it off and then on, just as he does when his computer crashes. Same with the exercise machines at his gym and his CD player....

Dave Aiello continued, "Where can I start with my personal experiences that reinforce the anecdotes in this story? How about the annoying little bugs in the firmware for the Handspring Treo 180? A great example is the SMS application. I have had a Treo for more than a year, but I have never been able to hit the reply button to simply send a reply to an SMS message sent through the T-Mobile SMS-Internet email gateway."

"The reason is that the Treo thinks the message came from the SMS gateway and not from the original sender's email address. I've seen this problem thousands of times, I know how to fix it, I've told Handspring, yet the problem has never been fixed. The result is a small productivity loss every time I receive an SMS message to which I want to respond."

"I guess in the continuum of bugs that software developers have to deal with, this is low on the global triage list. Without a doubt, no one has died as a result of it. But, it's annoying if you communicate with your family the way I do. My wife is a pediatric resident, and pager-to-pager communication is our main mode of communication during the business day. So for us, this bug would be a fairly high priority. But, how many other Treo users are like us?"

"This is one personal example of a bug that wastes a little of my time every day. More examples from your own life may come to mind if you read this excellent article from the Associated Press."

Tim O'Reilly Calls Amazon Web Services One of Four Killer Apps on His Radar Screen

Dave Aiello wrote, "The other day ExtremeTech.com reported that Tim O'Reilly labeled Amazon Web Services one of four up-and-coming "killer apps" driven by hacker cultures that he expects to become extremely influential as the Internet continues to develop. This insight was provided at the O'Reilly Radar talk at O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference that took place at the end of this past week in Santa Clara."

"I've generated a large percentage of CTDATA's recent income from small applications written with Amazon Web Services, and I agree that the opportunities to make money with that technology are not widely understood. I can also say with some confidence that I know of no one who is getting rich off of what they built with Amazon Web Services yet. Therefore, it's also reasonable to conclude, if only from personal experience, that some of the people doing the best work with Amazon Web Services didn't make the conference."

"One day I hope to be able to commericialize one of the small applications that I have built with Amazon Web Services, and make it available to others in the Internet community in exchange for small payments for its use. I'm deliberately hedging on this because I am still not sure which part of the tool set I am developing will be the one that I will ultimately want to productize, or when I will be able to do it."

"Part of the problem is that I can't stop trying to generate income with what I have already developed until income from other sources increases and stablilizes. This is a rather bizarre chicken-or-the-egg problem, IMHO. Imagine developing a nascent technology to the point where it is just barely usable, then using it for nine months to generate income, sharing it with a few very close friends, but never finding the money to make it any more real. So far, this is CTDATA's record with Amazon Web Services. And, it's one of my greatest current frustrations."

April 22, 2003

TiVo Releases Developer Kit for Series2 Home Media Option

Dave Aiello wrote, "On his O'Reilly Weblog, William Grosso points out that TiVo has released a developer kit for the Home Media Option that's available on its
TiVo Series2 Digital Video Recorder
. Apparently, the reason they relased an SDK is to get help from the developer community to support media formats that are not as widely used as formats like JPEG or MP3. The also want help providing TiVo Desktop functionality on operating systems other than the ones they support out-of-the-box (i.e. Windows 98, ME, 2000, or XP, and Apple Macintosh OS X)."

"The TiVo Series2 is something I have on my wishlist at Amazon.com. It lets you record TV programs, but it also allows you to display digital photos and display MP3s. It's much more of a home media center than the original TiVo. My wife and I have a 'Series1' TiVo and we love it."

New Jersey Modernizing Motor Vehicle Licensing

Dave Aiello wrote, "The Newark Star-Ledger reports that New Jersey will finally upgrade its motor vehicle licensing system in order to reduce the incidence of identity theft and fraud. The new issuance procedure will begin in July and initially target 'people whose documents raised suspicions', including absent or incomplete Social Security Numbers, duplicate licenses that have been issued, and undeliverable home addresses."

