Recently in Technology Category

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Congress at the Detroit COBO Hall. I have always been fascinated with Intelligent Transportation Systems.  It might be worthwhile to define the term Intelligent Transportation Systems. Intelligent Transportation is in part the technology of vehicle telematics and its integration with road systems architecture. Ultimately, the cooperation of public and private sectors coupled with social and political issues are the very issues that are retarding the progress of Intelligent Transportation Systems. Nonetheless, I was fascinated with the exhibit vendors and the amount of enthusiasm of the conference participants.

Perhaps the most remarkable trend was the sheer number of camera manufacturers that were showcasing the latest optics technology. Some of it was rather unsettling to say the least. Just imagine the odd "Point of Interest" scenarios. I asked one vendor if they were capable of facial recognition or whether or not vendors who sell these cameras have any obligation to public privacy.  Well, this particular vendor answered no to both question.  Regarding the matter of public privacy, the vendor simply stated that he does not worry about social ramifications, he only had time for solving the difficult technical questions associated with cameras (ie optics, light refraction, etc).  Methinks every engineer should always consider the social ramifications of their inventions or work. The advancement of the human condition should always be more than a simple noble pursuit.  Sigh, I digress.

I also noticed that while the keynote speakers were well represented by Detroit automaker CEOs (ie Ford Motor and GM), the Detroit automakers were largely absent elsewhere at the Congress save the ubiquitous automobile display by one OEM. Perhaps this would be due in part the dearth of quasi-public partnerships within the ITS ecosystem? Maybe it is a matter of priorities? Who knows, time will tell.

Though there were several other talks that I would have liked to attend, my time was limited as I still had office commitments. Regardless, the following topics captured my attention -

The drone or UAV phenomenon has been rather fascinating to me. In part because I like the idea of being able to perform surveillance within the confines of property. Moreover, the prospect for ITS is limitless. Consider the following scenario - a chemical waste truck over turns in the middle of an intersection of a well populated community. For whatever reason the vehicle failed to negotiate an overpass, as its payload was roughly twenty inches too high and the payload bed hits the underpass and flips over.  Very nasty accident which has the ability to become a major catastrophe.  The chemical compound is unstable at ambient temps of 70F, so the inert container has been ruptured and this chemical is leaking onto the road.

Legacy ITS systems generally utilize the ubiquitous Variable Messages Signs (VMS), which are networked to show existing road conditions but a certainly not very dynamic.  These blinking visual digital displays will alert motorists to current road conditions, but with very little detail aside from simple road congestion and expect delays.  However, if you are able to leverage UAV data gathered from the chemical spill crash site. Perhaps UAV craft has cameras, sampling apparatus to deliver chemical parts per million(PPM) toxicity information to first responders.  Motorists would also get alerts at the center stack of their instrumentation panels, alerting them of a nasty chemical spill with alternate travel routes to consider. 

Basically the UAV would easily save lives by going into life threatening situations that are simply not feasible for humans.  Moreover, the cost of the hardware used to outfit the UAV are surprisingly low considering the net benefit.

The sexy buzzword of the day was big data and it was well covered at the ITS Congress.
I was interested in the various aspects of the conversation (ie ethics, management, mining techniques). Because I had limited time, I opted for the management and ethics conversation. I figured it would give me a broader scope analysis, but after listening to the panel discussion it became clear that I would have been better served by going to the more technical discussion on Hadoop and Strata.  Data storage is not really as a big a problem as it was just 5-10 years ago. The NSA and other government agencies have already demonstrated this fact. I suppose the more interesting conversation would be the responsible governance of this data.  If the ITS is to flourish the data collected must be made available to all. The privacy concerns are real, but I assert that if you truly are concerned about ethical management of so-called big data, you must make every effort to make it openly available and not solely at the disposal of government agencies and law officials.  I am certain that more discourse is needed in this space as the technologies evolve and the politicians become more educated on the matter.


Project Heresy Redux

linux_inside

linux_inside (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

Some years ago I described my experiences converting a non-technical computer user to the Linux desktop. In fact, it was nearly 10 years ago to be precise. I remark on that experience now as there is a great deal of talk regarding the end-of-life of M$ XP and the real possibility of Linux replacing XP or at least having common Windows users considering Linux as a viable candidate.

Although, my first experience working with a novice and non-technical user was clearly a mixed bag at best. In truth, that experience could be considered a failure due to the fact that particular user complained that there was no exact replacement to Outlook. Another issue was certain attachments did not open upon clicking the hypertext link in the email.  All of these are valid points, but honestly that was over 10yrs ago and the Linux desktop has made great strides in the quality department.  In truth, I have not used Evolution in quite awhile, so I do not know if their design and software development strategy is still to simply mimic Outlook. Hopefully, the Evolution project has evolved to do far more than mimicking a commercial piece of software.  For whatever reason, when people are faced with the prospect of using a new software package they automatically think certain commercial packages are the gold standard on how things should work. If the new software offering does not have the identical bells and whistles that they are accustomed, it is assumed to be a shortcoming.

This appears to be flawed reasoning in my book. I digress, but anyway. Now while many people are talking about replacing WinXP with Linux, I am actually getting a chance to do that. One of my friends has decided to take the plunge and replace the XP box with Linux.

His requirements:

  • Share digital media to multiple M$ Windows clients on LAN
  • Access digital content remotely
  • Stream digital content to LAN

It is true that experience is the best teacher, so one of the lessons I learned when I converted a non-technical user to Linux nearly a decade previously is to temper expectations. While I know Linux (and for that matter BSD) is super operating system, it will be a significant challenge for a non-technical random Windows or MacOS user. Particularly if the user has spent their entire computing life using a GUI. It is important to note that there are significant differences from my earlier experience to that which I have been asked to do now. The previous heresy project was strictly geared around userland applications or desktop computer usage. In contrast, the present task at hand is to deliver a Linux server and not a desktop computer. The entire interaction will be done via command line and web browser. A typical headless monster scenario.

I explained in no uncertain terms that a computer lab book and help texts would be in order. I forewarned them that they would get frustrated, as the learning curve would be steep initially. Most importantly, I told them not to blame me, as they asked for the transition :-)

Again, I chose Debian as the GNU/Linux distribution.  Not sure if Ubuntu was available a decade ago, but perhaps I would have chosen that distro for the previous heresy project. Only because the desktop experience may have been a bit more polished with sufficient hand holding.

So in this instance, I set out to do a myriad of software installs. I needed to install a web and file server. SMTP server and some cloud application server software. I settled on Apache, samba, and OwnCloud.  I installed the i386 netinstall for Debian. I had not installed Debian netinstall in some time, as I prefer Slackware for my own use. I noticed thatn f Debian installer seems to assume that everyone users DHCP on their network. What about people that use Debian for a server? Why on earth would you choose DHCP for a server?  This particular default setting forced me to drop into a shell and manipulate network settings manually, so that I could get beyond the base software install. I would suspect that this would clearly intimidate someone coming from the Windows or MacOS world. Outside of this snafu the install was rather uneventful. I setup initrd and LVM. 

Sharing digital media to the clients on the local area network can be done with samba and Owncloud. Not tough at all.  Accessing digital content remotely requires a bit of finesse for an elegant solution. Obviously ssh is all most geeks needs, but that is not good enough for non-technical end-user. I installed OpenSSL and of course openssh. I explained that self-signed certificates would be best and most cost effective alternative.  I also showed them dyndns.org and their service for registering dynamic IP address. I instructed them on the use of puTTY software for secure access to Linux box from Windows computer. 

Thus far all is going well. I still need clean up the self-signed OpenSSL certificates, so that they can access OwnCloud with https secure protocol.

I will update everyone on the progress of this project at my earliest convenience.



Yet another installment of our Foray series of technical discussions. It has been quite some time since my last installment.  In a manner of speaking I have been otherwise preoccupied. Well over the past few weeks I have learned about the original IOS, that is the Cisco proprietary operating system for all of their networking devices. Perhaps one day I will sit for the CCNA exam?

I digress; however, I do plan to talk about my crash course indoctrination into Level 3 or managed switches. Suffice to say I have much to learn about IOS.

What exactly is hardware virtualization?    Why should it interest you?

Well most people now understand that there is generally a cost penalty for proliferating bare metal computing.  More specifically, for every computer running in your home there is some measure of power consumption penalty. In truth, I have never taken the time to calculate how much electricity our home servers consume during an average month.  In the basement, I run a VPN/gateway, PBX (aka re-purposed HP Pavilion running OpenBSD), Slackware workstation (aka AG desktop), managed 24 port switch, and a wi-fi access point. Actually, there were two more machines that ran continuously, but have since been retired (ie yet another HP Pavilion whose proprietary power supply failed and Pentium III based machine that ran my mythtv setup). Needless to say that is a healthy power consumption. I would guess at minimum each machine could easily consume 350W depending upon computation load.

I suppose the delightful promise of virtualization is the ability to spin-up an instance of your preferred operating system within seconds and then possibly deploy it locally or remotely.

Of course locally would suggest that you are running it on your own hardware and remotely would suggest that you are leasing space with a vendor (ie virtual private server, amazon ec2, or more recently GOOG).

Please note that this blog entry will not be an exhaustive explanation of para-virtualization and the differences between various commercially available hypervisors (ie virtualbox, Xen, etc). That is beyond the scope of this post and will be left as an exercise for the reader.  I merely wish to discuss my experiences with QEMU / KVM. 

Firstly, it is important to note that KVM is a kernel based virtualization strategy, which enables total virtualization of guest operating system of your choosing. It is not a para-virtualization platform like Xen. Perhaps what I like most about KVM is that the project is not owned or managed by a corporate conglomerate. So, there is no concern about the codebase being managed by shareholder interests. Since KVM is tightly bound to the kernel, you can expect it to work as advertised without issue.

For those of you who are already familiar with QEMU, you will note that it was the first Open Source alternative to VMWare. Apparently the project founder, Fabrice Bellard was more interested in a stable software than making a market splash. It would appear that the project has been in existence for at least 8yrs and it just reached v2.0.

When I was initially introduced to virtualization circa 2001, I used the student edition of VMWare, which I believe was v1.0. It was truly a memory hog, but certainly less painful than dual booting. At that time, the only reason I cared to explore hardware virtualization was to run the odd M$ Windows program. Fast forward to present date, I can attest that running Win7, Android or PC-BSD as a guest OS would offer immediate value.

I often am faced with supporting end-users who only run Win7, so I really needed to use my _legal_ copy of Win7 Pro and extract the CD image.  Below is the script that I ran at the command line to create the virtual machine.  The flags are interesting, but before I get into them let me share a bit of my experience running QEMU-KVM on Slackware.

qemu-system-x86_64 -enable-kvm -localtime -m 1000 -hda /home/agreen/.aqemu/Windows_7_HDA.img -cdrom /dev/cdrom -boot d

While you do not need to run an GUI to control and manage virtual machine instances, it is convenient to actually organize each of your virtual guests. Especially, if you are running several instances. In my case, I only ran one guest OS, and I chose aqemu. Some people seem to prefer virtmanager, but aqemu was simple enough to use and had a fairly lightweight GTK style GUI.

I immediately, discovered a well documented bug within Cairo, one of the graphical libraries. After perusing the Interwebs, I was able to install the latest Cairo library from Slackware-Current.  Apparently, the cairo library provided with Slackware 14.0 had some weird issue that prevented the aqemu window from refreshing or simply being drawn as expected.


Bridged Networking with KVM

Bridged Networking with KVM (Photo credit: xmodulo)

    

After installing the correct library all worked as expected and I was fascinated on the ease of pausing the guest OS.  I allocated roughly 8GB of disk space to the Win7 instance. As the '-m 1000' flag would suggest, the virtual machine will use 1GB of RAM. Somehow I believe there is a setting that permits the virtual machine to use increased amounts of memory on demand. I am certain that I did not choose that particular option.   /dev/hda was actually a portion of my home partition, managed by LVM.  So, in essence, I could grow the disk if necessary without disrupting anything on my host box. The "/Windows_7_HDA.img -cdrom /dev/cdrom -boot d " statement is simply defining the boot device or path to virtual cdrom drive.  Really fairly simple, I didn't not need any exotic virtual drivers and it did not take several hours to setup or install so do not believe the plethora of erroneous information in circulation regarding running Win7 as a guest OS within QEMU-KVM.

One major issue is the bridging networking feature. By default QEMU will create a virtual network, that will allow the virtual machine to see the outside world, but you will not be able to browse the local area network. After reading alienBOB's wiki, I see there is a means to get around this limitation, but it requires installing and setting up DNSmasq. I will revisit this blog entry once I get a moment to resolve that problem and setup bridged networking as desired.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Telephony Service Provider Musings

Application scenario for Voice over IP (VoIP) ...

Application scenario for Voice over IP (VoIP) with ENUM. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It probably would be good idea to add a couple more blog entries on my experiences with Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSP) and the various expectations one should have when doing business them.

Firstly, it is important to note that my experience has been limited to just four companies.
  • Broadvoice
  • Nufone (now defunct)
  • VoicePulse
  • Flowroute.

Additionally, the comparison will not be exhaustive, but instead simply an observation from a first time telephony experience.  Broadvoice came recommended as a first look effort.
When I say first-look, I am suggesting that they were my first foray into the VoIP and ITSP offerings in general. When I began using Trixbox as my home PBX box in 2006, Broadvoice (BV) was the company that provided me with my first "pay for use" SIP trunk. Note that ekiga.net also provides a SIP trunk which I use quite often, but it has always been provided at no cost. So, I have a free SIP URI compliments of ekiga. I digress.

Since I was experimenting with asterisk, I considered BV to be a low risk investment. They advertised 24-7 tech support and a low cost service plan. They actually were great for the first couple of years that I used them.  For whatever reason they would change their DNS records more often than seemed logical. This alone was not problematic, however, what did become quite irritating was the fact that these changes were never shared with their paying customers. I stress paying customers because if BV _were_ offering a free service, I would have no expectations of uptime or any other quality of service metric. Of course if I am paying, I would want a company to communicate using any possible means,  email, RSS feeds,etc. BV really did not have the staff to make a sincere effort to inform their customer base. Actually, whenever I would call tech support, it would appear that the team was comprised of volunteers or college students.  Often the phone would ring for long stretches of time before anyone answered.  In truth the availability of help desk improved but I still did not like the unexplained outages.

NuFone had a better skilled engineer (I think it was a one-man operation for awhile), but they had scaling problems. Though they were far more knowledgeable than the people at BV, I believe there were several external factors that led them to cease operations. Eventually, Jeremy (Nufone founder) had to move onto other endeavors.

Voicepulse is a more polished company than BV, but I have not been very pleased with their passion for solving problems. They are great at porting DIDs to their trunks, but aside from these types of requests, I have not been overwhelmed by their technical ability.  When you are working with VoIP installations and you are especially with entrenched with SIP, inevitably you will have to deal with RTP and the dreaded 1-way audio. This is particularly true if you have endpoints that are NATd or not physically located on the same subnet as your PBX box.  So it is not uncommon for me to run SIP and RTP traces with ngrep or tcpdump. Admittedly the problems are generally on my side of the switch and not the fault of the ITSP, but I do expect them to be able to provide a comprehensive explanation from the SIP or RTP traces that I provide to them. There have been a couple instances where I have provided the traces from output of say " tcpdump -s 3000 -w my.pcap -i eth0 port 5060 or portrange 10000-30000" .  On one instance I received a fairly comprehensive report from Voicepulse, but with no resolution or direction on how to fix my error.  On another occasion, I got no feedback at all. I have since resolved the issue myself, but it sure would be great if their engineering team would provide a bit of support when requested. A simple response telling me that my trace sucks would be extremely helpful for at least I would know that I needed to dig deeper for resolution. As I become a better network engineer, it is obvious that I will need much less help from the ITSP. Nonetheless, I would venture to guess that most of their customers are not geeks, and do not care to provide SIP traces at all. This would probably explain why their technical support is rather hit or miss.

On the contrary, Flowroute has been hands down the best ITSP to date. Their rates are excellent. Their CEO seems to be connected to the VoIP community-at-large and the company appears to be really passionate about the technology. They really love solving complex and even the not so complex problems. Commitment to customer service is more than a notion, so when a company appears to relish problem solving I really take notice.
Flowroute also advertises and informs its customer base of new product offerings and potential problems.

Well, these are my experiences. Of course your mileage may vary.  I would be curious to learn about what others have witnessed with their ITSP.

OpenSSL and the TLS HeartBleed

I have been fascinated with various news outlets and their coverage of the OpenSSL algorithm bug which effected a large number of servers on the Interwebs.  Actually, I chuckled when my wife shared what she had learned from her social media connections. She said without hesitation, they have found a Linux virus. It became apparent to me that mainstream media still spreads FUD regarding free software. For the record the issue had little to do with Linux. The only common thread is that OpenSSL runs on many POSIX compliant Unix-like systems. In fact, OpenSSL runs on most web and mail servers. Of course Linux is one such operating system.  The patch was available roughly 24-36hrs after the initial vulnerability was published. In fact, I patched my systems the next day after the published reports and I never gave it much thought afterwards.

OpenSSL 2014 ... Heartbleed bug What you need ...

Heartbleed bug What you need to know (April 11, 2014) (Photo credit: marsmet549)

It is also important to note that open source projects have a very different business model than its closed sourced counterparts, in fact transparency is a basic tenet of free or open source software. The GPL basically demands that source code is available to all for review, so it is not possible to suppress software vulnerabilities. Had this encryption software been owned by Apple or Microsoft, I am certain that the patch would not have been available as quickly; nor would the problem have been immediately understood by the white hats.  ESR explains this point rather lucidly. 

At the core of this the "heartbeat" function of TLS, which really is a powerful feature. The idea of keep-alive functionality with performing a renegotiation would be a boon and quite possibly a curse for a production environment. 


Authors abound

Over the past few weeks I have had the unusual experience of meeting two authors of books that were in my personal library.  In fact in both cases, I actually had their books in possession and the respective authors very graciously signed them for me.  The first instance of this happening took place earlier this month, as I was heading home to NYC to see family.  I noticed a gentlemen sporting a BSD daemon on his t-shirt. To my surprise he was heading to the NYCBSDcon. I figured he was a FreeBSD advocate, so I teased him by stating that I preferred OpenBSD.  As expected, I easily sparked a conversation, and it turned out the gentlemen was Michael Lucas. I have purchased three of Lucas's books.  

Absolute OpenBSD

Absolute OpenBSD (Photo credit: AG_)

The DNSSec book was in my
back pack so I pulled it out for his signature. He was delighted on two accounts. Firstly, that I recognized him in a crowded airport and secondly that I owned one of his least selling books.  I suppose DNS isn't really a very sexy subject.  He suggested to me that I really understand BIND prior to tackling DNSSEC.

He mentioned that he would be doing a talk at the conference and asked if I were going to be in attendance.  Truth is I would have loved to attend the conference. The venue was to take place in a bar called Suspenders??  That alone sounded intriguing.  I'll have to download the talks soon, as I am sure they are available online now.

I ran into him again on the return flight, and I figured by now he thought I was stalking him.. Very interesting indeed. I finally have my entry way into the BSD community. Hope to run into him again at some of the local cons.

 

Dry Loop Musings

Last year I decided to port one of the land line numbers over to our telephony providers.  I saw no reason to continue paying for a land line that we no longer needed. So once the appropriate paperwork was provided to VoicePulse, it took roughly 1-2 weeks to port the number to our SIP trunk. This was the easy part of the whole evolution; however, getting AT&T to flawlessly execute the "Dry Loop" request was quite the adventure and certainly fraught with peril.

For the benefit of those of you who are not familiar with Dry Loop, DSL providers generally sell packages which couple Internet and POTS together. Apparently, through consumer pressure or some other vehicle AT&T now provides consumers with ability to decouple Internet from POTS.  Which works great for us, since we had already ported the PSTN over to VoicePulse. Well, I specifically requested that the we wanted to retain our static IP addresses and that we did not wish to have our Internet service interrupted during the Dry Loop conversion. So, as a precaution AT&T decided to setup the Dry Loop circuit in parallel to the existing DSL circuit, so that there would be no possibility of an outage. Obviously the downside to this is cost, but I was happy to pay for two accounts provided that there would be no interruption of service.  Our problems began when we authorized the interruption of the existing DSL.  For whatever reason, the static IP addresses that were linked to the existing DSL did not get transferred. Of course this was unacceptable and drew my ire, as this played havoc on our Asterisk box.  Our phone system is our lifeblood of our organization and it is essential that we not have outages. 

To my chagrin, immediately after the existing DSL circuit was disabled we experienced an outage which spanned the majority of the business day. None of the AT&T representatives could explain why they did not honor the request to retain the static IP address, particularly since my request was made nearly 4 weeks prior to the Dry Loop circuit activation.  Suffice to say that I was seething. I tried in vane to reclaim the static IP addresses, but eventually opted to punt and move on. Then there was another matter to irritate me. Apparently, after the initial mess got sorted out, charges were still accruing despite suspending the existing DSL service. I wasted no time telling the accounting folks that I did not intend to pay anything further on that account. Especially due to the fact that AT&T account representatives suggested that I not kill the DSL service until after the Dry Loop circuit had been established.  Well it took a couple of weeks appealing to them, but they eventually relented and removed the late charges and other fees associated with the additional DSL.  I have no idea why the communication was so poor with AT&T.  It almost appeared that the billing departments or 3rd level support simply did not communicate with engineering. In fact, I believe that 3rd level support was based in SouthEast Asia somewhere. I suppose this would explain the problems that I experienced.

Unfortunately, there really aren't many other DSL providers in our region, as most have disappeared due to the regional economy and the Internet bubble. Additionally, AT&T now has the most leverage due to their sheer size and capacity.  I am not looking forward to our next move, as AT&T will again be providing Internet resources.

RMS Sighting

I had the unique pleasure in attending a Richard Stallman talk at the Stamps auditorium on UMich West campus. During the years of my involvement with Free and Open Source software, I have met Jon "Maddog" Hall, Richard Perens, Eric Raymond and now RMS.  All of these men have accomplished much with Open Source and Free Software respectively

English: Richard Stallman in his Saint iGNUciu...

and their views are certainly as diverse as the movements to which they prescribe.  RMS entitled his talk, " A Free Digital Society", and he described several interesting conundrums that people should consider.  Some of which I have discussed on my blog in recent years.

  • Data Brokers
  • The Evils of Facebook
  • Importance of Free Software
  • The Perils of Walled Garden
  • Computers as Appliances
The data broker conversation is one that often falls upon deaf ears among the uninitiated. In general average computer users are quick to choose "ease of use" over control.  It is not unusual for people store all kinds of information about themselves or friends online simply because mainstream says it is trendy.  Stallman did an excellent job describing the various ways one could protect themselves and thwart the data brokers.  He mentioned a free software alternative to GOOG analytics, Piwik allows you to sleep easy at night knowing that your content is not being harvested by ad mongers.

Facebook has become the ubiquitous social network. I happen to think the Zuckerberg walled garden has given people a false sense of security. Definitely, boggles the mind that people actually use it a their sole voice on the Interwebs.  I wonder if there would be so much commercial excitement if there was a pay model?   RMS talked about the "like" button and how Facebook servers associate click through with IP addresses.

Walled Gardens will eventually spell doom for freedom, as people will come to expect that Data Brokers will protect your privacy with same zeal that is given to finding new ways to generate revenue. The sad reality is privacy and security is mere lip service. Just ask Zuckerberg.  Community efforts like the Freedom Box project will hopefully become mainstream robust alternatives oddly pervasive, "gee let me put everything in the cloud" attitude that has become an integral part of marketing campaigns.  Computer memory and hard disk space has become very affordable, there is no reason to allow data brokers to continue harvesting our data with no respect for our privacy or security.  

Perhaps the most concerning trend is the proliferation of appliances and what I call the point and swipe brand of computing. IMHO computers were designed to help us solve complex problems, in fact, the machines are supposed to help make us more intelligent. In contrast, the appliance seems to make people dumb.  I'll accept that I am not the average use case for computing; however, our children and people associated with academia should never accept that a computer is only for web surfing, looking at photos and checking email.

Computers as appliances are tablets and unrooted smart phones. There is something criminal when a company forces you to give up your credit card number to simply enable your smart phone. RMS advocated open hardware with no handcuffs or back doors.  Too often manufacturers setup back doors to collect personal information from their consumers. Empowerment originates from understanding and exploration, you cannot accomplish these objectives if your computer is a black box.  I refuse for anyone to tell me that _their_ hardware is too complex for me. Our minds are not feeble. There is nothing particularly advanced coming out of Cupertino.  If you pay your hard earned cash, you should be able to inspect your hardware it as you see fit.

Though, many would describe RMS as an idealist and an eccentric. He really understands the problems as they exist. Although, I would suggest that I am a bit more pragmatic when it comes to software. I wished that I could have stayed longer, so that Dr. Stallman and I would share a photo op.  Oh well, perhaps next time ;-)

 




Geek fatigue

One of the most tiresome aspects of sysadmin work are repeat tasks. It has been said that sysadmins are lazy by nature. I would have to agree. A good example is having to add or delete users from a Linux box. Adding one user at a time really isn't an issue if you only have one or two; however if you have several accounts to add it can become quite tedious.

I discovered the script called newusers which allows one to add several users at once, you simply need to setup a flat text file with a few parameters shown below:

pw_name:pw_passwd:pw_uid:pw_gid:pw_gecos:pw_dir:pw_shell

Actually, you can provide all or just some of the parameters above. I chose to only provide a username, password, home directory, and shell. So you have the following ->

username:passwd::::homedir:$SHELL  (Note the ::: represent blank field parameters.)

I simply stored all the users in a file

username1:passwd::::/home/username1:/bin/bash

username2:passwd::::/home/username2:/bin/bash

Another great script is the 'mkpasswd' as it creates a 9 random character passwd. Obviously, these scripts used in conjunction are a wonderful tools. They are particularly useful when setting up multiple user accounts on a new server. 

As I have mentioned previously, when I setup new user accounts on a servers which I build for clients, I setup samba username and passwds.

In the process of setting up these samba accounts, I have encountered problems with the ubiquitous 'smbpasswd -a username' which basically adds new users to the samba database.

However, there are often times when 'smbpasswd' will not work as expected.  There are tools that mitigate this problem.  tdsam and pdbedit will also repair or create samba users for the samba database. 

I will share some additional scripting measures for creating samba user accounts in a forthcoming blog entry






Astricon 2012

Enjoying my first experience at Astricon. This conference marks the first application specific conference which I have participated. It was great to have direct discussions with people who either lead asterisk or VoIP related project. I met VUC (VoIP User Conference) organizer Randy Resnick. Also had the pleasure of meeting Mark Spencer founder of the Asterisk project. Allison Smith (voice of Asterisk) was also conversing with conference attendees.

Yesterday there was a great conversation on the DAHDI drivers which provide the appropriate timers for app_meetme and asterisk in general. According to the project lead, there is a possibility that DAHDI will make it into mainline asterisk tree.

Most of my time has been spent in the Security and Cloud tracks.  Unfortunately, the tutorial development tracks happen at the same time. You can not participate in all tracks at the same time.

Asterisk (PBX)

Asterisk (PBX) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Thus far I have   I attended the following presentations:

Intro to Asterisk Development - Shaun Ruffell

Configuration Framework - Joshua Culp

Asterisk Manager Interface - Matt Riddell

Today's Service Provider More than Just SIP Trunks - Kerry Garrison

Found in the Wild: Telecom Fraud and Security Problems - Eric Klein

FreePBX Roadmap - Philippe Lindheimer

The keynote conversations were rather interesting too. SugarCRM CTO and co-founder, Clint Oram was the opening keynote.  He briefly spoke about SugarCRM and asterisk integration. He mentioned YAAI (Yet Another Asterisk Integrator) application in his talk. I believe that you can find YAAI in Sugar Forge. Clint fielded some questions, I asked him about the Open Core model and the subsequent riff that is pervasive in the Open Source community concerning this topic. For anyone unfamiliar with this particular conversation, I encourage you to listen to this John Mertic and Simon Phipps exchange.  Someone also asked Clint about community code finding its way into the SugarCRM commercial product.  Clint answered this question as best he could, but methinks the whole Open Core model is fraught with peril, and does not lend itself to extending the value of Open Source in a very robust way.

Ben Klang gave a great demo on coupling adhearsion, asterisk, and sugarcrm. This was of particular interest to me as I have been exploring some of the REST libraries that have recently sprung around SugarCRM.  Frankly, I am not surprised that there aren't better examples of asterisk and sugarcrm integrations. I suspect it has alot to do with the fact that business applications are not very sexy to geeks. Secondly, the open core model is not really helping the sugarcrm community edition grow at the same rate as the commercial offering. I know and understand that developers need to be paid, but if the innovations are not fed back upstream I believe the community edition product will eventually wither on the vine. 

Prior to leaving the conference, I had a great conversation with a several asterisk enthusiast. However, one of these conversations was recorded for hacker public radio .

Randy Resnick of VUC fame was gracious enough to provide a great near field microphone for the cause and the quality of the audio was superb. I'll post the audio and the show notes in a separate blog entry.

If you have any interest in open source telephony, Astricon is a great conference to attend.
 

 

Spent roughly two months playing around with provisioning and setting up polycom soundpoint IP320 and IP 430 polycom phones. My asterisk box has one SIP trunk and I simply wanted to get some use out of some fairly robust IP phones. The first problem I discovered was that I did not understand how tftp worked. The trivial ftp protocol albeit not at all secure is quite common means of provisioning or flashing the bootrom or SIP software on these phones. I suppose most people have moved onto FTP, HTTP or TLS provisioning.

Important points to consider when

In my setup, the asterisk server is NATd and located on a different private LAN.  So, to add to my perceived complexity, the phones are also located behind a NATd router and the asterisk box does not have a static IP. Clearly a recipe for disaster since SIP is so dependent upon holes in the firewall. *Note* Asterisk not having a static IP is not so horribly bad, but you simply have to take appropriate measures like using "externip or externhost" constructs along with the very tried and true dyndns service.

To make matters worse, the Polycom phones while popular and admired for both quality and cost are not STUN aware.
I'll save the SIP registration problem for last.

I had read that provisioning Polycom phones was shall we say quite trivial.
So I had to make sure that I could administer the asterisk box remotely.
Of course ssh and screen works well for this purpose, as I needed to open up several
terminal windows to inspect traffic coming across port 69, the tftp default port.
The first challenge was actually setting up /tftpboot and running the tftpd correctly.
For some reason the inetd wrapper never worked as designed so I simply run the tftp daemon
as stand alone service.  Opening up a terminal and as root typing -->
/usr/sbin/in.tftpd -l -s /tftpboot/ -vvvv  Note the "l" for listen or stand alone instance not controlled by the inetd wrapper.  If you try to run tftp daemon without the 'l' switch and without the inetd service it will fail.  One other gotcha which is specific to Polycom and other phones which can be provisioned via Trivial ftp (yes I know tftp is not secure and most folks provision phones via FTP and perhaps TLS or http), you must specify /tftpboot directory. These phones expect the directory to be included in all tftp daemon statements. If you are using the inetd wrapper this work is already done for you.
 
I then decided to run tcpdump against the desired port to monitor the output of the connection.  I later learned that I could simply direct the stdout to asterisk syslog.

Now let us get to the selection of Polycom bootrom and SIP software selection. I have found this exercise to be fraught with peril. The site is very confusing and not very well planned. Essentially, it is appears to be a spreadsheet with a few colors and hyperlinks. The legend is not very useful. The result is a web page that is circa '93. Not sure if anyone else experienced this problem, but I downloaded the incorrect SIP software and wasted countless hours on needless trouble shooting. If you want to test your mettle and attention to detail visit the Polycom download site yourself.  I would recommend that they mistake proof the site with some parsing mechanism to make certain bootrom and SIP combinations impossible. At the very least some sort of selection hierarchy that is common on modern websites that allow you pick and select software or hardware components. Radio boxes or pull down menus work well. I think you get the idea. Select your IP phone model --> next pull down --> recommended stable bootrom --> next pull down recommended SIP software.  Really very simple.  Overall I believe Polycom to be a very good customer driven company, but their self-support software website is woefully outdated. They might as well be running a BBS :-)

Now onto the most interesting part of this exercise. The networking and effective understanding of what we'll call the double "NAT" conundrum.  I was working with a consumer grade Netopia 3307 DSL Router which comes with 4-port switch.  The router doesn't seem to handle SIP traffic very well at all.  In a nutshell, the problem could be characterized as follows::   the Netopia router doesn't understand IP addresses embedded in SIP and SDP payloads. The only way to get this to work is to place some sort of sip proxy on the LAN to intercept the packets, rewrite them to maintain state about the SIP endpoints (ie remote Polycom phones) then dynamically create the necessary NAT rules to allow RTP packets to pass between the endpoints in a call. I learned about this fact while perusing #openwrt IRC. I owe a special thanks to <DIdaho> for the insight. For those of you who are not familiar with VoIP, RTP is what allows audio transport for both endpoints. If RTP isn't working the failure mode is that you will not hear any anyone speaking on the other end or vice versa.

Understand that Netopia has a set of tools that did enable "one" polycom phone to work. I used the IP Passthrough mode and it enable one endpoint to correctly register with the remote asterisk box.  Of course this was less than optimal since the I have two SIP endpoints. So, I had to abandon IP Passthrough and figure out a better workaround. 

I began looking for a solution to my dumb Netopia problem, so I immediately thought openwrt project. Luckily, I was able to cop a Linksys WRT54GL for $50 bucks. My theory was that I could learn how siproxd works and place the openwrt device on the network between my SIP endpoints and the remote asterisk box. However, I was on a time constraint and I had to get the problem resolved and leave the experimentation to a later time. I still have the the openwrt router and will use it to monitor connections on the LAN and perhaps install squid proxy. One day I might even try siproxyd. 

So, I was able to get things working albeit not exactly my first preference.. I finally broke down and placed both the SIP endpoints and asterisk box on the same LAN. Voila, no more double NAT situation. No more need to punch holes in firewall to accept SIP and RTP packets. I then used the IP Mapping feature of the Netopia router which seems to work quite fine. In truth, I am still not entirely sure how it inspects inbound SIP and RTP packets. Perhaps that is less important now that iptables rules on the asterisk box can do the heavy lifting. The router is simply mapping a static IP address and the iptables rules on the asterisk box accept all the required traffic and drops all that is not desired.

Another added benefit is that I finally upgraded from Asterisk 1.4 to Asterisk 1.6 and hardened my CentOS box a bit more.  If I get more time I'll share my experiences with openwrt.. 



Apple for education is a misnomer

SAN FRANCISCO - FEBRUARY 01:  Apple Computer c...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I have always wondered how hardware companies get selected as the preferred vendor for academics.  Some years ago, I encountered an Apple IIc which was used in a Physics lab in a junior college where I was studying. How did this machine arrive at such a destination?
Perhaps there was an existing vendor contract with that particular  school. If you were to ask the average computer user circa 1980, Apple was considered a learning platform for children.

In fact, children often grabbed their parents and demanded that one be purchased for them. What are the criteria for robust academic computing? I would offer a few thoughts, as I'm certain that there are no standard well described guidelines.


Some Basic Academic Computing Tenets:

I cannot state with any certainty that Apple offered any of these tenets with its older computers.
One could argue that these concepts were in the minds of people like Wozniak. Perhaps they were, but I would assert that they are not at all tenets of the modern era Cupertino company.

If these are not the tenets of Apple; why do people constantly talk about using Apple products for assistive technology for special needs patients? I have also heard the same rhetoric in favor of using Apple products for elderly computer users.  What I find odd about this tendency is that the use case seems in direct contrast to these claims.

The current rage is the tablet and apparently the expectation is that tablets will soon render netbooks and desktop computers obsolete.  Before I get into the tablet phenomenon, I want to revisit the tenets.

Open Learning -
Intended to foster scholastic mastery through the use of application software (ie word processor, spreadsheets, etc).  The ability to save documents for posterity without the risk of vendor lock-in. Deprecated file formats are in direct contrast to the open learning principle.

Sharing Ideas -
When you open and free exchange of facts and data are expected. It is difficult to argue that Digital Rights Management (DRM) often makes sharing ideas difficult.  Apple is perhaps the most well known for its gestapo actions in the area of DRM. Their virtual marketplace iTunes is the prime example. If you wish to give your friends copies of music, lectures or whatever from their digital marketplace you do so with expectation that the files may not be readable by your friends. This seems odd considering you have already paid for the content. However, you really are not the owner, but merely leasing the content. I suppose the owner will always be the copyright holder.

Free and Open Source Software -
Although Apple has made a fair amount of cash using the Mach kernel which was basis for Darwin and of course OSX. Darwin's BSD lineage aside, there really isn't much free software in the wilds that has been fostered by the Cupertino company. If you look at the Darwin web site it would appear that there really is not active development on the project. Ironically, Apple boasts "200+ Open Source Projects ship with OSX".  I wonder how many of these upstream projects ever see contribution from Apple devs?  My guess would be not very many.

Standards Based or Open Hardware - 
In truth, I am very impressed with the appearance of most appliances produced by the Cupertino company.  They really are works of art and quite pleasing to the eye. Taking a more pragmatic approach to the utility of these devices is another matter.  Apple was perhaps the first company to release machines with IEEE 1394 (Firewire) standard, which is surely commendable.  In general, their devices are compliant and provide most of what is needed. I say most, as their first tablet offering did not include USB or Bluetooth support. Mind boggling for a company that released Firewire ports on their machines in the mid '90's. Heh, maybe not so mind boggling as no one knew much about Firewire in the '90's go figure ;-)
It really must be about the vendor lock-in strategy. Buy from our software stack or have nothing at all. The other alternative is to hack your very expensive piece of art and risk turning it into a door stop or paper weight.

Zero Barriers to Entry-
If we really want our students or elderly to use Apple products, we must forewarn them that it will be a very expensive proposition. Sure you can get PowerPC based machine and run Linux on it. However, I'm talking about more modern better supported hardware. Most of it is cost prohibitive.

Now let us get back to the idea that tablet computing will drastically revolutionize the way average people use computers. I emphasize average computer user since these use cases typically define mainstream computer usage. I would argue most tablet users are generally power users or computer hobbyists. Additionally, most tablets are feature based appliances. You can surf the Interweb, send email and other limited activities.  Multimedia seems to be the growing desire of most computer users. High definition video is something that an under powered ARM processor may not be able to handle.  Perhaps I've got it all wrong. I'm just not convinced that under powered tablet devices are going to unseat laptop and desktop machines.  I would think that smart phones are more attractive and pose a greater threat. Even smart phones do not have the feature rich applications and offer a limited computer experience. As the price of smart phones continue to drop, I would expect more mainstream computer users to adopt smart phones over tablets.

Academia and assistive technology computers require flexibility and they must provide superior value. High cost, closed silos are not the answer. 

WP7 Struggle for Relevance

Image representing Nokia as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I'm sure that you've had enough talk about the M$ and Nokia agreement and subsequent WP7 propagation across all future Nokia handsets. Well, I figured that since I recently purchased a Nokia N900, I am uniquely qualified to weigh on this recent merger. While I am befuddled with the abandonment of Maemo and MeeGo. The uber cool QT development platform was also scuttled. I do agree that Symbian platform had outlived its usefulness. Nokia waited far too long to release the software into the community and it really smelled like a desperation move.  Now that I think about it, befuddled is probably disingenuous.

The new CEO is a Redmond cast off, so it does make perfect sense that Nokia would adopt WP7. However, I really do not see the so-called competitive advantage that is now afforded to Nokia. Ballmer seems to believe that WP7 will suddenly stop the hemorrhaging M$ effort and narrow the gap between its chief competitors iOs and Android. Though Symbian probably has a much larger install base than iOS and Android (and certainly any Windows Mobile play), Symbian is quite long in the tooth. The UI is quite ugly and rivals RIM for the most stagnant development platform. It would appear that the proprietary Symbian C++ has made people run away in horror. I compare the Symbian Open Source move to that of the wayward Netscape and it last ditch effort to save its browser.  Netscape left behind a heaping pile of code that took a community of hackers several years to forge into a cohesive project named Mozilla. Fast forward to Nokia's February 2010 announcement of Symbian3 and its Open Source strategy. How much time do you think it will take for Symbian3 to get the appropriate uptake in the developer community?  Obviously, Nokia brain trust did not plan well and really had no confidence in Open Source Symbian.

Ditto for Maemo and MeeGo. Many have chronicled the promise of Maemo and its first to market potential. For whatever reason Nokia hedged some initial bets on MeeGo via partnership with Intel.  However, Nokia leadership understood that Symbian could not stop them from rapidly losing market share.  Using F/OSS to help stave off Android and iOS takes guts and patience.  At this point no one will ever know if Maemo/ MeeGO could compete with Android and iOS.

So, Nokia decides to outsource its software development to another mobile laggard. M$ is betting on the distribution channel. Despite what Scoble and other M$ proponents believe. The uphill climb will be substantial.

Several challenges for WP7

The list above is not exhaustive, just a few observations. Additionally, I did not list these in any particular order. If I can depart from my usual point by point analysis. Let me just highlight the most important of the group.

Obviously, Windows CE has been around for quite awhile. It powered many of M$ mobile phones over the years. It's performance was mostly abysmal. I don't think there is much debate here. WP7 advocates will need spend time convincing people that its predecessor is far inferior to WP7.

Perhaps the most compelling question is why should you care about WP7? It would seem that the most difficult aspect of the WP7 adoption would be to simply get people to try it. Clearly this point resonates in the United States. Perhaps the alliance with Nokia will be a resounding success in Europe, but adoption in the US will take a herculean marketing effort.