"This process cannot begin soon enough. Many people in New Jersey know that the Department of Motor Vehicles is a national security risk. Today's procedures have numerous loop holes that have been abused for years. People who have entered the country illegally have used the DMV to legitimize themselves, and most law-abiding citizens have no idea that this takes place."

"Although delays at DMV offices may be lengthy, New Jerseyans should realize that an overall increase in the validity of drivers licenses is in everyone's interest."

April 17, 2003

What Happens to Linux Users When ISPs Block DSL-Hosted Mail Servers?

Dave Aiello wrote, "A number of news sites (including Slashdot) have started reporting that various major ISPs are blocking mail that appears to originate from mail servers running on DSL subnets. I didn't think of this initially, but, what are you supposed to do if you have more than one Linux machine in your house and you forward the mail for the root user to a single email address for review?"

"At my place, I have two Linux machines running on a DHCP subnet that have .forward files in the root user directory. Now, these mails forward to a ctdata.com address, which is our own server and it's colo-ed. So, this isn't a big problem for me at the moment. But, other people who spend less money on their infrastructure than we do might be running into problems already."

April 16, 2003

Survey: Over 40 Percent of Americans Don't Use the Internet

Dave Aiello wrote, "The Washington Post reports in Thursday's edition that 42 percent of Americans do not use the Internet according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project."

"They don't call lack of Internet access The Digital Divide for nothing. I don't want to embarass anyone, but, will the members of my family who shall remain nameless consider joining us out here, at least for a few moments a day? It would be a lot easier for us to communicate if everyone truly used email."

CNN Accidentally Puts Obituaries for Still-Living Celebrities on Public Web Server

You have to wonder how much credibility CNN has left. Nearly a week after the incredible revelations by CNN executive Eason Jordan that CNN did not tell anything approaching the complete story of the now-deposed regime in Iraq comes the embarassing disclosure of what could best be described as provisional obituaries for major media figures like Dick Cheney and Pope John Paul II. This story was broken by The Smoking Gun and FARK.com.

We have all heard that media organizations prepare obituaries on celebrities in advance, in case they need to be used. But, web-based media organizations like CNN.com ought to be smart enough to keep those obituaries on a staging server behind the firewall. Right?

The question that probably ties this story together best is: Why didn't they set one up for Saddam Hussein?

Lance and Kristin Armstrong Working at Marriage Reconcilliation

Good news for Lance Armstrong fans: The Associated Press reports that Lance and Kristin Armstrong are working at reconciling their differences and the family expects to be present during Lance Armstrong's defense of the Tour de France championship. This is wonderful news. In a quote attributed to a forthcoming article in Outside Magazine, Kristin said:

We've had six homes, three languages, two countries, one cancer comeback, three children, four Tour de France wins and one rise to celebrity. You're not supposed to cram such a huge amount of events into such a small period of time.

Anyone who's read Lance's book
It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life
knows exactly what Kristin is talking about. They also know how much Lance's wife and family mean to him.

At CTDATA, we don't think about Lance Armstrong as a Tour de France champion, or as a marketable commodity. He is an inspiration for anyone who has to overcome large odds to achieve goals and be the person that they want to be. As such, we hope that he and Kristin work out the issues between them. That would revalidate them as the role models that we think they are.

April 12, 2003

Now Running Newsmonster Under Mozilla 1.2.1 for Windows

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last month I wrote about the initial release of Newsmonster, a cross-platform news aggregator that requires Mozilla and Java. I suggested that this would be a great alternative to products like Radio from Userland or Amphetadesk, because it is more cross-platform than Radio and more integrated into Mozilla than Amphetadesk."

"I bought a license for the Pro version of Newsmonster. This is the one that's supposed to be ad free and easier to install than the free version. It's definitely a breeze to install on Windows. But, I couldn't get it to install cleanly on my Red Hat 7.2 laptop."

"This is frustrating, but I understand Kevin Burton's emphasis on getting it right on the high volume user platforms before he really starts a significant effort to support the geeks. I'm going to try to use Newsmonster on my Windows 2000 desktop and report on its usefulness sometime next week. In the meantime, I would say that Linux users should be warned that there may be a good deal of head-scratching to do to get Newsmonster running. I have given up on getting it running on Linux for the time being."