Differentiation of the handset is not enough to propel WP7 past Android and iOS.  As both have a head start in terms of street credibility and developer mindshare. While we're talking about developers, Scoble and other M$ advocates would suggest that success is predicated on the apps or the glorious app store.  People who have used Free and Open Source software have used repositories or ftp sites to obtain their software for at least a decade. I would argue this is analogous to the glorified app store. Though the software was free, the ability to update your device firmware or install new software over the network is nothing new. I would agree that if nobody is writing software for your platform your platform will eventually disappear. However, I'm not clear that an app store drives the hardware platform.

Lastly, admittedly I do not know much about the XNA effort. Suffice to say that it is fairly new and developers in the M$ camp probably understand it well. If this XNA strategy is going to be the bedrock for WP7 it had better become a household name for developers outside of the M$ community.  Let's talk about M$ partnerships for a moment. We can look at Novell, Xandros, Palm, Erickson, Sony, Samsung and several others. The common thread here is that these partnerships never ended well for the other companies involved. If I get a moment I'll update this post with some examples of these failed partnerships. History suggest that this one will be no different.  I suppose time will tell. More later. 

100 days with the Nokia N900

Nokia N900 application switcher

Image by addersuk via Flickr

So, I thought it was time to begin talking about the migration from the very dated Treo650. In truth, I held hope that Palm would eventually get its act together and develop a platform that would rival all of the current Linux based smart phone offerings (ie Nokia N900, Android, WebOS). Unfortunately, Palm was acquired by HP and a number of executive folks got fired. Perhaps the most interesting trend was that during the time I owned my trusty Treo, social networking became a normal past time for me. Couple that with a greater need to perform sys-admin duties and burgeoning knowledge of telephony..  Well the Palm platform quickly became deprecated for me. Palm is an example of first to market leader losing its way. Perhaps they became confused about whether people wanted a PDA or smart phone. Because we need several Linux plays in the mobile market I truly hope WebOS becomes a success. 

While we're talking about Linux plays in the market, I must say that I'm perplexed with all the folks who seem to believe that Android must reign supreme. Pure nonsense. I can appreciate that people may think that Nokia dropped the ball in their handling of the Maemo project. Sure the forthcoming MeeGo project will likely dilute the developer mind share that exists for Maemo, but there is a sizable number of developers in that space. I doubt that the people will abandon the project in droves. Sure Android now lives on a plethora of hardware platforms and lives in several wireless carrier silos, I still assert that you need more than one Linux mobile play to keep GOOG honest. If you truly believe in the F/OSS software development model, the bazaar as ESR describes will dictate the value proposition of various projects. Not marketing and promotion. Android, Maemo/MeeGo and WebOS all must co-exist to truly provide a rich Linux choice in the battle for the pocket. Because I do not have a crystal I cannot predict if all will survive. Nonetheless, if you love F/OSS particularly Linux, you must get beyond marketing and promotion and understand that having more than one choice for a Linux stack on a mobile platform is a tremendous achievement. GOOG marketing treasure trove notwithstanding, hackers want choice too.

Nokia has always made excellent hardware, and despite the fact they probably moved too slow in understanding that Symbian is not sustainable in the long term, I think that Nokia will be fine. I now have both the N800 and N900. To be honest, I don't use my N800 very much anymore, as the N900 has everything I need and then some. However, I could use the device for video conferencing and general use web browsing. Since I only paid a c-note for the N800, I have not wasted any cash and I am still happy about my purchase.

Well let's talk about the N900 shall we?  It's probably worth noting why I chose not to purchase an Android device. I was concerned with privacy, pure and simple. I already have a few gmail accounts and spend a fair amount of time with their search engine. Really did not want to purposely make it easy for GOOG to continue to index my life.  Sure I know there are means to protect myself when using an Android device, but I was convinced that the effort was not worth it. Additionally, there were so many Linux netcasts disparaging the N900 I just had to purchase one ;-)

There is so much to cover, as the device is really remarkable. I'll have to talk about the items which stand out to me.

  • Hardware
  • Customization
  • Presence
  • Kernel
  • Battery Life
Nokia has been in the handset business for a number of years. Nokia was the market leader and chief innovator for a number of years. They seemed to have lost their way in the mid to late 90's. Apparently, they had grown too large and began to dilute its brand with poor quality handsets to take advantage of the economies of scale. It was difficult to balance quality, cost and function equation. It does appear that Nokia has really listened to the voice of the customer as it pertains to practical functionality. The N900 series addresses most if not all of the shortcomings of the N800 series and some of the popular mobile devices. The form factor is still rather large when compared to iphone and some HTC models. However, the N900 is more than a smartphone, it is a full functioning Linux mobile device built for your pocket.

The platform is truly open, and you do not have to jailbreak your device to make it useful. Running 'rootsh' is all you need to get root on the command line in a terminal. The slide out keyboard took awhile for me to get used to, but it is a full QWERTY.  I also like the kickstand that can be accessed from the camera lens. The Carl Zeiss 5MP camera is my most powerful digital camera.  Perhaps what I like most is the ARM Cortex-A8 processor architecture. It is quite responsive and definitely rivals iPhone and HTC Snapdragon processor. The N900 comes with 32GB of flash memory, and its storage is expandable with 16GB micro SDHC. Total of 48GB of storage in your pocket not too shabby. 

Customization - You can easily run a web server, ssh daemon, PBX and a slew of other traditionally server based programs on the N900. If you really have a fetish for Android, you could also dual boot with this OS as well. There is even a comprehensive suite of "penetration testing" applications that you could run. The possibilities are endless ;-)

If you are not really a person who cares to peak under the hood, you can still appreciate the level of freedom and customization that you will enjoy over the majority commercial players.
I particularly like the how the N900 uses its virtual desktops. If you have ever used a Linux desktop box, this will be quite familiar to you. A simple swipe of the finger sends you to another desktop. You can run a simple screencast of your N900 desktop if you choose.
I grabbed the custom kernel so that I could try my hand at the Debian LXDE, I simply run VNC and take advantage of a larger screen monitor in my lab. Very slick indeed.

Presence - What do I mean by presence? Well, during the days of my Treo 650. I often used AOL IM to chat with friends. It was often difficult to let people know that I was driving or otherwise indisposed to grant their request for conversation.  I was also unable to know whether friends were using other social network apps and if they were indeed willing to chat with me ;-)  The N900 has a built in feature called "conversations" which index your social communications (ie phone, Internet, SMS, etc).  At a glance, I can see who is available or not. I can change my status across an array of social apps.  The guessing is over.

I mentioned that I use a custom kernel to afford me the opportunity to run and compile various GNU/Linux programs. It's quite remarkable to see people packaging kernel headers for a large compliment of embedded systems. So I can compile any program specifically for my ARM architecture. 

I saved Battery Life for last because it too remarkable, but not in a good way. The battery life is abysmal, but I would argue that that is not so much the fault of the N900. Perhaps more of an Li-ON battery industry issue. If I place the device into tablet mode and shutdown the 3G radio, the battery life improves. Obviously, shutting down Wi-Fi and Bluetooth also helps. However, without these features your "mini-computer" is severely limited. Hopefully, there are some solutions coming down the pipeline.

Regarding Maemo5 interface, I often get frustrated with having to use a stylist for certain touch functions. It really needs to be more consistent between applications. Either your interface is going to hand-touch or stylist. No reason to have both. You could actually get rid of the stylist altogether if you would use tooltip or drop down window. The Enlightenment desktop environment made good use of tooltip.  The UI will improve as well I am sure.

In summary, when I decided to purchase a smartphone / mini-computer for my pocket. I had no intentions on buying an appliance (aka iPhone). The N900 is clearly not an appliance. Very hackable and extensible.  Though, Android OS based devices are also hackable, the GOOG prying eyes bother me. Because I believe in free software and Open Source model, I know that it is far better to have several Linux kernel based mobile devices on the market, as opposed to one.

Ode to the ARM

If you haven't been living under a rock the past few years, you might have noticed a growth in marketing of smartphones.  If you have not noticed the television marketing of the dominant players which use Android and iOS, various social networks are also buzzing with this marketing. Besides the wrangling of hobbyists and loyalists, we also have financial pundits weighing in on the debate. People seem to praise that Cupertino company for its inroads and its supposed stance on HTML5 standards. Now that the H.264 is being provided royalty free, it changes the game somewhat. You will begin to see more of those one purpose commodity flip video recorders, which only encode H.264. I digress and will expound on this point in a future entry.

What I find most interesting about the ARM architecture (Acorn RISC Machine) is that it challenges the duopoly of Intel and AMD (Much like Linux and BSD has done in the desktop and server markets). For the sake of argument lets assume that there are virtually no other players in the CPU space at the moment. Having said that the dominant players are fixated on the desktop and server markets. 64bit architecture is becoming increasingly popular, despite the fact that most programs that you'll find on the garden variety desktop computer are still 32bit.

Anyway, Intel and AMD abandoned the low power applications for quite awhile since there was not a great deal of profit margin. ARM has been around since the 80's, well before set top boxes or mobile devices became common place for consumers. Low power and extended battery life are some basic tenants of the ARM architecture. Additionally, developers get the added benefit of working with essentially "royalty free" architecture. The latter is the "killer" feature, that makes it very difficult for the incumbents to compete. Simple RISC instruction set coupled with developer friendly licensing schemes. Wait there is more..

Because RISC has been around for quite sometime it is well understood, thus Unix and Unix-like operating systems thrive on this platform. Though ARM has made incremental changes for performance, everything is well documented standards based engineering.

Obviously, ARM isn't perfect because people still complain about battery life. I would suggest that until we discover how to reconstruct matter.. Well basically there is no such thing as a perpetual heat engine, thus we'll likely be complaining about battery life for quite awhile.  ARM still beats Intel and AMD quite easily when you begin battery life and heat dissipation.  Perhaps if I get some time I'll share some of the benchmarks which can be obtained rather easily on your local Interwebs.

Personally, I have three ARM devices. Let's count them.. Linksys NSLU2, Nokia N800, and Nokia N900 (Cortex). How many do you own?


M$ Ill-fated VoIP Play Re-Visited

open_source_communism

Image by jagelado via Flickr

Though this is quite old news, it emphasizes the power of free software and open source tools.
For some it really is difficult to fathom how Asterisk, Open Source telephony framework which does little if any traditional commercial advertising can grow is size and defeat Response Point, a proprietary offering from M$. If you are one of the confused people, allow me to use the Apache web server as an analogy.  At the dawning of the Internet, Unix was the cornerstone operating system. The balkanization or splintering of Unix caused its eventual downfall and allowed Windows to flourish. Fast forward to the web browser wars of the early '90s, and you have Netscape battling the Redmond Woolly Mammoth and its Internet Explorer. Most everyone knows how that ended; however, Netscape begrudgingly sowed the seeds of the Mozilla Project which later released Firefox. Now you're probably asking, "What does this have to do with VoIP?"
Just trying to paint the picture for you.. Be patient ;-)
M$ had just discovered the Internet several years after Unix was the dominant player in that space. Redmond used unfair business practices to game the system and supplant Netscape as the dominant browser. Redmond also tried very hard to create a very closed Internet experience, one that was "best suited for Internet Explorer" browser. I'm sure many of you will remember those websites that explicitly demanded that you view it with IE.  To hell with standards right?? 

IMHO, this gestapo move failed largely because of the Apache Foundation and the Mozilla project.  The Apache webserver is a very successful free software project. It used standards based reasoning to gain roughly 50-60% of the market share. There governing board is quite small and Apache Foundation is certainly not a Fortune 100 company. Truly remarkable and is a testament to the F/OSS product development model.

Now getting back to VoIP.  Why was Redmond's attempt to get into the VoIP and CRM market ill-fated?  Was it the price point? Was it due to the fact that its business model was highly dependent upon leveraging already existing M$ application software plays (ie Sharepoint, .NET, etc). I call this perpetual up sell. How about the fact there were several F/OSS equivalents already were entrenched in the VoIP and CRM space (Asterisk, Yate, FreeSwitch and SugarCRM etc).  I would assert its demise was a combination of all of the above.

It would appear that Response Point was yet another example of M$ missing the boat and getting to the party too late. Very much like its discovery of the Internet in the early to mid 90's. The only difference is that they could not embed their VoIP product in the operating system, and of course Asterisk, FreeSwitch, Yate bear no resemblance to  Netscape Navigator. Nope, M$ would now be forced to compete on a relatively level playing field against software that was not owned by anyone. How do you defend yourself against and virtually invisible foe? In most cases when you fight an invisible foe you get beat upside your head :-) Particularly if the adversary is agile free software.  Additionally, it would appear that the Redmond wayward product could only be marginally useful if it was coupled with Active Directory, Sharepoint and .NET

The release cycles of Response Point were simply too slow. For instance Redmond launched the product 3/07, SP1 was released 7/08 and SP2 was scheduled to be released 1st Qtr 2010. Talk about gaps between releases.. In contrast, the release cycles for Asterisk, FreeSwitch and Yate are far more frequent. It probably is unfair to compare Redmond's wayward VoIP effort with a very mature Asterisk Project. According to the TFOT, Spencer conceived that telephony software as far back 1999. So I'll focus on freeswitch and Yate, considered new comers in the free software telephony world.  Freeswitch released its v1.00 in '08 and Yate released its v1.0 in 7/06. According to the Yate project roadmap, it is releasing software in a 3-6 month cycle. That is impressive, but certainly not unusual for F/OSS projects.  Release early and often with the appropriate amount of community support.

Methinks Response Point was also too closely coupled to M$ back office applications to be truly useful for the average SMB. Unless you've already committed to being 100% M$ shop, I would argue that licensing costs alone would make their VoIP play too costly.  Besides, they hadn't even figured out the Outlook integration, this "feature" was not due to release until SP2.  If you're using any sort of dashboard or GUI in your telephony offering, click-to-call is an expected feature.

Response Point died in the womb, due in large part to F/OSS offerings that were more mature. M$ was unable to generate significant interest in their product due to a host of reasons. A Redmond customer resource management (CRM) tool is also in the wilds, but is likely on life support due to the large number of competitors in this space (ie SugarCRM, SalesForce, etc). 







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Foray into OpenVPN

Diagram of a public key infrastructure

Image via Wikipedia

It has been awhile since I shared another segment in the Foray Series. For the newcomers, these excerpts are fairly detailed accounts of my experiences with various FOSS tools. Understand that these entries are not intended to be detailed How-Tos, I leave that to the curiosity of the readers. I would be remiss if I did not mention that I got inspired by Mick Bauer's recent Linux Journal series on the subject. So, nuff respect to Bauer and the LJ crew for being the longest running Linux technical periodical. If they could only reduce the advertising.. Heh, that's a rant for another time.

Actually, I was first introduced to the concept of virtual private network (VPN) in 2000. An associate of mine was administering a Free Swan installation. Honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about because knowledge of networking was rather weak. For instance, I didn't know the difference between IPSec or PPTP tunneling protocols. Suffice to say that there are several ways to implement a VPN strategy. It is also worth noting that some tunneling strategies are inherently more secure than others.

So I figured that I'd better learn about VPN tunneling protocols and also deploy a solution that is fairly idiot proof turn-key. As it turns out, the IPSec tunneling protocol has been around for quite awhile. It is fairly complicated to setup, but IPSec is an order of magnitude more robust when compared to Microsoft PPTP. The OpenSwan project (formerly FreeSwan) deploys the more robust IPSec tunneling protocol. The encryption algorithm strategy of PPTP is very inferior, in fact PPTP was designed on top of the very old PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol) from dialup modems. I mention PPTP here because it often is a readily available strategy on several modern commercial grade VPN routers. My Cisco RV082 VPN router provides PPTP out of the box as a VPN solution. This protocol is advertised as an easy means of creating a VPN tunnel between to M$ clients. I have often found that _easy_ is often quite dangerous too ;-) IPSec is also baked into the Linux kernel, so it can be deployed via iptables filtering at the kernel layer. In fairness to M$, it also deploys IPSec client on its more modern OSes; however, in true Redmond fashion they have "embraced and extended" IPSec in a way that puzzles most. Basically you have no idea what you're running, so is it really IPSec?

There is however a snag with the free IPsec clients from Microsoft. You can use IPsec only in combination with another protocol called L2TP. It is fairly difficult (2000/XP/Vista) or probably even impossible (MSL2TP, Pocket PC) to get rid of this L2TP requirement. One might say that Microsoft "embraced and extended" the IPsec standard, in true Microsoft fashion. To be fair though, L2TP is currently a 'Proposed Internet Standard' (RFC 2661 ) and so is 'L2TP over IPsec' (RFC 3193). PPTP, on the other hand, is another widely used VPN protocol but it is not an official standard.
The excerpt above came from this very good FreeSwan article

Perhaps it would be helpful to understand why I have begun to utilize a VPN. When I am traveling or working in Panera Bread or Barnes and Nobles, I like to take advantage of the public Wi-Fi. Typically what I do is fire up a terminal and ssh into my Linux box at home and port forward TOR and SOCKS5 to the local ports on my notebook computer. For the curious, check some of my earlier entries on that subject. This strategy works quite well, but when I ask staff members who are less computer savvy to open a terminal window and then run ssh.. Their eyes get glazed over and they begin to complain about it not being a "pretty" solution.

So a more elegant solution was required to provide wider adoption within our organization. Furthermore, you can't sell what you don't own. That is if you're going to propose an alternate solution for accessing data securely, you must be willing to use it yourself. Some people call it "dog fooding".. Besides, I'm always excited about learning something new.

As I stated earlier I looked at OpenSwan (FreeSwan fork) or more generally IPSec and it did look rather confusing to me. Moreover, I wasn't quite sure how active the developer community was around that project.

Let's take a quick look at what makes OpenVPN a quite viable VPN solution.

The PKI is the heart of OpenVPN, as it empowers the sysadmin to authenticate a host of clients through self-signed certificate/key pair which are generated on your own server. This approach is helpful, as it mitigates the need for a central signing authority. It works very much like creating SSL certificate for an apache webserver and associated client web browsers. Though OpenVPN is not overly complicated to setup, the PKI process is the area that will likely cause problems for many people. In fact, I scraped my knuckles during this process too. For instance, an incorrectly generated key may not show up until you try to authenticate a client. The error logs will reveal important messages, but are somewhat generic if not cryptic.

SSL/TLS are venerable and well understood IETF encryption standards that are deployed for many web and email servers. MD5 and SHA-1 are common place digest algorithms. No surprises here. Arguably TLS has its own faults and vulnerabilities, but because these are "standards" unlike L2TP the holes get discovered easily. Hence the community resolves problems fairly quickly.

All Linux distributions are equipped with Openssl and the means to generate certificate authorities. 'pkitool' is the front end for the openssl tool. pkitool does all of the certificates/key builds. You just have to remember to run "./clean-all" in the appropriate openvpn setup directory to wipe all previous keys otherwise your OpenVPN setup will fail silently but very consistently :-)

Regarding UDP... Many people prefer TCP over UDP, as the latter doesn't make any guarantees about the arrival of datagram packets. UDP is now exclusively used with openvpn, as UDP seems to play nicer with firewalls due in large part because packets are not resent upon failure.
The process of re-checking at the packet layer increases the overhead of TCP significantly. Hence the reason that UDP is preferred, as it is much faster albeit not as accurate. So you have a trade-off. My knowledge of packet inspection is limited, so if anyone has a better explanation, I'm very interested.

I'm running openvpn on a Debian/Stable box. It runs quite well. After I resolved my PKI issue, the only other gotchas occurred when I didn't explicitly set the packet routing for my server. More specifically, I had to echo 1 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_forward to enable packet routing on the server. Failing to do this will also break your openvpn setup.

Lastly, I had to pick the correct virtual IP address to push to both sides of the tunnel. In this case I was not able to ping either side of the tunnel. Using tcpdump I was able to ascertain that the packets arriving from the M$ windows clients were being dropped.. Once I enabled routing and changed the virtual IP addresses, the problem went away.
Originally, I had chosen 10.0.0/24 but realized that places like Panera Bread and others have the same IP addressing scheme, which played havoc resources located on the target server.

Lastly, the idea of pseudo two-factor authentication.. By definition, two-factor authentication is something you know (ie password) and something you have (ie secure token or passport). So openvpn PKI and a passphrase to verify ownership of the certificate authority and client key really isn't the same, but it sure feels very robust to me.

OpenVPN is a very robust solution for my needs. SSL/TLS is a fairly simple means of leveraging free software and well understood standards/protocols to securely encapsulate data packets on both sides of a VPN tunnel. However, I am not sure that enterprise networks would admire it the same. In fact, I know that my employer blocks the UDP ports which openvpn servers typically listen.

Hopefully, this sheds a bit of light on the various VPN strategies and also some of the virtues of OpenVPN.

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AT&T payphone signage

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Perhaps that most meaningful request to originate from the so-called leaner AT&T. I would venture to guess many people across the country no longer use phone books. I have witnessed the real-time shrinkage of the Yellow Pages content in S.E Mich. The once monstrous Yellow Pages and White Pages are now condensed into one publication, roughly 1/3 of the size.

Moreover, it would seem that the overwhelming popularity of cellular phones, online phone directories, and search engines have marginalized the utility of hard copy phone listings. Hell, I have not used a POTS line in my home since 2002. Strictly cellular and VoIP in my household.

If AT&T wishes to be truly lean, it should probably stop printing these books. However, it appears that they are mandated local Public Service Commissions.

Bob Frankston has a very interesting assessment of the pickle AT&T has found themselves. He isn't all too sympathetic either :-) See his excerpt below.

This sounds like a great deal. If ATT wants to hand over their copper physical plant to communities to use as a resource I would take them up on their offer immediately.

The communities can then hire companies to "light" it up as DSL using 2010 electronics (100Mbps per pair or higher). This is divestiture II done right.

And without being shackled by the 19th century telegraphy idea of charging services we'd be able to achieve Ambient Connectivity (http://rmf.vc/?n=IAC) with or without wires!

He raises some valid points about the greed associated with PSTN and the general disdain that AT&T now has for all of its copper networks. What are they to do with the millions of copper lines running across the US?
Allowing municipalities to purchase the copper lines would be one method of disrupting the stranglehold that wireless carriers have on consumers. Imagine what would happen if there was added competition? True free market model at its best, not a simple oligarchy of a few dominant wireless carriers as we have today.

Though I often worry about the new GOOG, they seem to looking off into the future and strongly considering muni-fiber networks.
*Aside* - AT&T also owns its fair share of dark fiber too, perhaps they'll suffocate on the vast stretches of fiber before they figure out how to really benefit from it. It does appear that the venerable MaBell wants to get out of the telephony infrastructure business and leap into the VoIP service arena. It would seem that there is much more profits to be made offering services for the next growth market. POTS is dying a slow death, and any left holding onto a service level agreement that is laden with PSTN is plain foolish. IP vs. Dark Fiber is another topic for another

I have long been a proponent of muni-fiber (citizen owned fiber networks) efforts. Sadly, there just are not enough viable muni-fiber projects in this country.

I long for the day that FTTH is commonplace and de-regulated so that people could have choice.
At this point, greed and arrogance is very pervasive in the leadership ranks of the wireless carriers, that innovation is essentially stifled in this country. The other issue is that most Americans are not really familiar with the technology or their rights for access. So-called developing nations (ie China and South Africa) have more infrastructure problems but have far better connectivity (albeit prohibitively expensive in certain areas). The point here is that the US must figure out a means to totally disrupt the existing data delivery model paradigm. It really takes courage and money.

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Mobile Open Source: Better lucky than smart

Assorted smartphones. From left to right, top ...

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Every so often I get inspired by a random blog entry, and Fabrisio post gave me pause. Firstly, I have admired the Funumbol project and its very slick syncml application. Anytime you can have the ability to sync your smartphone to the server that _you_ own without any proprietary middleware, I must simply rejoice.

I have been pseudo-ranting about the state of Linux based smartphones. Most of my angst comes from the lack of competition in this space. I don't happen to be an Android fanboi, as I struggle with the tracking that GOOG has deployed in their default software stack. Sure, I know that most of the stuff can be disabled at the shell level, but I'm paranoid. He highlighted an alliance of sorts with Intel and Nokia - MeeGo project. I will have to learn about more about this MeeGo project, perhaps it could be something that bares watching. At least from the stand point of challenging the GOOG, people that profess to love free markets should be grinning from ear-to-ear. Geez, just 3-5 years the mobile OS market was quite stagnant. You had Symbian, PalmOS and crappy Windows Mobile. I suppose some might argue outside of iPhone's BSD with thin layers of proprietary paint and Android not much has changed. Well I suppose you might be correct if you were just looking at smartphones. The entire world of MIDs has really taken a leap forward in the last 3-5yrs. Outside of Apple Newton (device that few folks understood) which was peaked much too soon, and Palm devices there was not much innovation on tablets.

Somehow, I wish that Palm ALP could seriously challenge Android and offer consumers more choice. Perhaps this is just wishful thinking. I suppose time will tell.

FOSS Mobile - Better Lucky Than Smart

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Foray into MythTV

Diagram of a possible setup. The central serve...

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At this point it is probably worthwhile to admit that I am guilty of "paralysis of analysis" in a big way. I suppose that having this problem can be detrimental when dealing with technology. This is particularly true when talking about multimedia hardware. In 2006, I purchased a throw away components with the intent of building my own mythTV PVR. I did nothing with hardware setup, I didn't spend much time configuring the software (Knoppmyth R5). In truth, the catalyst that drew me to the project in the first place was the dreaded "broadcast flag" that cable companies used to threaten consumers in an effort to appease Hollywood. I ran out an purchased the pcHDTV HD3000 for ~$185.00, as it was the only DVB that was oblivious to the broadcast flag. It would happily grab OTA digital content so that it could be viewed later.

I was so amped to get started with this project.. Life got in the way, and I realized that I don't watch that much TV. So, the hardware aged and the technology train left without me. The box was constructed of Intel Motherboard (i815 chipset), 512MB onboard RAM, 2 analog tuner cards Hauppauge WinTV PVR-350. The analog tuners are virtually useless now as most cable networks have killed their analog spectrum in favor of the gov't mandated digital spectrum.

*Sigh* Paralysis of analysis, I curse thee ;-) My mythTV box is functioning as a frontend/backend combo. It contains a modest set of ATA hard disks. There is a 250GB HD which contains the Arch Linux Distro (LinHES R6.01). There is also 350GB disk for additional storage. The myth box also mounts the NFS share from the household inexpensive NAS the Promise NS4300N. As stated in a previous entry, the NS4300N contains 4 - 1TB Seagate drives running RAID5. Approximately 3TB of usable storage.

Anyway, I still have the HD-3000, which will help me capture the unencrypted content on Comcast network. At this point I still need to tune the card so that I can use the appropriate frequency. I'm getting some channel frequency errors generated from the HD-3000.
DVB: adapter 0 frontend 0 frequency 959000000 out of range (44000000..958000000)
dtvscan[9374]: segfault at 0 ip 0804bf04 sp bfc85540 error 4 in dtvscan[8048000+
5000]

Running "dtvsignal" a script provided by the folks at PCHDTV

dtvsignal -q
using '/dev/dvb/adapter0/frontend0' and '/dev/dvb/adapter0/demux0'
setting frontend to QAM cable
tuning to 57000000 Hz
video pid 0x0021, audio pid 0x0024
dtvsignal ver 1.0.7 - by Jack Kelliher (c) 2002-2007
channel = 2 freq = 57000000Hz table 57
channel = 2 freq = 57000000Hz
30db 0% 25% 50% 75% 100%
Signal: | . : . | ._____:_____._____|

So here are the mythTV challenges -


  • Setting up the HD-3000 as the primary or default capture card

  • Tuning the HD-3000 to the appropriate frequency for Comcast

  • Setup lvm to easily handle storage growth

Obviously, I want to have access to the encrypted HD content so, I'll likely need to purchase the Hauppage HD-PVR (1212). Thus I'd be able to record two channels and also watch live TV.
At present, the current setup will allow me to record and watch live TV. I'd like to remove the analog tuners (PVR-350). This would free up space on the motherboard so that I could then retire the very old AGP NVidia 6000x graphics card with a PCI compliant NVidia 8000x capable of VDPAU.

Hopefully, I can resolve these issues over the next couple of weeks. Ultimately, the myth box will leave the lab and become the centerpiece of our entertainment system. There is still much to do before it can be wife tested :-)

More on this later.

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Palm Pre shot from Mobile World Congress.

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Though, I am not a Crackberry aficionado, I do find it interesting that RIM is now fighting for relevancy in the smartphone market. Palm continues to disappoint despite it use of Open Source Software. The LIMO and ALP projects are very interesting, but I can't seem to understand why there aren't more devices in the mainstream. Perhaps the mind share of the average developer is becoming more Android and iPhone.

Though I have never owned a RIM product, I did notice that it took quite awhile for them to market a device where you could actually use "touch" to manipulate the GUI. Palm devices have had this feature for at least 6yrs. Additionally the proprietary enterprise server that had been a something of a cash cow, competitive advantage (albeit ridiculously expensive) for corporate users is now being given away. When you have free software tools (ie IMAPD and OpenLDAP) it really does not make much sense to continue spending a huge monthly fees to support always on email. Besides methinks the huge corporate accounts are dwindling in this economic downturn. If RIM is to grow inside the SMB market, they will need to deliver more malleable tools to the end-user.

I'm not going to berate Palm anymore in this space, as I continue to use my trusty Treo650. Eventually, I'm going to have to migrate to a more robust platform that provides me with a somewhat real-time network (3G perhaps) and a few more social networking options. I do not need my entire smartphone experience to be laden with Twitter and Facebook. I'm more interested in running ssh, VNC and openvpn or irc client when the time arises.

RIM Surprises the Street - Battles Opens Source Offerings from Palm and Google

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OpenEMR - At a glance

This will be a short summary of my first encounter with OpenEMR software package. I wish that I could say that I simply stumbled across OpenEMR, but in fact I had been supporting a joint business venture. At the time, the principal was actually resigned to use a turn-key or shrink wrapped electronic medical record. The rationale was that it would far easier to use a program that was specifically suited for their industry. There were a few pre-requisites, client scheduling, therapy notes, syncing calendars smartphones.

We immediately discovered that the shrink wrapped software, while quite polished and sexy looking did not afford us the ability to customize or provide the key features we were seeking. The idea of having the application share its data across applications was out of the question. Enter OpenEMR. I suppose it would be meaningful to explain the term electronic medical record. If you've been listening to the rhetoric that has been uttered by politicians and news media alike, the conversation of EMRs must have been discussed. In a nutshell, EMRs provide a unique to share, track and manage patient medical history. Perhaps most importantly, EMRs help empower the patient to actually manage their own medical history.
IMHO, EMRs help de-mystify the practice of primary care clinicians. Allow me to share a scenario... I decide to go skiing in Aspen. While on the ski trip, I suffer an awkward fall and brake my collar bone (not too far from the realm of possibility) and do not have access to my primary care physician. I get rushed off to the emergency room in CO. I get there and nobody can talk to me because I am unconscious and my wallet has been stolen. Wow, what a mess..

So, let's imagine for a second that I have USB flash drive or some other digital repository on my person. Additionally, the hospital or clinic has a electronic patient registry that contains information which would link my personal health record with that of my local physician. I know that this sounds futuristic and highly improbable, but this scenario is roughly the blueprint for the Patient-Centered Medical Home (PC-MH). The aforementioned link includes a short shockwave video clip that does a very good job of explaining the concept of PC-MH. At ~2.30min of the clip it mentioned electronic medical records (EMR). Anyway now that I've digressed, let's get back to OpenEMR shall we?


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Retiring the Smoothie

AMD K5 PR166

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After many years of firewall happiness, I finally was forced to retire my smoothwall DIY firewall. I built this box during the time when it was sexy to create a firewall from scratch using a throw away beige box. In fact, the box had been powered by the venerable AMD K5 CPU (133Mhz).. It ran flawlessly since 2000. Well why retire it now? I simply need to reduce the thermal footprint in the lab. Secondly, I realized that the squid proxy seemed to be causing me some issues. Now that I run a managed switch Linksys SRW224P and Linksys VPN/Router RV082, I didn't see the point in running two firewalls.

Oh well, I can re-deploy the box for another purpose. It was cool to drop two NICs in the box and have complete control over the behavior of the packet filtering. The box matriculated from ipchains to iptables. How sweet it was ;-)

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Analog Hole Musings

Component video cable with 3 RCA connectors.

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When Comcast decided to convert its services to digital, there were several channels that I could no longer view. This problem was due to the fact that I did not have a cable set-top box. Most of the HD digital content is encrypted and can only be viewed via cable box. The move eventually forced me into trying out the AT&T U-Verse program. The U-Verse price seemed to be very good for the value, thus I participated in the trial promotion. I grabbed the U-200 pkg. Immediately I realized that you get a far better picture with IPTV. Besides having a really great picture, I also noticed that my local PEG channels had disappeared. Eventually, the anger wore off and I didn't think much about it.

Once I finally discovered the Neuros OSD, I began to record baseball games from FOX. I simply used the component video connections on the TV to captured standard definition and OTH HD (Fox, ESPN, etc). After doing this for roughly 3 - 5 months, one day component video data capturing stopped working. Very weird. I then resorted to using S-Video connection on the U-Verse DVB, but that was less than optimal. The audio was clipped and the quality of the video was horrible. Lastly, I'd horror stories of folks attempting to use MythTV with U-Verse service. Somehow you had to get two U-Verse gateways and essentially sniff the DSLAM packets and spoof an IP address. Though it sounded quite intriguing, I love a challenge. My wife would likely have a fit. Too much work for me these days. So I quickly got rid of U-Verse.

So it really is the lesser of two evils. Fool with AT&T U-Verse or Comcast. I don't believe Comcast spends too much time encrypting the data leaving it's set top boxes. I would imagine they probably use QAM, but never try to discourage folks for manipulating the analog hole.

To date, I've upgraded the Comcast set top box from the DCT-5100 to the DCX-3400 DVR QAM. I noticed the older DCT-5100 had a disabled IEEE-1394 (Firewire) port and that would be illegal.

So, once I finally get MythTV setup appropriately, I'll have commercial flagging goodness and total control over recording and channel line-up.

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Foray into DOCSIS 3.0 - Weirdness of DNS Caching

A gigabit HP-ProCurve network switch in a nest...

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I recently upgraded to a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem - Motorola Surfboard SB6120. After sharing the MAC address and product S/N, the unit was provisioned by Comcast. All of the LAN clients were able to ping out and resolve FQDNs without issue. However, I have one rogue winxp client that seems to be caching some weird Comcast maintenance site. It was the only box that was not using our local proxy (TOR/Privoxy). Once I setup the client to use our pseudo-local proxy the problem went away. However, this was not an elegant solution due to the decreased speed of sending traffic through TOR. Personally, I don't have a problem using TOR. Works well for me. I suppose that I could have offered foxyproxy to this particular user. However the owner of that winxp box isn't really interested in using proxies. Go figure :-)

Anyway the weird cached maintenance site can be seen here.

After a bit of head scratching I realized that I had a DNS problem. For whatever reason, none of the clients could resolve a FQDN.

Most of the time spent on the phone with Comcast help desk/support was useless. Some of the excuses were, "the cable modem was too new", "your router/firewall is the culprit".. The simple troubleshooting script for the average one-eyed droid was exhausted after I presented my problem. In fairness to Comcast, there was one tech who seemed interested. He shared all possible DNS server IPs, both public and Comcast specific. Nothing solved the issue. We even tried GOOGs public DNS servers (obviously not ideal), but did not solve the issue.

I spent a few days fooling around and eventually reverted back to my tried and true Linksys Cable modem BEFCMU010 (DOCSIS 1.0).

Some things I checked during my trouble shooting effort:

Rebooted both firewall (Smoothwall 2.0) and 1GB network switch
Rebooted with Ativa wireless G WAP
Rebooted Cable Modem
grepped through the squid access logs on Smoothwall 2.0.box

Below are snippets from my squid proxy access log. I use squid as a cheap caching server. Judging from the logs, it seems that the some sites are being re-directed others are being authorized. Not sure why.


192.168.0.2 - - [07/Jan/2010:11:35:46 -0500] "GET http://actsvr.comcastonline.com/landing_filter.html? HTTP/1.0" 200 473 TCP_MISS:DIRECT
192.168.0.2 - - [07/Jan/2010:11:37:09 -0500] "GET http://actsvr.comcastonline.com/landing_filter.html? HTTP/1.0" 200 473 TCP_MISS:DIRECT
192.168.0.2 - - [07/Jan/2010:11:37:52 -0500] "GET http://actsvr.comcastonline.com/landing_filter.html? HTTP/1.0" 200 473 TCP_MISS:DIRECT

192.168.0.20 - - [03/Jan/2010:18:05:16 -0500] "GET http://toolbarqueries.google.
com/search? HTTP/1.1" 302 500 TCP_MISS:DIRECT
192.168.0.20 - - [03/Jan/2010:18:05:39 -0500] "GET http://pong1.clientapps.yahoo.com/csver/1_1 HTTP/1.1" 200 484 TCP_HIT:NONE
192.168.0.20 - - [03/Jan/2010:18:06:37 -0500] "POST http://bwhome.logitech.com/B21466 HTTP/1.1" 0 0 TCP_MISS:DIRECT
192.168.0.20 - - [03/Jan/2010:18:08:13 -0500] "GET http://linkhelp.clients.google.com/tbproxy/lh/fixurl? HTTP/1.1" 302 526 TCP_MISS:DIRECT

Here are some of the things I learned in this failed attempt:


  • Onion Routers are terrific - I was able to circumvent the Comcast caching issue using TOR and Privoxy
  • Never buy newly released modems without understanding how they work with various ISPs
  • Don't expect provisioning to be a simple evolution
  • DOCSIS 3.0 has some real potential once it becomes mainstream and all ISPs begin to use it.

Wonder if other people have had any success with these newer cable modems...
I will likely re-visit this experiment once I return the SB6120 back to "Worst Buy"..
Perhaps I will have a better experience next time.

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Promise NS4300N - Revisited

rsync

Image via Wikipedia

Now that I have rooted the device it is infinitely more useful to me. My experience with this NAS has been rather interesting. As mentioned in a previous entry, I have four 1TB Seagate drives. The NAS is configured for RAID 5, thus I have slightly less than 3TB usable disk space. I simple 'df -h' yields the output below.
glutton:/VOLUME1/VIDEO 2.7T 198G 2.6T 8% /smartstor_video
Rsyncd runs on port 879. It seems that the Promise engineers setup the daemon to allow people to mirror their data with other NS4300N also running rsyncd. I still find it odd running rsync without encapsulating or encrypting the data with ssh. Somehow, I was initially confused with the idea of double colons '::' when denoting the destination or remote module name. For instance 'rsync -av host::src /dest'

I still need to write a script to back-up the home LAN nightly. Since there is no running ssh daemon (bummer no keys) on the NAS, I'm forced to store passwds in a text file in the appropriate /etc directory. Clearly not ideal, but it does get the job done. Despite the use of this flat file, I still get prompted for a passwd. Obviously, I am still doing something wrong. I still have not tried all of the dlna features of the SmartStor NS4300N. Universal Plug n Play (uPnP) is supposed to work out of the box. This will be useful when I begin streaming music to various desktop clients in my home.
Once I got NFS working properly, I was quite gleeful. Though Samba also works out of the box, I'm not that interested. I simply don't have very many windows boxen in my home.

These days, I store all of the home multimedia content on the NS4300N, it happily serves up movies to my Neuros OSD. So, I can play movies on my television in the living room. Not earth shattering, but very convenient. One day, I'll get off my dead ass and finish my MythTV project. Between my Asterisk excursions and other distractions or diversions, I never seem to be able to get everything done.

When I initially purchased the Promise NS4300N, I was merely interested in back-up and a storage median for all of my acquired digital content. The average DVD rip eats 1.4GB of disk space. I suppose I could rip my entire DVD collection (not practical for the average person), as I only have four DVD films.. Well, you could see how this would add up. Eventually, I'll have family videos and of course the wayward netcast AG Speaks audio show. I installed Mediatomb on the NAS, so streaming content should be fairly easy to achieve. Will post more about this device as time permits.

Rsync is a wonderful tool and IMHO, totally blows away the venerable tar for the tasks that I need to perform. I've tried unsuccessfully, to restore a 5GB gzip'd tar archive. I must say it was a very humbling experience for me ;-(

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Foray into Y! Pipes

pipes.png

Ordinarily I don't talk much about webdev, as I simply see much of the so-called web2.0 stuff as mere tools to get jobs done. Additionally, much of the so-called web2.0 stuff tends to deal with nasty vendor lock-in, albeit disguised as ease of use or data brokering. As much as GOOG and flickr and the vast majority of social networking tools espouse to bring people together, I have found that they work very hard to profit off your data and make it very difficult to control your bits.

Case in point, I have become a class rep for my beloved BTHS. We have a reunion coming up fairly soon. As a result we have to communicate all of the events and raise money to support activities for our classmates. The challenge is that we have a very disjointed group of alumni. People on other continents and various regions in the US. Interestingly a fair amount of our high school classmates have found their way to FBOOK, but we also have a group albeit quite small using Y! Groups.