April 11, 2003

T-Mobile SMS Messaging Had a 40 Hour Service Impairment

Dave Aiello wrote, "On Wednesday afternoon, I was in Allentown, PA, when my mobile phone inexplicably stopped receiving SMS messages. This is a real problem because I have built a database application that I communicate with via SMS. As a result of the SMS network problems, I had to stop my work and return to my office in East Windsor, NJ, some 90 miles away."

"You'd think that T-Mobile, my mobile phone carrier, would have a good explanation for why this happened. All they could tell me when I called them was:"

  1. There is a problem with text message reception.
  2. We have no more details.
  3. We don't have an ETA for restoration.
  4. You can't determine the status of our text messaging service without calling us on the phone.

"This problem persisted until 8:00am Eastern Time this morning. That's over 40 hours from the time I first noticed it."

"Hey T-Mobile, this is unacceptable. You and your competitors advertise this service relentlessly. But when there is a problem, you treat text messaging as a non-essential feature. It's as if everyone is sending How RU? messages to their girlfriends."

"I sent a letter to Tim Wong, T-Mobile USA's Executive Vice President for Engineering and Technical Operations, telling him that the response to this outage was not acceptable, and that professional users of SMS need to be able to determine if there is a network problem without calling consumer-oriented Customer Care. We'll see if I get a response."

Apple Computer Reportedly Offers $5 to 6 Billion for Universal Music Group

A number of web sites are reporting that Apple Computer is in talks with Vivendi Universal to buy the Universal Music Group. Apple is reportedly offering between $5 and 6 billion for the company that markets the music of 50 Cent, U2, Shania Twain, and Luciano Pavarotti. According to the article:

Defying conventional wisdom, {Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs} apparently is betting that music is finally on the verge of becoming a profitable presence on the Internet. Apple has been quietly testing a service that some music business insiders believe could pave the way for widespread online distribution of songs.

People who have tried the service, expected to debut by the end of April, say it makes downloading and purchasing music as simple and non-technical as buying a book from Amazon.com. It allows users to buy and download songs to their computers with a single click and to transfer the music automatically to their portable MP3 players.

If a transaction like this were to take place, imagine the huge changes that it would cause in the entertainment industry. Think also of the implications for the personal computer industry.

A deal between technology and entertainment companies may be what is necessary to pull the music industry out of its steep decline. But, the changes that would have to be made to the music industry would go beyond the way music is distributed. The entire recording company management, record production, and musician promotion processes would have to be re-engineered. After all, Sony hasn't solved the problems with its record business, and it's a technology company.

April 10, 2003

OSCOM 3 Agenda is Partially Closed to Slash

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last week, I reported that OSCOM3 is being held in May in Cambridge, MA, and Slash is not represented on any of the panels. I wrote to the conference organizers asking if it was too late for Slash to be involved in any formal presentations. Yesterday, I received an email from Elisabeth Balzer representing the conference organizers, who said:"

Unfortunately the program for the OSCOM3 conference from 28-30 May 2003 has already been decided. However, we would be happy to provide you with an opportunity to hold a Birds-of-Feather session during the conference.

If you haven't done so already, please join the OSCOM 3 conference participants mailing list at http://lists.oscom.org/mailman/listinfo.cgi/participants where we will announce the details for holding Birds-of-Feather sessions.

"Now that we know that a BOF session is a possibility, is this something that would be of interest to the Slash community? Write to me at dave_aiello at ctdata.com if you have an opinion."

April 9, 2003

In Memory of David Bloom, NBC Correspondent

Dave Aiello wrote, "CTDATA notes the untimely death of David Bloom of NBC News from a pulmonary embolism. At the time of his death, Bloom was an embedded correspondent with the Third Infantry Division, en route to Baghdad."

"In the week before he died, David Bloom caught my imagination with the innovative broadcast techniques he was using to create visually clear and distinctive reports from the battlefield in Iraq. Apparently, I am not the only technology fan who noticed."