So, my initial task was to help fellow class reps collaborate more effectively and suppress all the annoying email that generates from tasks and scheduling. Email is perhaps the worse means to communicate with a large group. I don't care about email lists and email clients which can generate threaded discussions. When you are dealing with time-sensitive data, email is a very poor communication tool. You can't even archive and share group email easily without setting up some sort of mailing list. IMHO, it would have been overkill to setup a mailing list for a 4-5 month project time horizon. What to do?
Enter the wiki, more specifically tikiwiki. It was fairly trivial to install on my server. Nothing more than PHP and mysql, simple building blocks. I didn't even need to setup accounts or create special directories for data archiving, as tikiwiki provides a means to use the database as a virtual file repository. Once I provided the team with a brief overview of wiki use and its origins, they quickly understood the value proposition. Whenever you have disparate groups that must collaborate to solve problems wikis can be great tools. Since we're not slinging code, versioning is not so much of an issue. To be clear, the wiki does handle file locking and timestamping quite well. So versioning is not so much of a problem. GIT or subversion not required ;-)

Now that I've digressed from the topic, allow to get to point. As stated previously, we have a large number of classmates using FBOOK. Our class reps will be spending a significant amount of time using the wiki to communicate, and if any of them are lazy like me.. Well they will probably get tired of visiting both the wiki and FBOOK on a regular basis to check for new content. The obvious solution is RSS, but here is where the lock-in or walled garden bites you in the ass. To my knowledge, FBOOK does not generate RSS feeds for any of its content. In fact, GOOG bots or other agents scarcely crawl the content that lies therein.
So they've got your data and you can't get it and syndicate it for your use. Enter Y! pipes..
I know the web2.0 shills discovered it long ago. I suppose I first learned of it about 3yrs ago, but I never saw the value. It didn't scratch an itch of any sort. I don't use technology for technology sake, I'm all about application. Y! Pipes allows you to splice disjointed data patterns for repurposing. I suppose a loose analogy would be the venerable and uber useful Unix pipe.
The resulting pipe can be shared as a RSS feed, but the pipes engine is 100% owned by Y! Make sure you read and understand the TOS.

Now, I have feeds for the FBOOK groups, which can then be imported into our wiki for general consumption.

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In Search of the Linux Smartphone

the Neo 1973, the first smartphone using the O...

Image via Wikipedia


As I monitor the blogosphere for feedback on the just released Palm Pre. The results certainly have not been overwhelming. In truth, if Palm is unable to execute this product launch in a successful fashion, it would likely be there last opportunity to reclaim relevance in the smartphone market. I have always enjoyed the PalmOS, as it seemed that they had captured the mindshare of many developers. In fact, Palm founder Jeff Hawkins once stated that Palm purposely wanted their devices to be hackable with the hope that more developers would write applications for their devices.

However, with the recent launch of the Pre, some people have indicated that acquiring the SDK has not been seemless. Regarding relevancy in the smartphone market, there really is much room for the growth in this space, as there are only a few serious players, ie (Nokia, Apple, and RIMM). I didn't mention M$ because AFAIK, they do not make hardware for smartphones. Obviously, they do have a small share of the software stack for smartphone market. Clearly, Hawkins understands the urgency, so he hired two ex-Cupertino executives. Jon Rubenstein is credited with product creation effort for the iPod. In fact, he recently replaced long standing Palm CEO, Ed Colligan.

In truth, the majority of people who use cell phones are still tethered to the flip-flop style phones. Smartphones are still relative new comer and have a much higher cost of ownership. I purchased my unlocked Treo 650 on e-Bay roughly 4yrs ago for $225.00.
Since I have been using GSM/GPRS based phone, I have sworn never to go back to CDMA. I like the idea of a SIM card and the ability to have a functioning device in several countries.
Obviously, I do find the Pre's WebOS quite intriguing as it is running a Linux kernel.
According to other hackers, there is a bit of USB device driver slight of hand taking place, which permits functionality with iTunes. None of this matters to me, as I will never use iTunes, but I clearly understand that with Linux and open standards all things are possible.

There are other Linux based smartphones in production and on the horizon. Perhaps the most notable is the Neo FreeRunner, which is powered by the OpenMoko project. Unfortunately, there were several early manufacturing snafus and it appears that they have a glutton of inventory that they can not exhaust. IMHO the project still has a great deal of promise and contrary to popular belief, there is significant interest in a totally open smartphone platform. OpenMoko is essentially providing you the building materials to create your smartphone stack. The hardware is open, and of course the software is too. You can run any software image of your choosing. This is much more than the GOOG G1 is willing to offer. Although, Android is essentially a Java-based SDK it runs atop of Linux kernel. However, GOOG has attempted to appease T-Mobile by not allowing folks to gain root access. Nonetheless, if you probe deep enough, I would imagine that gaining root access is a trivial exercise. It is possible that Android will win out only because they have the tremendous GOOG capital warchest, and not due to any technical merit. This space does bear watching. Indeed it is a battle for the pocket and not the desktop. Linux can run everywhere and anywhere at any time.


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While I'm sometimes forced to use unprotected wi-fi hotspots when on travel, I do so without much trepidation. Most people complain about the complexities of using a VPN. Frankly, if you have remote access to Unix or Linux box that is running a ssh server you can essentially gain the same benefit that a vpn system can afford you.

A lesson on the many different ssh 'flags' would be beyond the scope here; however, you can tunnel most TCP/UDP based applications via SOCKS v5. I happen to run privoxy web proxy and tor on my box at home.

So if I setup my localhost (in this case my linux notebook) accept a tunnel from my box running openssh, I can tunnel all http traffic through this makeshift tunnel.
Since privoxy server listens on port 8118, I setup my tunnel as such..
ssh -NL 8118:localhost:8118 user@host (assumes ssh running on port22 - not advised)

Below is the output from 'netstat -tuap | grep 8118'
tcp 0 0 localhost:8118 *:* LISTEN 13188/ssh
tcp 0 0 localhost:8118 localhost:47018 TIME_WAIT -
tcp 0 0 localhost:8118 localhost:47019 TIME_WAIT -
tcp6 0 0 ip6-localhost:8118 [::]:* LISTEN

So now I still have one more step to get the benefit of privoxy and tor on my notebook.
If you're running Firefox or any Mozilla browser (I'm not sure if IE understands SOCKS), you simply need to do 'edit -> preferences -> network -> settings' select radio button for manual proxy settings.. Add localhost (127.0.0.1) and port 8118.

Now to tunnel TCP traffic via ssh - ssh -D 9999 user@host (again assumes sshd is running on port 22). The 'D' flag or switch tells ssh to tunnel SOCKS. on port 9999.
You would then add this information to the manual proxy settings as we did in the previous step. You should now notice the same benefits as you were running them on your local box. For people forced to run M$, fear not you can also realize the same benefits by using the putty client. However, you still will need access to box that is running openssh on the other end of the tunnel. I don't think that W2K3 server can run openssh natively. So you'll need Linux box. Get with the program ;-)

Promise NS4300N - Inexpensive NAS

I do not typically crack under peer pressure, but I was talking to friend last Summer. He and I were lamenting on our inability to store the ever growing digital content in our private lives. Why the sheer size of the video files that you store from your favorite bittorrent client can be enormous. Not to mention the frightening prospect of hard disk failure. Though, the cost of modest hard drive is roughly $0.10 - $0.50 cents per GB, the cost of NAS is still not available at commodity pricing.

He mentioned that he'd purchased a device from Fry's at a price point of $299. Yes, the price was tempting enough, but what sold me on the NS4300N was the fact that it ran a customized Linux kernel under the hood. The heavy lifting is handled by open or well understood protocols NFS, FTP, SMB, and rsync. Additionally it is capable of RAID 1, 5 and 10. Regardless of the temptation, I was really torn between building my own Linux RAID box and deploying software RAID and taking the lazy route (ie turn-key) and purchasing a box like the NS4300N.

I spent time perusing the local LUG mailing list and most folks warned me against a pure hardware RAID solution, as you become beholden to a hardware OEM. I suppose their warnings fell upon deaf ears because I decided that saving a few hours was more valuable than freedom. Geez, did I just say thought? RMS and Eben Moglen would not be happy ;) Strike One.

So, I did a few hustles and saved up enough loot to purchase four 1TB Samsung SATA drives.
Once I finally got time to setup the box, I discovered two critical gotchas.

As trivial as it sounds the plastic carrier trays should have directional arrows on them. Took me about 5 - 10min to figure out how the HD should be installed in the orange carrier trays.
Secondly, the most annoying gotcha is the fact that Promise forces you to use Windows to setup the NS4300N. Huh? Maybe I missed something, I thought it was running a Linux kernel under a thin layer open protocols? Why on Earth would you force me to use a proprietary OS to run an install program? Surely, there must be simple install scripts that you could place on CD.

This is the age old problem that I have I ranted about here in previous entries. Because the GPL v2 is fairly liberal (certainly not as liberal as BSD licenses), companies have been able to skate by and essentially disregard Linux desktop users. The irony is that the device would be virtually useless and certainly much more expensive if they were not using Linux kernel under the hood. Some folks would call this Tivoization.

I suppose this is the price you pay if you want turn-key. Promise offers no "official" means of accessing the root account on the box, nor do they really want you to open the device. After taking a look on back panel, I noticed it had some weird torque style fasteners. However, I have done more extensive digging and discovered that many folks have been hacking this device and adding greater value to the NS4300N. Methinks, Promise could learn a lesson from Linksys and begin to embrace the idea that people are going to create value where it didn't exist previously.

Rants aside, I was able to setup the appliance fairly easily. Although the setting up RAID 5 seemed take the better part of 1hr, to set it up and install latest firmware

After scanning the box, I discovered the following services

PORT STATE SERVICE
21/tcp open ftp
80/tcp open http
111/tcp open rpcbind
139/tcp open netbios-ssn
443/tcp open https
445/tcp open microsoft-ds
515/tcp open printer
657/tcp open unknown
658/tcp open unknown
670/tcp open unknown
1026/tcp open LSA-or-nterm
2049/tcp open nfs
MAC Address: xxxxxxx (Promise Technology)

So, you can see NFS, Samba, and https services running just to name a few. The device is also capable of serving as a print server. I understand that Promise provided telnet in earlier firmware revisions, which folks reverse engineered to access the root account. Probably the reason that service was removed in the latest firmware release. You'll also note that ssh does not appear to be running either. However, I think Promise is running a bit of obfuscation, I believe the service is probably running on a obscure port. It will eventually be discovered.

While the box is fairly capable of behaving as a backup device for my network, I will give it a thumbs down until I have sufficiently hacked it.

NFS doesn't seem to work as advertised. If I can't ssh into the box and access the CLI, then it is useless to me. IMHO, Samba is only marginally useful for an exclusive Linux environment. I don't own any windows machines. The office loaner notebook computer doesn't count. I will never understand why companies decide to dumb down technology for ease of use. I understand that Promise was responsible for many advances in RAID technology. I'm sure that some that knowledge found its way into the Linux community, but I have no idea they would be so protective of this NS4300N. The price point is excellent and quite competitive. Only problem is the execution and delivery. They've crippled the device for the sake of intellectual property which they partially own. I simply wanted a back-up device and means to gain much needed redundancy for the data on my network. I report back as I peel the onion.

Interesting account on distributed video and the application therein. I wonder if Vint ever considered the benefits of BitTorrent protocol? The idea of having a model that supports one-to-many will not scale well unless you have an infinite pipe. I believe BitTorrent solves this problem. If you're going to advocate Internet access for everyone, clearly the value of mesh networks must be discussed in greater detail. Luckily the crowded address space concern has been mitigated by IPv6, I'm just not sure when the U.S will begin to take full advantage of the protocol. China and Japan seem to have already rolled this out. Methinks much of the bandwidth constraints is propagated by greedy wireless vendors arguing about who owns the pipe. IPTV and other applications are largely niche geek pleasures, due to the posturing and constant bickering of vendors. I suppose State and Federal legislatures are at fault too.

Upgrade by Necessity

My venerable workstation has finally gasped its last gasp. Sigh* it must know that I rec'd my stimulus package. No better time than the present to replace the ASUS a7m266-D motherboard, as the system no longer will post. I've been running Slackware 11.0 on this box since 2003. First the NVIDIA graphics card TI-4200 failed about 2months ago, now the motherboard voltage regulator has failed. I'm glad that the BIOS is smart enough not to boot the system, and not damage the modded AMD Athlon XP.

Anyway, I now have a reason to upgrade the workstation to 64bit. I'll likely run slamd64, and experience the Slack 12.x goodness. Hopefully, I slamd64 has v.12.1 in its archive. Probably will put the older hardware on ebay..

Until, I get the workstation running again, I'll split time on both of my notebooks.

OLPC will fork

The latest OLPC news has left me befuddled and annoyed. Negroponte seems to have become intoxicated off the Redmond "get-high".. What is perhaps more disturbing is that it appears that OLPC leadership and many of its core developers is clearly split over the issue of allowing an XP port to the XO platform. Betrayal seems to be the often used word to describe the feelings of some of the people who have either worked with the project or have witnessed the momentum behind this effort. Though, I did not take advantage of the G1G1 campaign (I will likely grab an orginal XO from eBay), I also feel somewhat foolish. I have always been a supporter of the effort to support emerging nations (and our own struggling communities) ability to expose children to computing.

Negroponte seems to believe the most important aspect is getting "technology into the hands" of as many children as possible. The underlying OS is immaterial. Lots of people disagree. There are many reasons why the OLPC effort is in serious trouble.

  • Product Support
  • Deployment Strategies
  • Economies of Scale

However, let's focus on the goodness that OLPC has spawned. Prior to the OLPC project, very few vendors thought it was a good idea to build sub-compact, low-cost, high value notebook computers. This conventional wisdom was encouraged largely by the defacto M$ tribute that vendors must pay to include the proprietary OS. The cost of this tax is passed onto the consumer. So, the vendors were happy to retain the status quo and fostered the symbiotic relationship.

Enter OLPC, and its new partnerships with hardware vendors. The promise of several developing nations purchasing these machines made the proposition intriguing. Coupled with the fact the hardware would not be encumbered with software licenses and various impeding software patents. Now you have a serious game changer.

At the beginning of the project, Negroponte stated that the effort was about empowerment and access to knowledge. He agreed that Linux provided a significant advantage due to the ability of the kernel to take advantage of the optimized low power consumption architecture. I suppose what changed his mind is that he began to believe that the non-profit OLPC project was in the technology business, and not the goodwill business. It was never about providing children an avenue for children to learn Windows or M$ applications.

As stated earlier, the OLPC project spawned an interest in low-cost, sub-compact machines. ASUS eeePC and Intel ClassmatePC. I am certain there will be many others to follow.

Some have argued that F/OSS does not guarantee that children will be more interested in computing or programming. Well time will tell. One thing F/OSS does not foster is laziness. There is always something new to learn. Affordable and accessible computing is a mantra that makes sense to me. Obviously, Negroponte had a different agenda. It really is a shame. The only way to defeat the inevitable implosion is to fork the project. Essentially, that is one of the four freedoms of Open Source. I still have faith that people will make the right choice.

Humorous Capitulation

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I know that I am late, but I could not hold back on this one. Roughly four years ago, my buddy Keith had become one of the most vociferous Apple fanboys. He attributed this odd behavior to his frustration of stuff simply not working on the Linux platform. Mostly he was tired of reading, hacking and discovering. I was very sad for him, as he began to sound like an old man ;) I publicly called him Judas when he decided to leave the Linux community and become an MVP.

Actually, I have mellowed much since then. I am better now. What is it about the Apple platform that makes people overspend and subject themselves to so much abuse?
Well I do understand the idea of lifestyle products. Steve Jobs has worked very hard closing down the architecture, so that you must love his art or else. FWIW, his art is quite eyecatching, albeit costly. A friend recently mentioned something about the uniqueness of the powercord on Macintosh computers. Actually, I had never given it much thought. I suppose the concept is quite trivial. The device attaches to a wall via a magnet. If someone accidently trips over the cord, it decouples from the cable without dumping your overpriced notebook on the floor.

Simple enough. Why don't you see this "innovation" on PC hardware? Well it's called economies of scale. Apple only deals with a handful of suppliers, while Dell probably has hundreds of suppliers. Apple is a hardware company, while Dell is a logistics company. Both do an excellent job of walking lockstep with the vendors that place their components inside of the case that ultimately becomes a desktop or notebook computer. Basically, Apple owns the entire computing experience, so it _ought_ to just work out of the box. In fact, the Mac is so closed that you even have to buy a set of golden wrenches just work on the hardware. Help me understand, I just spent thousands of dollars on some hardware, and you tell me I can't work on it? Ridiculous.

What annoys me most about people who try running Linux for the first time is that they expect the same experience. They exclaim "Linux isn't ready for the laptop or desktop !" I retort Unix/Linux is user friendly, it is just particular about who its friends are...

Basically, Linux is nothing than a powerful kernel with some excellent GNU tools. Now when you start talking about the plethora of distributions (Slackware, Debian, Gentoo, Fedora, etc...) then you get tons of software. Hence a workable computing experience. Linux is not a software or hardware company. There are no promises when you download or buy a shrinked wrapped copy of your chosen distro. The only constant is that you will likely learn something new, and most importantly you have the freedom to do as you wish. Some might argue that Linux does not have legal codecs.. In some cases that is true; however, I do not lose much sleep over it.

These problems will be sorted out eventually. Now, Mr. Elder makes some great points about the Apple history and the whole Power Computing (read: eating your young) blunder. I believe the broader issue is economies of scale. If Dell decided to add some of the unique and rather exotic hardware to its platform, the added costs would certainly be passed onto the consumer.

Personally, I look at a computer as a commodity that is critical for learning. Not some luxury item that my people should drool over or wish they could whip my ass and take it from me. That said if you're in the Apple camp, you will continue to get raped with over priced hardware.
But you knew that already :)

Intelligent Design (Krusell Case)

new_krusell2_crop.png

Well, I received my new case before the close of 2007. Though I was happy to receive the new case, it does take at least 2-3 weeks for packages to arrive from Sweden. There must be a better way for Krusell to deal with product returns. Perhaps, it would best to create some sort of relationship with UPS, where they could act as a depot/proxy stateside. This would assure faster shipment to the US market.

Although, the case is handsome I could not easily detect any discernible differences in the quality of the mold in the multadapt. I
did not see any sort of fillet or rounding of the areas which were susceptible to stress risers.

Nonetheless, I have not seen any signs of fatigue cracks or wear since I have received it.
On the other hand the slide swivelkit has already failed. I will post pics of that particular failure mode at a later date. Luckily, since I am on my third or fourth Krusell case, I had one additional spare swivel kit, so I was irritated but not extremely angry. One can only hope that the swivel kit has several months of useful life.

I'll keep you posted.

Aggressive Bots

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These past couple of weeks I've been bombarded with a very pesky spider which appeared seemed to make requests for every single entry in my blog. The weird aspect of this inquiry was the bot seemed to disregard 'robots.txt', that is it never bothered to read the file before running roughshod through my site. Because the IP addresses were from the same octet block, I realized that I had a chance to defend myself. The user-agent appeared to originate from some Linux/Mozilla combination. Before I decided to ban the IP from my site, I figured that some investigative work would be necessary.

The 208.111.xxx block seemed to be connected to Limelight Networks LLC. Hmm, I thought it odd that Limelight would be interested in crawling my site. Doug Kaye and all of the IT Conversations folks didn't need any of my content, as they have one of the largest CDNs in thenation. So, after performing the ubiquitous GOOG search I discovered that others in the blogosphere were having similar issues with these bots.

Grepping through my access and error logs proves that I have successfully blocked the IP.


[Fri Feb 8 06:20:12 2008] [error] [client 208.111.154.15] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/blog/archives/000632.html[Fri Feb 8 04:01:42 2008] [error] [client 208.111.154.198] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/blog/archives/000522.html
[Fri Feb 8 04:01:43 2008] [error] [client 208.111.154.198] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/favicon.ico
[Fri Feb 8 04:11:20 2008] [error] [client 208.111.154.198] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/blog/archives/000053.html

Because I am of the inquisitive nature, I decided to take it a step further. A simple traceroute and stealth nmap revealed that it was not LimeLight Networks at all. It was actually Kavam, a company out of Tempe, AZ. When I say these bots were aggressive, I am not exaggerating. It was not uncommon to see 3-4 hits from the same bot within an hour.
I discovered the CEO of Kavam was Randy Adams. So, I called Mr. Adams and chatted with him and he confirmed my suspicions and also the story that I had read about from other bloggers.

Apparently, Kavam is working with same venture capitalists that funded LimeLight, LLC. Kavam, is taking snapshots of every website on the Internet. God Bless em. They wish to challenge the GOOG. The brute force method of getting content is admirable but quite annoying. I suppose it would not have been so bad if they would have simply told people of their intent. Perhaps if it had gone of for just a couple of days... This barrage went on for two weeks.
I have been blogging for roughly five years, so there is quite a bit of content to be archived. I wonder why Fooky never took this gestapo approach to collecting metadata? Anyway, I did ask Mr. Adams to be a guest on AG Speaks, hopefully he will chat with me before the company launches its killer application.

The case for encrypted text messaging

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In the wake of an embarrasing and very public display of misdeeds by Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, I immediately understood the importance of data encryption. Especially, when the information could be official government business or a personal piece of text that you do not want anyone but the recipient to see. I suppose the problem with the current SMS model is that the ILECbehave as a proxy for all information that passes through their servers. So by law, if say AT&T was subpoened for police officials, they would be inclined to give up the data. That simply is bad business. However, what if you could erect your own proxy before the data ever reached their servers?

From my limited knowledge of SMS, I believe it contains similar message headers to that of email. So, I imagine that encryption methods like GPG would suffice to prevent clear text SMS transmissions.

Recently, I was doing a bit of debugging with my ekiga softphone. Running the application with the following flag 'ekiga -d 4 ' revealed all of the message headers associated with initiating a VOIP conversation the To and From headers are very similar to SMTP headers. The ACK and INVITE headers were also quite familiar.

Phil Zimmermann's ZFone application encrypts VOIP traffic quite easily. More accurately, all VOIP traffic that uses established RFC standards. ZFone does not encrypt Skype traffic because Skype does not use SIP or any other industry standard protocol.

I will be looking for an SMS encryption method, you should too..

Virtual PR Watchdog

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It appears that my most recent Intelligent Design segment is receiving a great deal of interest. I discovered the following while perusing my server logs

http://72.51.39.238/~jdoak/converseon/eresponder.php?newtopic=1& startDate=2007-10-14&endDate=2007-10-15&account=73

Hmmm. So I thought, what would a good closet sysadmin do about this one? Well I scanned the box of the originating IP after following the URL yielded a 401 error. Nice set of FOSS tools on that machine.. I digress. Initially, I thought it was some sort of bot trying to be naughty. After further review and a bit of ubiquitous Googling, I discovered that a companies like Converseon and others are hired on a case to case basis to monitor blogs and other digital media. I suppose the effort is to help companies manage their digital reputation. I guess the Cluetrain Manifesto was correct. Markets are indeed conversations. Apparently the company which I showcased hired 'jdoak' to _monitor_ the conversation in this space.

So, I believe 'Jack' or Jake is playing the role of the embedded reporter ;)
Mr. Doak please introduce yourself to the community..

*Update* to the Krusell case, it appears that I will soon be receiving a more robust multiadapt design. Hopefully, many others will benefit from an improved plastic. Once I receive the new hardware, I will share my thoughts.

Who owns your data?

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Recently had an epiphany relative to data storage and digital identity. Granted my thoughts did not accrue in a vacuum, suffice to say that I have always been concerned with ownership. More specifically, the idea that it is very important to note that convenience comes at a price. I am not here to judge or criticize the desire for people to minimize complexity in their lives. I too have fallen victim to convenience.

I suppose half the battle is understanding the risks. What to do about it?
Here is an interesting use case.. Someone once told me that they did not like the fact that Flickr did not report the origin of the visitors to their photos. Flickr simply reports the number of views for each photo on their system. Perhaps this person wanted to figure out a way to make revenue from the traffic? Nope, that wasn't the concern at all. The concern was that their was no simple way to understand why people were interested in those particular photo sets. What brought them to those set of photos? Why did they find them particularly interesting? Some would probably ask, "Why do you care?" Well, it really is a matter of having some level of control over your data.
Ahh, but is the data really yours anymore? Methinks not. You have agreed to give up those rights the moment you agreed to share the content with Yahoo!

In return Flickr, will mix and slice the information to your liking. The same model applies to every so-called Web2.0 service. You throw your data up into the cloud and rely on the convenience of the service. Some people call it SaaS. To paraphrase Eben Moglen , giving your rights to the bailiff, pretty much guarantees that you do not have control your data anymore. Gmail works the same way, with the exception that the bailiff now earns residual income off your habits and the habits of your unknowing friends. It's all about data mining and ads revenue.

So, again the question is what are we to do about this concern? Well consider that a fundamental level, both Y! and GOOG utilize the same building materials that are readily available in the wild. In a world Free and Open Source Software. I'm not talking about building a private datacenter. Of course that would be cost prohibitive. What I am suggesting is that you begin to store some of your own data. The cost of a terabyte of storage is roughly 1/4 the cost of the same quantity 5yrs ago. The software that you could use to search and index your own data is free. However, cost of learning how to manipulate and use these building materials is not free.

Well, you have to use your good judgment. What are the tradeoffs? What is the cost benefit? I do not have all answers. I merely pose the question. In fact, it is a question that many others have asked too. Fortunately, we still have time think about a solution.

Eben Moglen's MySQL Conference talk

Bradley Kuhn Software Freedom Law Center

*Aside* If you listen to Brad's talk closely, you might actually hear my question about tivoization and GOOG towards the end of the Q&A period.

Much Ado About Java

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I have been following the various posts regarding Apple's decision not to include Java support Leopard (newest OSX) release. Frankly, I believe it is much ado about nothing. IMHO, Java has a home on many embedded platforms. In fact, the Gmail and Google Maps applications which run on my Treo 650 are powered by Java. Some of my most used software (Limewire and Azureus) are indeed Java applications. So, I really do not believe Apple can curtail the sphere of influence of the Java.

True indeed Sun Microsystems really never managed Java very well. It took them nearly a decade to figure out that releasing Java under the GPL was necessary and critical to the continued proliferation of the software. However, I really do not believe Sun cared much about the desktop platform, after all they spent much of their cycles on building out hardware. Hell, I would call them a hardware company. At the end of the day, Java will have a home in well-conditioned environments. It has very well defined objectives as middleware or glue for various server based applications. As mentioned earlier, Java also works fairly well on ARM processors (ie Smart Phones, etc.).

SMS as a tool for observing social networks

I have been fascinated with the proliferation of SMS as a tool for communication. Just the other day, someone in my peer group suggested that SMS was a teenage thing. I sometimes forget that I traverse a different world than most, so I was a little taken aback by that response. How many people have the same opinion about text messaging? How many people know anything about smartphones?
More on this later.. The premise of this post, is the idea that SMS can be used as means to observe social behavior of disparate networks. Studies would suggest that you can actually link these disparate groups via the common activities of their SMS traffic.

Researchers have begun to study this behavior on the continent of Africa. What I find most interesting is the idea that assumptions and analogies can be drawn from traffic shaping. The by-product of these assumptions can be quite surprising.

As I have stated previously, the mobile device is often the first computing device used by people in developing nations. So it is not hard to imagine GSM cell phones being available at little or no cost. If you can divorce yourself from the US wireless carrier billing model, and the current wireless carrier silo (vendor lock-in) model. It would not be difficult to imagine that a SIM card is often free in other countries. Here in the US there is a cost to use the SIM card (regardless if the device is locked or unlocked). I do not believe that we have a pre-paid SIM model. If I am wrong someone please correct me.

The EPROM project is an example of the ongoing research in the mobile phone space. I'm not surprised that Africa was chosen for this research, as it seems that everyone has always wanted to study Africa. To his credit, EPROM head, Nathan Eagle used Harvard undergrad students as guinea pigs before taking the research to the continent of Africa.

Wonders of NTP (revisited)

As I described in a previous entry, NTP is a quite useful tool to address drifting PC hardware clock. So, during the past few weeks I noticed that my workstation clock was roughly 6min slower than expected. I immediately checked my setclock script and realized that two of the public pool servers had gone off line. Simple fix, right.. Well not exactly, it seems that many of the chrono servers do not communicate on the UDP port.

I spent the next 20 minutes searching NTP.org for servers which accepted UDP packets. UDP is not the most reliable means of transferring packets, so it makes sense that folks would avoid it. Hence most of the primary or StratumOne servers did not accept respond to UDP requests.

Nonetheless, I am a creature of habit and didn't really want to revise my script. While conducting my search I found several inactive servers too. Luckily they offer a means to report unresponsive chrono servers. I ran nslookup against the desired server and then pinged the IP address.
Once I was convinced the server was alive, I then added the desired chrono server to my script. Now I'll have to make sure my cronjob is running and I'm done.

Alternative Prime Mover

In keeping with an earlier theme of alternative fuels and strategies to reduce dependencies on internal combustion engines.. It appears that a French company has released a compressed air B-Series auto. The MDI Air Car. Obviously, the vehicle will have serious viability challenges. Much like the CNG. Obviously, a single energy compressed air engine can only be useful on finite routes, which are strategically placed near replenishing stations.

It seems that MDI thought ahead and have also developed Dual energy compressed air plus fuel engines. Taken from the MDI website...

The duel energy engine, on the other hand, has been conceived as much for the city as the open road and will be available in all MDI vehicles. The engines will work exclusively with compressed air while it is running under 50 km/h in urban areas. But when the car is used outside urban areas at speeds over 50 km/h, the engines will switch to fuel mode. The engine will be able to use gasoline, gas oil, bio diesel, gas, liquidized gas, ecological fuel, alcohol, etc.

Do not expect to use the vehicle for high torque applications, as this is not the purpose. Simple metro transport, fairly short distances. Interesting concept.

Future Media

A very interesting view of the present and future trends in media. It would be nice to be able to take stock of the predictions as the years come to past.









Quest for $100 laptop ended..

I have ended my search for the cheap notebook computer. In truth, if Negroponte offered me the sugar OLPC machine, I would grab it with the quickness. However, I am actually talking about my hodgepodge of barely usable and antiquated laptops. At one point I had a Thinkpad 600e and Dell Latitude Cpia. Both machines were roughly 5 and 6 yrs old respectively. Now I am running a very peppy Acer Aspire 5100. The Turion 64 is a pretty impressive CPU. Though I would have preferred the 64x2 (dual core), I really cannot complain, as the price point was superb.

My only gripe was that the machine came installed with Vista Basic. I wonder if I can have Redmond refund my cash as I simply blasted the OS away after two days, so that I could install Debian Etch 64?

Some initial thoughts on Vista-Basic. It was painfully slow with 512MB 4200 DDR RAM. Seems that M$ really isn't offering any software that people can use. Evaluation anti-virus, no viable office suite (ie M$ Works). Constant reminders that you can upgrade to Vista Ultimate or Platinum. Each time you access system level controls, you are asked by the OS "Do you really want to do that?" Very annoying.

Well, now I have Debian - Etch64 installed and I am quite pleased.
I did learn that the proprietary ATI drivers will not work with Beryl. So I'll have to settle for the older FOSS fglrx drivers. I haven't yet figured out how to get the onboard wireless working. So for now, I'm tethered to my gigabit switch. I have installed madwifi, but have not yet got it to play nice with the Atheros chipset.

Later, I'll add some links to these places where I found helpful hints. More on this exercise in the next few days.

Is wider better? - Reply to James McGovern

James asked a fair question.
Before I respond, I'll have to preface it with the following drivel disclaimer. My reply does not represent the thoughts of my employer, nor is this piece of real estate endorsed by my current employer.

To be clear, my expertise is actually Powertrain subsystems, not Body Interior. The irony, is that recently I spent a short 4month stint, working within the Seat organization. These days I fancy myself as a 6-Sigma Black Belt, within the Body Organization. Clearly, I am not the most qualified individual to answer McGovern's question.

However, I would venture to guess that the seats have well-defined constraints (ie H-point, bolster, etc.) Some of the contraints are driven by government and package requirements. For instance, the center console is designed to outfit cupholders (yes the dreaded cupholders), CDs, ladies accessories. The center console also doubles as an armrest in most vehicles. Imagine that many Americans want to cram as much junk in the center console. It would seem logical the center console has increased in size of the years. Hence you have a design or package constraint.

As mentioned earlier, seats must meet rigorous government safety requirements. Restraints (ie seat belts, head restraints-help prevent nasty whiplash) is serious business. Making the seats substantially wider to satisfice obese occupants would be an egregious departure from sound engineering principles. Let's call it Intelligent Design.

The general rule of thumb is that we design for the 5% - 95% percentile human.
Typically that 5% percentile represents the 6'.x male and the 5'.x female. I would imagine these requirements do consider weight too. I am not clear about the weight constraints.

I suppose if obese drivers are looking for comfortable rides, they should consider a large SUV. This would be there best chance at comfort. The problem with this particular choice is sky-rocketing fuel prices. So it would appear that more obese people are sacrificing comfort for cost savings.. Can't please everyone.

Close Followers and the proverbial cash cow

BCG_Matrix_with_products-small_png.png

Thought provoking dialogue on Dare's space. I suppose you can find meaningful bits there on a occasion. It appears that the common "Innovators Dilemma" argument is even more pervasive and can be easily applied to the digital realm. In fact, we have several contemporary examples from which to choose.

  • USPS vs. Email
  • Napster vs. Recording Industry
  • Microsoft vs. FOSS

You could also add the US auto industry to that mix as well. At its premise, most would agree that you innovate only when necessary. At least this what I have studied in all of my product development text books. The conundrum is that the longer you milk that cash cow or the product which your business owns tremendous market share, eventually you run the risk of losing a competitive advantage in other scarce markets. Although, the sector which your cash cow dominates has limited competition, it is unlikely that your edge will be eternal. The moment innovators enter that space, they will eat your lunch.

There are many reasons for limited competitors in a particular market space:

a) Minimal growth opportunities
b) Technology cruft
c) Monopolistic practices

Although, I discovered the Napster phenomenon quite late, it was arguably the most disruptive technology to surface in quite sometime. It essentially, spawned several other P2P networks and destroyed a very flawed music industry cost and distribution model. The whole copyright argument annoys me. There is more discussion here.
Regarding digital media and copyright. I would highly recommend Dr. Lessig's, "Free Culture" text to anyone who wants to understand the impact of P2P filesharing and it relationship or lack thereof to decreased CD music sales.

Clearly, software patents and copyright have the potential to stifle technology innovation. Worse yet, it can be used a FUD tool to coerce. It seems that Redmond has been rattling their patent sabre a great deal lately. I am still waiting to see the source code. I'll save that discussion for another time.

Rich media delivery

It seems that there is going to be some healthy competition in the rich media delivery space. In an ironic twist, the Redmond woolly mammoth has raised the stakes and pushed another closed source company into the innovation circle. Very rare indeed. The Silverlight Live release is touted as platform agnostic. It appears that Adobe will now make an earnest effort to further improve its viral Flash product, with the Flex open source project. In truth, I have never been a huge fan of flash based applications, but I am pleased that Adobe decided to extend the framework by releasing the software under the Mozilla Public License.

As a Linux user, I often despised the numerous sites which used Flash eye candy, as they were typically slow to load. Additionally, the Adobe Flash plugin for the Linux platform was always two versions behind. It almost appeared that Adobe was not interested in building flash binaries for the Linux platform. In fact, many sites were requiring Flashplayer v8.0 or higher, and until recently Flash 7.0 was the most stable release. Luckily, all of that has changed and there is a stable Flashplayer 9.0 plugin for Linux platform. It does work rather well and has passed the You-Tube test on most occasions.

Exciting times indeed. Regardless who wins, the competition can only improve the quality of the rich media experience. I would imagine that there are means to incorporate the various open Yahoo, Google, and other APIs to create some excellent mash-up applications.


Printed Media in Digital Age (Revisited)

latest_issue_print_cover.jpg

It seems that InfoWorld has decided to discontinue printed editions of its very long running articles on the Information Technology. Actually, I had come to know this magazine quite late, but found it to be very useful. How many people actually pay for there printed copy of IW? My thought would be not very many. I never thought that a printed magazine could sustain itself without much of a paid subscriber base, but it seems that magazine's digital presence likely supported its printed base.

There was lots of interesting discussion from industry pundits. Perhaps most interesting was observing IW's foray into FOSS.

I started with Russ Pavelic, later the torch was passed to Neil McAllister. I watched this metamorphosis with keen interest because I knew the IDG had some minor stake in IW. Of IDG is a hugely supported by M$, so I often wondered how the IW FOSS news column would evolve. Much to my surprise, evolve it did. I never noticed any hesitation on behalf on the writers Pavelic or McAllister to take shots at M$ when warranted. The articles were largely well researched and insightful.

Now regarding this idea of the new media, and its ability to be highly disruptive in the traditional media space. I spoke about this here. I'm convinced that the new media model is positioned to continue its new growth. The early adopters of netcasting, screencasting or any other casting seems to have peeked the interest of all brick and mortar establishments. Heck now companies like Limelight and O'Reilly have begun to rival Akamai for media distribution dollars. Economies of scale is certainly in order here. Thank God for commoditization of software and hardware. As Doc Searls would say, these are the building materials that make it all possible.

I suppose this digital revolution holds no prisoners, I can point to a few brick and mortar record stores, like my beloved B'klyn based Beat Street, that went under because it didn't understand the digital model very well. Though in their later years the variety of music was seriously lacking, I would imagine that they could have done far better if they simply established a digital presence.

Software Libre and Lifelong Scholarship

Although, I have limited classical teaching experience, I am keenly aware that having equal access to problem solving tools can be critical for students at all levels. Unfortunately, the average educator is unaware that there are alternatives to mainstream commercial software.

The term Software Libre can be literally translated to mean Software Freedom, and this definition is more eloquently stated in the Free Software Foundation manifesto, overseen by Richard Stallman .

Scholarship is serious business, and it is clear that providing children with easy access to software is paramount. When you teach children using only proprietary software tools, you are essentially encouraging software piracy. In that, it is unlikely that they will have access to the same software outside of the classroom. If the child wishes to learn more, they will be forced to get access to this exclusive software.

Education 2.0

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Lately, I have been doing a bit of thinking about the much anticipated advancement of education due to the progression of technology in the classroom. Though, I'm not a classical educator, I do believe that there have been tremendous strides since circa 1985. Heck, I seem to recall that I may have used a computer in high school on a handful of occasions. In fact, in my close group of friends, only one of us had a computer. He was the guy that was truly the early adopter, with the Prodigy account and mobile telephone in the deft carrying case.

Suffice to say, that I did not use a personal computer in the classroom in one of the top 3 high schools in NYC. Yes, I did use a CNC machine, but that isn't a personal computer. I opted for the Mechanical Engineering curriculum, not the Computer Science track. So, we didn't get to use the Commodore 64 or Vic 20. I fully understand that having four or five PCs in the back of the classroom doesn't necessarily constitute a technology equipped curriculum. Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction.

So, as stated earlier there have been huge advances, and I'm particularly encouraged by the work of grassroots organizations (EdTech Live, K12.org, LTSP) and others. The problem I continue to witness, stems from teachers who are either ill-equipped or unwilling to incorporate the technology.
Unfortunately, I don't think this problem can easily be solved. The other problem originates from poorly advised administrators within various municipalities. I would venture to guess, that most of these policy makers are of the baby boomer generation, and simply feel threatened by the change.

I really try not to be such a pessimist, but I do find it a bit disheartening to see countless examples of lost opportunities. At the end of the day, the children will suffer and lose out on opportunities.
In fact, if there is to be a paradigm shift, it will have to be the students that demand this change.

Update: Excellent conversation on technology in the classroom, compliments of Edtech Live


Where's the Innovation? (CES2007)

As a follow-up to my earlier CES2007 guest commentary. I figured that I'd write one of my own.

Ok. Let the flame war begin. I'm quite sure that I will certainly grouse the Mac zealots. Regardless I must speak the truth. The Apple marketing engine is again running at warp speed, regarding the new iPhone and their seminal entry into the smartphone space.
Let's reason together and review the technical merit of the new iPhone device.

Good, Bad & Ugly

The features that the iPhone offers are essentially identical to my dated Treo650. Quad Band (850/900/1800/1900Mhz) and GSM (GPRS, GSM, EDGE). Where is the high speed data exchange?
Perfect way to discourage sharing those delicious DRM iTunes selections. They conveniently did not include an extended memory slot. Another way to make sure that what is stored on the iPhone, stays on the iPhone.

I also understand that they did not include a simple USB cable for data transfer and DUN(wired). I suppose the Bluetooth2.0 and Wi-Fi make up for these shortcomings. Neither the Treo650 or Treo 680 have native Wi-Fi.

Closed - No SDK, so it will not be possible to foster 3rd party development.
Camera is only 2 megapixels (Huh? Apple zealots will scream).
Virtual Keyboard - Egad I'm not clear that anyone wants to type on anything other QWERTY

No streaming - 4GB/8GB device which presumably will be used to store music rather than making phone calls. Why not allow people to stream? Especially since you're touting Wi-Fi..
Simple answer DRM.. Gotta luv it.

My beloved Treonauts have done an excellent features comparison between the new Treo680 and the Apple iPhone.

Treonauts | Palm Treo 680 vs. Apple iPhone

Preferred personal media device (CES 2007)

What follows is a guest entry by a visionary colleague.
Disclaimer: Though he is a friend of mine, we do have differences of opinion. So these are his ideas, not my own. However, I plan to have a short special edition 'AG Speaks' chat to talk about the CES(Consumer Electronics Show) and the short article.

Consumers have long awaited a truly converged device. I'm not talking about a simple camera phone, but a device that would combine the best of all of their Consumer Electronics world. Today you can see several people weighted down with a digital camera, an IPOD, two cell phones, and a Nintendo DS. Granted this example may be a bit extreme, but the concept is very real. Consumers carrying multiple devices to meet all of their needs.

In this article I will attempt to detail specifications for what I call: "The Preferred Personal Media Player".

To begin with we will need to have the utility of the following devices:

  • Smartphone/PDA
  • MP3 Player (with radio)
  • Video Player
  • Digital Camera
  • Game System
  • GPS System

The important part of this device is having everything integrate together. To get the most out of this system special attention must be made to adding the following key features:

  • Bluetooth
  • Wifi
  • SD Capability
  • Modem
  • Speakerphone
  • Full Keyboard

    Bluetooth
    Bluetooth is critical for the device. This will not only allow groups to share data, but it also enables hands free phone and hands free music selection. This feature will also make it possible to record dictation as well as critical calls.