"The Bloommobile, a modified M-88 Tank Recovery vehicle, was the only mobile broadcast facility that seemed able to keep up with the army's rapid advance across the Iraqi desert. According to the tribute article on MSNBC.com:"

Bloom and his cameraman mounted a gyrostabilized camera — the kind that’s mounted on helicopters — to produce jiggle-free video even when the M-88 was bumping along at 50 mph or more. Then the sharper-than-videophone signal was sent via microwave to a converted Ford F-450 crew-cab truck, two to 10 miles farther back in the column. An antenna on the truck transmitted the signal in real time from its own gyrostabilized platform to an overhead satellite, which relayed it to NBC.

"This could never have been done before because the concept of embedded correspondents itself is novel in this war. I expect that this type of broadcast will become a staple of coverage of future military actions."

"I was so taken by the reports that David Bloom was making last week that I brought it up to friends of mine at an ice hockey tournament at which I was officiating. Normally, hockey offcials would not discuss new technologies employed by television news correspondents at a national championship tournament."

"It's a tragedy that Bloom died from an embolism. According to an account in BusinessWeek by Frederik Balfour, Bloom sought medical advice and was told that he might have deep vein thrombosis which should be treated. He probably interpreted this the way most young men would-- he was told there was a small risk of something very bad happening and he decided that it probably wouldn't happen to him. I'm not sure what anyone who was in the midst of one of the hottest news story of the decade-- who already had a large slice of America's attention-- would have done differently."

"The heartbreaking part of this story is that his family has lost a husband and a father. Bloom died doing something he obviously loved, but, I'm sure we all wish that he hadn't been so caught up in the intensity of the march to Baghdad."

April 2, 2003

Why Isn't Slashcode Being Represented at OSCOM 3?

Dave Aiello wrote, "Early this morning, Dave Winer said that he will be making a keynote presentation at OSCOM 3 from May 28-30, 2003, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. OSCOM is the Open Source Content Management Conference, and it has been held previously in Zurich, Switzerland and Berkeley, California."

"Until I saw the story on Scripting News, I did not know that OSCOM was being held again. My biggest question about this conference is: Why isn't the Slash project being represented? Slash isn't even listed on the OSCOM Content Management System Matrix."

"I think that the Slash community ought to try to represent itself at this conference, even at this late date. I am going to try to make contact with the event organizers and see if there is any interest in participation from the Slash community. I will also submit a story to Slashcode.com and suggest that the community organize some sort of participation."

April 1, 2003

Useit.com Makes a New Case for Intranet Portals

Yesterday, Jakob Nielsen published an article in his Alertbox series that makes the case for building intranet portals, and offers the unique argument that portals can actually reduce intranet costs. This is interesting because previous corporate portal construction efforts involved tying together departmental web sites. This article suggests that the portal itself could be a standardized publishing environment instead of just an integration platform.

This is really worth considering, in light of recent corporate IT cost rationalization efforts. Many departmental web sites were expensive and poorly executed. Perhaps a new centralization effort gives departments of medium to large corporations another chance to build usable web-based information systems.

Blogrolling.com Makes Several Changes to User Interface and Features

Yesterday, Jason DeFillipo announced that he has rolled out a series of changes to Blogrolling.com. He notes that he has automated the PayPal interface for subscribers. This means that the advanced features that are available only to paying customers are accessible immediately after payment. This is a significant improvement over the previous mechanism, which required administrator intervention between payment and access to the advanced features.

DeFillipo has also made a number of user interface changes. One important change is the removal of the blogroll list from a registered user's home page. The blogrolls have been moved to their own page, accessible via the tabbed interface.

The biggest issues with the new user interface are the width of the graphics at the top of the page, and the placement of the home button on the far right of that graphic. On at least one computer that runs Mozilla 1.0.1 on Red Hat 7.2, the "BLOGrolling" graphic and the home icon beneath it are partially beyond the window's edge. If it were up to us, we would switch the home icon with the "Log-out" link. But, on balance, we like the new UI, and continue to recommend the service.