    Wifi
    This feature is a must for not only getting online but also for quickly transferring data to and from the device without a cable.

    SD Capability
    This feature is critical for many reasons. First, the device will need to have expandable memory and with the projected growth in capacity of flash media, soon consumers will be able to place full HD movies on one SD card. This capacity will allow for more than adequate room for your photos, music, movies, and yes even games. There is also, however another not so obvious reason for this feature. This slot will enable compatibility with future wireless technologies. Today there are already SD Bluetooth and SD Wifi adapters.

No OLPC in NOLA?

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I have been singing the praises of the OLPC for quite awhile. After learning of the opinions of some close to the project, I'm not so sure anymore. Have I been hoodwinked?

AFAIK, there is an effort in MA, to leverage OLPC for its _deserving_ population. If you are looking for a more deserving group, what better place than NOLA? It seems like a no brainer to me?

Could it be that the underlying goal is to line the pockets of Negroponte and other privileged intellectuals? I really hope that I'm mistaken here. Well, if Ashley Morris can gain support of a united front ( ie educators and policy makers), he might have a shot at getting some sort of grant for the most hard hit areas. If not OLPC, perhaps the LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) could help support some of these depleted school districts.

I will personally make contact and offer my support.

OLPC News: What About One Laptop Per New Orleans Child?

Lotta hype about Skype

Who am I to judge, but I think some people have really gone bonkers with Skype. Unlike the iPod, they haven't created anything new; however, the buzz grew quite large when the company was acquired by eBay. For the record I'm not an iPod drone either. Marketing and promotion has done wonders for the iPod, but I digress.

Although their proprietary protocol was reversed engineered, they still compete with open protocols (SIP, IAX, and H.323). Since Skype hit the net about three years ago, there have been a plethora of alternative softphones (ie Ekiga, Gizmo, Google Talk, etc.)

I'm not sure whether latest thrust to create mobile devices which carry Skype by default would put a true stranglehold on this space.. What I do know is that eBAY is vigorously attempting to recoup a return on their investment. Now they want to charge an annual premium on the Skype out calls(Click to Call), that is PC to POTS / PC to cell. Who knows how many customers would be willing to pay for an existing free service? Only time will tell.

I personally will choose freedom. I'll fire up Ekiga in a hot second ;)

Worldwind of change

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Geez, it seems that some of my most often used applications are now under different ownership or orphaned entirely (well not entirely). Now that Odeo has now been acquired, and JotSpot Wiki snapped up by the Google juggernaut, both are fairly useful applications. Each

I wonder how the data within the Jotspot wiki will be handled. The bots associated with Google are quite aggressive, I'm not sure that people would really want their information data mined to the nth degree. Google has not officially discussed how they propose to handle the legacy data. Meanwhile there are tons of multimedia files on the Odeo servers. I'm sure that the podcasts, err I mean radiocasts are valuable to all who have uploaded their works of art.

I'll be keeping my eye on the situation for sure.

Bonus Finally, I've reached a milestone as I've recently published my 500th blog entry [actually I've done 550 - 500 (MT) / 50 (Blogger)]

Wonders of NTP

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Figured this was timely considering the recent time change. Recently I was asked by a fairly young Linux user if he should be concerned about the upcoming 2007 daylight savings plans recently implemented by congress. Well, I figured that I was now presented with a golden opportunity to explain Network Time Protocol(NTP).

Well, a bit of historical context would be helpful. UNIX and UNIX-like systems (ie Linux, xBSD) have always been capable of networking. In fact, the respective kernels for each of the aforementioned operating systems have relied upon a robust, open TCP/IP stack for quite awhile. I estimate this has been true for at least fifteen-years or more. The NIST serversatomic clocks (no BigBen isn't one of them), are readily accessible via public domain IP addresses.

Though, the Redmond wooly mammoth was slow to reliably network its desktop product. It was widely recognized to have a fairly worthless TCP/IP stack. In fact, all of the products prior to WinXP were very poor in this category(probably many others too). I understand XP was vastly improved due to its 'borrowing' of BSD TCP/IP stack. Gotta love those BSD licenses. I digress.

Some might ask the obvious question, "Why can't I simply rely upon the CMOS battery to keep time on my PC ?" Why indeed.. Well, the computer BIOS is dependent upon your PC CMOS battery. Your battery will never retain the same charge as it did during at time of purchase. As with most batteries, it will eventually lose its floating charge. As the battery weakens, your time will begin to drift and eventually be off several minutes throughout the course of the year.. In some severe cases the degradation is significant and your system could be behind a couple hours.

Well, The reality is that all you must do is point your NTP program at the appropriate server atomic clock. There are thousands of these servers located around the world. These NIST servers clocks _always_ maintain the appropriate time.

Psst. M$ users don't fret, with the advent of XP, you now have access to the same servers atomic clocks too. They've just hidden it from you. If your machine isn't not connected to the internet, it will rely on your CMOS battery and be wrong.. Nothing worse than incorrectly time stamped email ;)

If you're a Linux user you simply need to run NTP server daemon, and manage it in crontab. If you're running any other recent distro(last 10yrs), it probably is already setup.

Bottom Line:
It doesn't matter what daylight savings schedule is presented NTP will solve the problem transparently.

Treo 650 - 1st 30 days

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I mentioned earlier that I recently retired the Treo600, in favor for the unlocked GSM Treo 650.
Yes, I abandoned the North American ubiquitous CDMA cell. I never again want to be forced to use my smart phone as an expensive door stop when traveling overseas.

While I really liked the 600, the absence of native bluetooth was really annoying. The workarounds (plug adapters) were ineffective at best. The 600 VGA camera was also pretty poor. The new 650 addresses these defficiences quite nicely, I can also make short movie clips w/sound. One aspect that I've not yet solved is Bluetooth A2DP profile setup. It appears that the 650 only supports Bluetooth 1.1.

My desire is to use my Bluetake wireless headsets, but they will only work natively with Bluetooth 1.2 or a software patched Bluetooth 1.1 system. I'll simply do a bit more research and find a cheap or free solution ;)

Another aspect that I've not tried is the streaming audio from my favorite internet radio stations (ie Big-Up Radio, WKUT We Funk Radio, etc). I never had much success of using the Sprint 3G network to stream the audio on the fly without annoying buffering every 30s. I certainly don't blame the Treo 600 for these shortcomings. Hopefully the Cingular network will be much improved.

So to recap (and I'm sure that I will add more later):

  • Native Bluetooth
  • Improved VGA camera
  • Better QWERTY keyboard
  • Ability to create short movie clips
  • GPRS/GSM Network

Why did I ever wait so long??

Bloglines, Last.fm

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Anybody notice the AJAX add-ons within Bloglines.. Pretty slick, gives you real-time updates to your various news feed categories.. Last.fm, much album art.. Nuff said.
New podcast forthcoming...

Virtual color barrier

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Very interesting take on the state of affairs as it pertains to access in the upswell which is web2.0. Actually, I had been thinking about responding to the article for quite awhile, but I've simply been to preoccupied with other matters.

To answer the God Viperteq.. I think we already have some very talented African-American developers and some even have VC loot and angel backing.

The problem is we don't do anything collectively, so it is very difficult to make any true progress. I'm more inclined to believe that if we pooled our resources and tapped the genius among us, we would recognize that it really is not necessary to seek inclusion in the White Boy Club. Methinks the next great idea is within your grasp, my grasp, our grasp. Rather than talking about it, let's manifest it with our own creative zeal.

Indeed, it may not be as simple as having an idea, but I am confident that there is genius among us.

If you don't know who, why not you, why not me, why not we?
Let's talk about it.

7 And A Crescent » Blog Archive » The Web 2.0 White Boy Club

Natural heuristics

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I'm always fascinated by the goodness that manifests from mimicing nature. We've been able to model the extreme strength of spider silk; in fact assembly line manufacturing could be linked to the workers in an ant colony or the drones in a bee hive.

Now some smart people have modeled the adhesive properties of the Gecko (not the Progressive one). Nature is absolutely amazing. I wonder if we'll ever be able to model the color changing behavior of the chameleon?
What would we do without engineers :)

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Geckos inspire 'super-adhesive'

Interesting article regarding the idea that Metcalfe's Law doesn't directly correlate Web2.0 and social networks phenomenon. For those that are not familiar, Bob Metcalfe, author of Metcalfe's Law, and inventer of Ethernet. What I find interesing is that typically people will always attempt to find fault with algorithms well after the mathematician or engineer has long passed.

I haven't seen many theories openly challenged while the author is still among the living. At its premise Metcalfe's Law is the idea that the utility of a network increases as the square of its users. In simple terms, the more people use a particular network, the greater the value of the particular network.

How is this relevent? Good question.. To take the point a step further, Metcalfe's Law was primarily associated with telephone networks. During the glory days of the switching networks, calling exchanges and operator assisted bridging networks, people recognized that as call volumes increased, the value of that switched network increased. Subsequently, Bell could begin charging more for services running out on that copper wire(ie Long distance, call waiting, *69, etc).

spinrite 6.0 flameout

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Tried out the spinrite hard disk data recovery pkg. It's produced by GRC.com. of Steve Gibson fame. I was attempting reclaim data on a failed notebook drive, for another client. Ordinarily, I'd simply try using knoppix, but I figured I'd play with spinrite.

For whatever reason, the BIOS would not recognize the drive.
Apparently, there was a problem with boot sector of the disk. Nonetheless, I figured that spinrite was worthy adversary. However, it wasn't able to either diagnose a problem or recognize the disk either. In all fairness maybe sp6.0 isn't invincible.

Why are people still worried that the FOSS will obliterate the monetization of software development? If you believe this theory then you probably have never heard of Red Hat, SuSE, or IBM for that matter. Certainly, the allure and market share for the proprietary model has marginalized to a certain degree, but I assert that the Software as a Service (SAAS) will allow people to make money.

I believe IBM has really increased its value by partnering with the open source community. In fact, their fastest growing revenue stream probably is coming from their services model that was built around FOSS. Yes, they have software developers, and technical people working in this arena too.

So I don't buy the theory that FOSS takes food out of the honest software developers mouth.

Intelligent Design - Revisited

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Were it not for the random or as of late, infrequent clients who ask for desktop support for M$ stuff... I would be very happy to become functionally windoze illiterate ;)
A couple weeks ago, I spent many cycles repairing corrupted registries on two notebook computers.
Both machines were running XP Pro SP1 and were overcome with adware . Well, actually I was only able to to access one of the hard drives by conventional means. That is utilizing the Repair console, and copying the appropriate files to repair the hive.

After restoring the appropriate files to c:\windows\system32\.. I then had to go through the laborious task of installing the required updates and SpyBot S&D to prevent further registry corruption. The entire process took roughly and 2.5 hrs. Now, as I discussed earlier the second notebook could not be repaired by this method due to an unexplained error. I didn't really want to find out why the BSOD kernel HEX kernel errors kept interrupting the boot process.

Though, I don't profess to be operating systems architect, I've never understood why M$ decided to make their kernel and userspace one entity. When you're talking about intelligent design, that would be very haphazard at best. More on this later.

Hacking DRM

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I have long despised the current application of DRM. My stance will not soften, particularly since much of the FUD surrounding the conversation is built upon ignorance and powerful lobbyists (MPAA, RIAA, etc.).

Though, I'm not a regular reader of Ars T., the article below is near and dear to my heart.

Hacking Digital Rights Management

Social Networking patent?

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Now I truly believe you can patent anything. Methinks Friendster is looking for a means to resurrect a dying business model. I suppose they lost all of their residents to myspace ;)

RED HERRING | Friendster Wins Patent

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)

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Latest pics of the $100 prototype. I have been keeping an eye on this project, as it is critical to lowering the barrier of access and the commoditization of hardware. Perhaps more importantly it is yet another opportunity to unfurl the banner of Open Source.

One Laptop Per Child | FON Blog

Segway / Montreal Final Thoughts

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segway

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay in Quebec. Should the opportunity permit itself, I'd gladly return. The city of Montreal has an abundance of activity in the Summer, lots to get into. The last couple of days were spent scaling Mount Royal and spending more time in Old Montreal. The sites were phenomenal. You can find the pics in the usual places.. I've also added more stuff to the photo journal

GPS Woes

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It may actually be time to upgrade to a Treo650, I'm preparing for a trip to Montreal (more on this later) and it really would've been great to have GPS capability. It appears that I'm caught in a catch-22 situation. There are GPS solutions for the 600, (ie SDIO, serial cable, etc). If you occupy the SD slot for the NMEA antenna, then you can't store the map data. Unlike headsets, they simply don't make a bluetooth adapter that would provide the GPS functionality, that is communicate with the GPS satellites to provide real-time navigation data. The resolution on the 600 would also make it difficult to use some of the more sophisticated graphical programs.

I thought about hacking into the E911, triangulation service, but the accuracy is very poor. Updates would be nearly impossible. Oh well, I do have all of the tub maps, and the ubiquitous currency converter. Though I won't be doing any driving, it would be cool to have turn-by-turn street map at my finger tips. Sigh... On a brighter note, I splurged on a pair of Scott-E-Vest cargo shorts. Mad cool.

De-Mystifying Tech

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Recently stumbled upon a very interesting effort to improve technology infrastructures both domestically and abroad. The PopTech.org group seems to take a very sensible approach to leveling the playing field, and empowering traditionally alienated and under-represented peoples. The strategies will work just as well in the Bronx as in remote corners of India.

I was especially interested in the work that was taking place at the Barefoot College, Bunker Roy, and others have found a means to enrich the lives of its citizens with technology. Most importantly is that none of the students have a post-secondary education, but despite these perceived limitations, complex engineering concepts have been learned and executed by the villagers.

Immediately, I wondered if a barefoot college could be started in Harlem, Bed-Stuy or Detroit. This sort of work could easily benefit NOLA survivors. The emphasis is that aid efforts will suffocate or supress the native talent in areas which have been decimated by natural or socio-economic disasters. Survivors in these areas need jobs and viable skills, the outpouring of support typically displaces these people. The waiting game can actually be worse than the hurricaine or other natural disaster. Empower the people by allowing them to rebuild with their own intellect and resources.

People if left to their own devices are extremely resourceful, all that is really needed is a catalyst. A few talented engineers and desire for survival. After watching the conference, I was very inspired to learn more and possibly figure out a way to duplicate the methods in the inner-city. Heh, that's what engineers are supposed to be doing. Improving the quality of life for humankind.

Gates Steps down

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After Gates's announcement to step down as CTO, I wonder if Ballmer will be far behind? I'm clear that the next few years will be very interesting in Redmond. I do hope that a change in the guard will also usher in a change in business practices.
I won't hold my breath tho..

Lithium Powered

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Clever re-use of energy sources. I just seem to keep having visions of bumper cars in the amusement park. I would hope that these vehicles have much more torque than earlier electric vehicles.

Moving at the Speed of Creativity » Blog Archive » Lithium powered smart cars

Ecosystem survival

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Perhaps some of the most profound stuff I've read in awhile. I wish it were all so simple. Renewable energy resources is a thumb in the eye of the huge, corrupt industries that support fossil fuels. Many throats will be slit before people really get the message.

The Greater Lansing Linux Users Group - A Day in the sun

Virtues of Open Document Format

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Lots of FUD and diversion surrounds this relatively obscure topic. Though arguably not the most intriguing subject matter, nonetheless, the outcome of this debate will carry far reaching consequences. For instance, if widespread adoption of this open standard takes root.. Well, you can probably imagine who does _not_ want this to happen. Yep, M$ has already said publicly that its too difficult to deploy this sort of compatibiltiy in its current and future products. So, as customary the Redmond wooly mammoth has offered a proprietary XML solution. Not many people actually thought that M$ position in the OASIS standards consortium meant very much anyway. Suffice to say, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Can't we just get along?

I submit that like many others, I do not know very much about the inner-workings of a word processor. Perhaps it really is difficult to create 'save-as' option or some sort of plug-in that could allow support for this open standard. Methinks, there are many smart people in Redmond. I remember vividly the backwards compatability efforts that M$ deployed when Office 97 was created. There was actually a plug-in that was readily available from the corporate site to help users with usability issues.

The bottom line is pure and simple. Greed, no other explanation. It will slap them in the face as always. The people have had their last word. No pun intended

Ultimate Oxymoron

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Although it really is no laughing matter, I had to pause as I looked at this curious combination.
I'm always a mazed at how the oil industry does its best to hide the truth and create smoke screens.
We've got high school students developing autos which use soybean oil. Instead we're going to use fossil fuels to the detriment of the environment. I'll never understand the love affair we have with coal and its by-products.

Green Car Congress: Fossil-Fuel Platform Runs on Renewable Energy

PC vs. the Net

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A friend of mine asked me about a recent move made by the Redmond wooly mammoth (aka M$), including virtualization in its forthcoming Vista release.

I still say that while M$ is beginning to figure out that the value of the PC is diminishing, they won't go quietly. Web2.0 and SaaS are staunch adversaries, that will be very difficult to defeat.

Lots a stuff at play here..

AOL didn't get the memo

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Pretty good article which accurately describes the thinking of another pre Web2.0 company. Apparently the board members of the AOL never read the Cluetrain Manifesto either..
I wonder how effective their carpet bombing marketing scheme has been over the years. Back in the days, I looked forward to getting that floppy disk in the mail so that I could format it and get an extra disk. Media was costly then. Since they no longer send out floppies, their 10K free hours stuff always finds its way into the trashcan.

I would venture to guess that I'm not the only one who follows this method. Regarding their user experience, I never really cared for that enclosed, sanitized environment that was AOL. Naturally, I always discouraged others from using AOL and Prodigy.

The Internet is flat; AOL just doesn't know it | By Neil McAllister

RIP M$

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It appears that some industry analysts believe the Redmond wooly mammoth growth days are long gone. I'm not at all certain that this is entirely true in all areas, but be assured that there really isn't much more room to grow in the desktop market.

ABC News: Silicon Insider: R.I.P. Microsoft?

Ekiga Goodness

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I've been intrigued by VOIP. It seems like only yesterday, that we were using very inadequate tools to perform voice conversations over the internet(ie Firetalk, Netmeeting, Net2Phone). I suppose the thrust at that time was to avoid the exorbitant costs of stateside long distance carrier charges. Now that wireless technology has taken off, and cell phones are practically ubiquitous, cost isn't so much of an issue stateside. The next frontier is taking advantage of the bandwidth in your home. Perhaps 50% of computer users have broadband connections, and a segment of those are using some sort of softphone.

Very interesting article about some students in West-Philly. It makes people wonder what the hell is wrong with our government and our auto industry. The obvious point here is that biofuel isn't crude oil, and the infrastructure of biofuel cannot be controlled. Crude oil is rife with corruption and kickbacks at the highest level of government.

Will we have to go back to the 70's and relive the gas crisis before we stop the foolishness?

Soybean Powered.

Intelligent Design

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One of my friends recently showed me a .NET smart client demo. I must say that it was truly impressive. However, I still wonder if the whole premise of smart clients doesn't seem to contradict the effort to minimize the role of the PC. I've mentioned in an earlier post, that the PC will eventually become another appliance and the 'intelligence' of the network will pushed out to the outer edge. That is, the mobile clients(ie PDAs, smartphones, webtablets, etc.). The whole idea of a smart client running with .NET hooks smells of vendor lock-in. It also seems to contradict the thought that the PC will no longer be the center of the universe. Have I missed something? If I'm way off base, someone please educate me.

Admittedly, I do not know very much about .NET, so my theory could be totally off base. However, I'm very glad that the Mono project (albeit ~1yr behind) is working very hard to make sure that the mindshare isn't cloistered by one company.

Nonetheless, I'm very interested in what will become of these smart clients. It appears that this work has not yet received mainstream adoption. Time will tell.

It's no secret that China is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the area of manufacturing and global commerce. One need not look any further than the collossal dam that is being erected.

Now their is increased activity in the automotive sector. Don't look now the Chinese expect to launch a vehicle that will retail for roughly $7000.00. I would imagine that the quality will be heads and shoulders above the former, Yugoslavian Yugo debacle, circa 1989. These vehicles are expected to hit the street in 2007-8.

China Seeking Auto Industry, Piece by Piece - New York Times

Oracle Shopping Spree

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Well, it appears that Oracle is trying to swallow all OSS databases. It would seem that a strategic advantage could be had by grabbing all the developers it can from the Redmond wooly mammoth.
It is unclear whether Ellison is committed to maintaining the community/open based heritage of the acquired firms.

According to the Sleepycat it will be business as usual. We'll see.

Admittedly, I have only had limited exposure to Berkeley DB. I recall working with DB when compiling the following Gnome packages: GnuCash, Evolution.

It was really a royal PITA to keep up with the ever changing version numbers. Not very clear as to why the Sleepycat folks never cared to freeze development and stick with one version number.

More recently, I discovered a corrupted blog publishing engine database. Not really a very fond memory. I quickly pulled DB out and replaced it with mySQL.

Sleepycat Software blog: The next ten years.

Hybrids - Laymans view

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Perhaps the most comprehensive preview of a hybrid vehicle. I've always wondered what customers thought about the fuel efficiency of their shiny new hybrids.

I suppose the same could be said for our traditional gasoline-only vehicles; however, I would assert that the expectations are much greater for hybrids.

Subclock: Honda Accord Hybrid review.

IE 7.0 - Who cares?

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I am always astonished at the build up that begets M$ products. Clearly, you'd have to attribute this to its marketing/propaganda machine.

Let's look at a few facts, shall we? Most of us already know that an epic court case and numerous subpeonas, forced the Redmond woolly mammoth to unlink and remove the IE browser from the core of its OS. It is also pretty clear that there has not been very much development on said browser in probably five years. It wasn't until the Mozilla project put the heat on them that they scrambled to get that aging browser a much needed face lift. Gotta give Netscape respect for having the gumption to open the source code to their browser some 10 yrs ago. Lots of goodness happened in the aftermath of their decision.

The article below talks about 'all' of the wonderful features of this new browser.. Tabbed interface, RSS aware, etc. Gosh, last time I checked, Firefox had all those features since release 1.x.
I'm not even going to call this a browser war, as it's really not even close. If consumers were given a choice, I don't think IE would even stand a chance. The consumers who use IE, do so for a couple of reasons: (1) Corporate environment that enforces M$ edict, (2) Unaware that they actually do have a choice. I'll probably add a Get Firefox chicklet on my site as an expression of defiance and solidarity.

Wow, doesn't it remind you of the Win95 euphoria? We all remember how that ended too. The joke was Win95 = Mac 83.

Browsers take the stage, thanks to the IE 7 beta and a Firefox security update

Traffic light manipulation

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It's unlikely that anyone would want to do this sort of stuff. However, wouldn't it be fun if you could do this and get away with it?

Run Silent, Run Deep: Cheap MIRTS Afoot - Gizmodo

Movie tickets on demand

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Pretty interesting method of avoiding long lines at your favorite premier. I've often been frustrated with the broken automated ticket counters too.

The sad truth is that most theatres do not employ bar code readers to check each ticket holders. Most of them still take paper tickets for entry.

Forget Movie Tickets, Just Use Your Cellphone - Gizmodo

North American Auto Show Musings

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Spent the better part of last Saturday at the autoshow. Actually, it had been several years since I'd paid any attention to the show. IMHO, there really have not been very many innovative and exciting technical advances in the auto industry in recent years. Besides, I wasn't afforded any tickets to attend the show in recent years. Typically, vendors drop me a few tickets for these and other noteworthy events. One of my buddies encouraged me to go, so I dropped $12.00 US, and checked it out.

Bitten by the DRM bug

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In an interesting turn of events.. Actually, it begs the question, is DRM good at any level? Supposedly, new previews of this sort lend themselves to easy piracy. Nonetheless, I am sure Spielberg was mortified.

Guardian Unlimited Film | News | Spielberg loses out at the push of a button

Brothas talkin tech

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I experienced my first meetup here in NYC. Although, there was only two of us, I had alot of fun and learned a great deal. I met with Ejovi and we talked about a variety of topics(ie. Minority In Tech Conf, FON, and SecurityLab). Additionally, we also attempted to do an impromptu podcast, but failed miserably, as the internal memory of my trusty Treo was only 25.65mb, and the SoundRec app does not write directly to the external SD card. Raw .wav audio files are quite large, so once we exhausted the internal memory on the device, it simply rebooted during our conversation and of course the rest is history. All was not lost, I believe that I may actually be able to salvage the data. I will prolly bite the bullet and pay for ParPro 3.0, as it will allow you to write directly to the SD media, without first saving to the internal memory.

Podcasting is really cool and very inexpensive. Because this was to be a two person conversation, I visited my nearest Rat Shack, err I mean Radio Shack I purchased a y-plug (1/4mm input), and 1/4 to 1/8mm male to female coupler. Grand total of about ten bucks. Now, I could capture two audio inputs and dump the audio to the Treo. I'll post some pics of the setup.

We agreed to attempt another podcast before he leaves the country. I'll post it here within a few days. It is always great to meet people who share the same passion for technology and business.

I'm very thankful for having met Ejovi and for his patience while I fooled around with my trusty Treo.

Trackback alive and well

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For those of you who do not know understand trackbacks (ie. blogspot headz, heh), let me give you a quick definition.

Trackbacks were designed to extend the conversation and connect bloggers of similar thought. In other words, Tseng of Mainland China could virtually provide accolades or disparage a blog entry from Billy of Peoria. When I first learned of the power of this technology, I was instantly hooked. You could essentially help syndicate and validate the work of a fellow blogger. The absolute form of street cred on the blogosphere.

Of late, it appears that comment/trackback spam terrorists have taken a bite out of many blogs. I too was a victim roughly one year ago. However I took very aggressive measures, nearly to the detriment of my admittedly minimal readership. In retrospect, I'm glad that I took a ruthless and gestapo stance against the crap. These days, I receive zero spam. Well, actually yesterday I received nine erroneus msgs that never touched my blog. Actually, this was the first bit of junk that I've rec'd in probably 9-10 months. It was due to an executable script that I left on my server. The problem has since been resolved.


Let me run down some of the basics for those of you who use MT.

1) Security by obscurity - (aka change name of mt-comments.cgi)
2) Upgrade to latest MT 3.x engine
3) Utilize Spamlookup which deploys a RSBL
4) Grab a copy of Chad Everett's MT-Approval
5) Read Elise Bauer's article for dealing with spam on your MT blog.

Following these steps will mitigate any spam threat.

Trackback is dead. Are Comments dead too? (plasticbag.org)

Is the end near for Crackberry?

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Blackberry manufacturer RIM(Research In Motion), has been victimized by some fairly serious patent infringement cases.

It appears that the US Business is at risk, due to the latest suit reported at $1 Billion.

I wonder how many folks at PalmSource and Palm are salivating right now? If Blackberry customers were to bail in huge numbers Palm would surely benefit. In fact, it would provide an open channel to the corporate space that it sorely needs.

BlackBerry shutdown closer after ruling - U.S. Business - MSNBC.com

High utility

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Given the fact that many cities are interested in combining various technologies, and particularly since the buzzwords are Wi-Fi, and Homeland Security. Oh yeah, and I can't forget reuse too.
Why not combine the best of both worlds in one device?

Don't be surprised that the next speeding ticket you receive will be delivered by one of these special lamp posts. If I can find out which cities are rolling these out I'll deliver an update..

Boing Boing: Solar utility pole: streetlight, WiFi, CCTV and charger

Cold day in hell

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I never thought I'd see the day when Bram would sell the fsck out for the bucks. Clearly, its all about the benjis(read benjamins), yet another very compelling piece of intellectual property likely to buckle under the legal pressure. I suppose every entrepreneur dreams about getting a nice payday. Why should Cohen be any different?

Well, P2P suffered a similar blow during the Napster era. I'm sure that BitTorrent will continue to be a popular protocol for filesharing, as it has been Open Source for quite awhile.

FWIW, the announcement only affects people that would visit Cohen's site to search for illegal torrents. There are several other places to find that elusive torrent file ;)

Web Site Agrees to Help Curb Access to Movies - New York Times

The Equalizer - $100 laptops

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I've heard much about this project, as it is a most important means of leveling the technology playing field in developing countries. Naturally, the deal only applies to those countries that would benefit most from the access. In keeping with the reuse theme, I would expect that the program should drastically reduce the alleged huge amounts of dated computer dumping that occurs in some locales.

…My heart’s in Accra » One Laptop Per Child - a preview, and a request for help

Electronic waste

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*Sigh* I wonder if all of these machines could have been spared if they had not adopted the WinTel model?
Very likely that people could take machines that were said to be 'unuseful' or too old, and install Linux or FreeBSD. Taking it a step further, one could remove all of the hard disk drives and run a diskless workstation. Essentially, extending the so-called useful life of aging hardware.

I would love to be able to spend time in Africa to show interested parties how this could be done. Apparently someone is already doing this work (Namibia || Direqlearn). Unfortunately, it doesn't get much press.

Poor Nations Are Littered With Old PC's, Report Says - New York Times

Top-Ten Blogging Tips

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Do you want more blog gusto? Here are some great strategies for a more effective blogging experience.

I love Technorati tags, and obviously RSS. MT has a plethora of plug-ins and is very extensible and hackable. If you're willing to tinker there are an infinite amount of customizable features to be exploitied. Never really thought about opening a CafePress store, but heck you never know..

Micro Persuasion: Ten Blogging Hacks

Google - Decoupled

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Here is a unique way to look at all the advanced features within Google. Does it simplify or mistify?

Soople; easy search in Google. Advanced calculator

Sony DRM gone astray

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I have discussed the dangers of DRM in earlier posts (Part I || Part II). Lately, Sony has come under fire for its part in installing a rootkit on the entertainment media it sells. What is interesting about this story is that the author who originally broke the story is a certified M$VP. The guy makes a living developing tools for windows API and such. Although, I strongly oppose any technologies which have the ability to modify the behavior of consumer personal use hardware. I think it's a bit curious that someone from the M$ camp would be complaining about DRM? Smells a bit hypocritical to me. Moreover, both M$ and Sony have competing DRM strategies, so if Sony's strategy fails (as is the case of M$ DRM), well I believe you can connect the dots.

Freedom to Tinker » Blog Archive » CD-DRM Rootkit: Repairing the Damage

Roadcasting - nuance in collaboration

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Everyone has talked about road rage. Why not road collaboration with a technical twist? Many people have already discovered P2P networking to share their most prized music and video files. Wouldn't it be nice to share this data real-time with your fellow motorists?

Think of this scenario.. You're speeding down I-95 in route to your destination, and you realize that there is a live network available roughly one mile ahead. So, you are now able to share your most treasured mix-tape with the some nearby vehicle ahead of you. What better way to reduce the boredom of a very long trip?

Yes, there will be discussions of DRM; however, I see a larger benefit of the technology at stake here.. In the spirit of sharing, wouldn't it also be great to quickly share weather, traffic, and police activity to those motorist who share the same network. I believe it would be far superior to the outdated CB radio.

Taking it a step further, if the local municipalities could be trusted to use the network to provide 'real-time' traffic reports, I would suspect that the utility of the network would increase exponentially.

Om Malik's Broadband Blog Roadcasting Rules

Lean Manufacturing Musings

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Lean Manufacturing principles are really the buzz amongst people who are employed in the auto industry. In fact, there are also interesting synergies relative to Information Technology, An excellent text,"The Cluetrain Manifesto", echoes the sentiment that our manufacturing base must radically change to compete on a global market. A common theme in the text is, "Adapt or Die." It has become apparent that the manufacturing base is leaving North America, particularly in the auto industry. So, I'm dumbfounded as to the reaction and the general paralysis of some of the major players in this space. Regarding the auto industry, it is clear that some will survive despite the tough landscape. The Asian auto industry seems to have some of the same challenges, but have emerged in better shape than their American counterparts. Although, the symptoms are well understood, methinks folks get caught up in a fervent debate over 'equivalent wages'.

Has the Pocket PC really surpassed Palm?

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Some of you may already know that the Palm has partnered with M$ to collaborate on new smartphone - Treo 700W. The article below states that this is a major victory for M$ and it spells certain doom for the Palm platform. The authors list their top five reasons for Palm's demise.

However, I'm not sure I agree with their rationale. I suppose my view could be somewhat biased, as I've been using Palm products since 1999 (ie Palm IIIx, and Treo600). I've always appreciated that there are large amounts of development tools(smartphone || Palm OS) for the Palm platform. Moreover, the author makes a false assumption that corporations have secretly marveled at smartphones powered by WinCE. I would argue that the Blackberry was more widespread than any other PDA in the office place. Recently, Palm has begun to gain traction in some corporations.

Keep tabs on your pals

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Very big brotherish, not sure I'd want anyone to know my every move. Not even my closets friends. It reminds me of Enemy of State. Pretty scary. I suppose that everyone that carries a cell phone already has given up that right to stealth, as your location can be pinpointed based upon the proximity of the nearest cell tower.

Track Friends Via GPS - Lifehacker

Biodiesel innovation

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I discussed biodiesel in an earlier post. The application has great potential, however, it would appear for the moment that it would be hard pressed to get traction in the US auto industry. Perhaps if oil prices do not stabilize in the forseeable future, the utility of this alternative could be realized. The truth is that consumers drive the market paradigm, not the manufacturers.

Vegetable oil Benz

Wireless for all

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If you're a frequent business traveller, I would imagine that you've been faced with the daunting task of gaining internet access in airports and other public areas. Yes, I know that you can use your cell phone as a wireless modem, but the average user is likely ill-equipped, and unaware of how to get it working correctly.

Many airports have adopted a pay-for-use Wi-Fi, through partnerships with larger companies. Everyone wants a piece of the action for a service that really costs little to maintain. Airports aren't the only places that are charging for Wi-Fi, the local bookstores(ie Borders, Barnes&Nobles, etc).

So, I'm estatic to learn that some municipalities are lobbying for freee Wi-Fi. In fact, many politicians have made it point to place it on their campaign agenda.

Universal Internet Access“ Not Just A Campaign Theme (Gotham Gazette. October, 2005)

D.O.S attacks probable for SMS

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Don't be surprised that some day very soon, you will be unable to use your cherished SMS service due to Denial of Service(DOS) attack.

As customary with any network, security and access is a very delicate balance. Unfortunately, most wireless carriers opt to disregard the former to accomodate customers. The article below describes the threat.

Bonus: For those who are interested, my buddy Ejovi also weighs in on this issue in an interesting podcast

Text Hackers Could Jam Cellphones, a Paper Says - New York Times

Technorati kung-fu

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Lately, I have cleaned up my blog and fixed a few items which have been broken far too long(ie. style-sheets, Type-key identity, trackbacks). Even decided to poka-yoke the commenting process(hold the applause). Those of you who visit my site frequently will notice the differences immediately.
I've also added some new pics to my external photo journal. Once I reclaim some disk space on the server, I'll add a few new pics to the gallery.

I have also been playing around with Technorati tags: Auto discovery. I believe this is the next wave of coolness for finding relevant content on blogs. For those of you who are familiar with flickr, tags should be old hat. Don't worryMTisn't the only publishing engine that utilizes this great feature, there are plugins for all the major blog publishing engines.

Update: What's all this tagging stuff anyway?

90% Crud: TechnoratiTags

M$ DRM debacle

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As many of you know, I'm a devout Yankee fan. So, I purchased the video from MLB.com. The Yanks vs Bosox (Sept 4)Yanks defeated Bosox 1-0 behind a stellar pitching performance by Randy Johnson. So, I promptly purchased the previously recorded game and downloaded for later viewing. Once I copied the windows media video file to the fileserver(Beast), I then fired up mplayer, and to my chagrin, I get bunch of pixels.

I immediately began cursing Gates, Balmer and MLB. What idiots, I thought. I paid for the damn video, and now you guys are telling me that I can only play in our shyty OS. How repulsive and criminal. Well, after I finished brooding, I did what every motivated engineer would do I decided to S.T.E.A.L. (Seek Technical Expertise and Learn).

Actually, I realized that many other people have been faced with same situation. Moreover, I remembered the much publicized DeCSScase. A young European student, was faced with a similar ridiculous circumstance while attempting to play an encrypted DVD media which he'd purchased on his Linux box. So, as I suspected there were many people who have reversed engineered the stupid DRM that M$ have sold to its licensing partners. I will never understand why people use technology to incumber people. IMHO, most end-users are honest, but they are forced to violate silly laws, because extremely aggressive vendors seek to dictate what is right and exact computer use. Hell, I own the bandwidth which comes into my home, I also own the hardware which plays this media. How dare you tell me how I must use the technology.

This is why Open Source is so important. It levels the playing field for people who are willing to cut the umbilical cord. I refuse to suck the nipples of the Redmond gorilla..

Battle for new DVD standard

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Yeah, I know it's old news. Nonetheless, it smells like lock-in, but I'll have to take a closer look. By default, I typically side with the underdog camp. In this case it's Sony.

DVD Fight Intensifies: Microsoft and Intel to Back Toshiba Format - New York Times

Cure for spam

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I've been using Spamassassin for quite awhile on my server, but never really understood its true power until I began playing with the Bayesian classifier. SA uses the 'sa-learn' utility which deploys a Bayesian algorithm. You need not be a mathematician harness the power of the Bayesian classifier, but for those interested in an explanation of the mathematics I've included it here.

Essentially, you simply have to make sure that you're running SA on your mailserver. If you don't have access to your server, ask your ISP to install it. IMHO, it is far better than the crap that some of the commercial packages that are in use today.

On my server, I simply run the 'sa-learn' script in this fashion;

sa-learn --showdots --mbox --spam ~/mail/bkaeg.org/xxx/spam (Learns about the bad stuff)
sa-learn --showdots --mbox --ham ~/mail/bkaeg.org/xxx/inbox (Learns about the 'real' mail)

I get virtually zero junk, as I run a cron routinely to improve the learning. Basically, the algorithm learns about the behavior of good email versus the hated spam.

Stifling copyright

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I'm not sure if anyone will really understand the ramifications of overly aggressive copyright. Methinks, 20yrs is far too long to prevent works from going into the public domain. In most cases, books older than 20yrs are so obscure, it would to the author good to have them digitized and indexed by Google's powerful Linux servers. Hell, it will boost the sales of some of these supposed lost titles, as most people are more likely to read the printed text. E-books really haven't captured the imagination of the masses yet.

90% Crud: Google vs. Book Monopolists

From the reuse department

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Have you ever wondered happened to the 5.25" floppy that has become depricated? Did they end up in land fills? Some of them probably did, but the article below illustrates are very clever method to make use of those old guys. Now if I could just get my hands on a stack...

Boing Boing: 5.25" floppies make great CD sleeves

Treo ecstasy

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Lately, I have begun to really appreciate having purchased the Treo 600. Granted I'm using a somewhat dated model, as the Treo 650 is already on the street, but I just wanted to share my delight. Besides, I paid roughly a third of the cost for the unlocked phone, so I got huge savings. You've got to realize that prior to getting this powerful smartphone, I limped along with a Samsung N400. The features on my old phone pale in comparison to the Treo. Before I get into the features, I want to share this little story... I went into Rat Shack err, I mean Radio Shack to pick up an CD adapter (2.5mm to 3.5mm female), so that I can listen to mp3, ogg, files stored on the Treo (more on this later). I was expounding on some of the coolness of the Treo with one of my buddies (he's saddled with a Pocket PC), we go back on forth about which device is better. We're always challenging each other.. It's like can yours do this? You get the idea.

Just then cashier shoots me a look and utters, "I'm not a fan of the Treo." I asked, "Why not ?" She then pulled out her 'clamshell' style cell phone, opened and then closed it. She sneered, "Can yours do this ?" I smiled at her purchased my stuff and left. I thought to myself, "She is pathetic."

Obviously, the Treo doesn't fold. However, I believe that is probably the only feature, (if you choose to call it that) I don't possess.

VOIP galore

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Is it just me or has there suddenly been an outbreak of interest in VOIP clients for the mainstream?
You've got Skype, Google-Talk, Gizmo Project, and for the GNU headz, you have the super cool Gnomemeeting.

I suppose that before you can begin to have an appreciation of the technology, one must understand the origins of the simple IM clients. Yes, I was an early adopter of this stuff. Heck, before people fell in love with the GUI, people used text based IRC which was essentially one of the earliest real-time chat software pkgs(circa 1992). If you want to take it a step further, you could argue that the talk utility that is ubiquitous to most UNIX and Unix-like operating systems predated IRC. It gave people the ability to have unimpeded 1-on-1 conversations. Yep, it was pretty cool to be able to connect immediately to your buddy and have a short conversation.

Digital Fallacy?

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So, what has happened to the promise of the ubiquitous digital home? It appears that the hype has not been realized in most households. As the article below suggests, the average user is unaware of the vision of the new digital arena.
While vendors like M$, Apple, and others struggle for dominance over this space, smart consumers are wondering how to avoid the dreaded vendor lock-in.

The author fails to mention how Open source can level the playing and give the consumer choice over how their dollars are spent. Heck TIVO (which is powered by Linux) has become the killer-app that has the cable providers giants (ie Time Warner) scrambling to find other means to reclaim the lost advertising revenue.

I suppose it remains to be seen whether or not the digital experience will be widespread through the average household.

The digital home | Science fiction? | Economist.com

Infotainment innovation

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Finally, there is actually something innovative in the auto infotainment market.

I'd love to think that Ford had something to do about this, but I'm sure that this is absolutely not the case.

Mazda Ditches Cylinder Locks in Favor of USB Key

Google - The empire

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I'm sure most of you are already familiar with the power of Google. I consider the search engine a ubiquitous tool, that I could scarcely imagine doing without. However, Google has many other very cool tools which most people have not yet discovered(ie. Gmail, Google-Talk, Google Maps, Froogle, etc). The article below attempts to compare Google's growth with that Redmond company that I love to hate.

For the record, I do not worry about the rapid growth of Google, because their success is based upon Open Source technologies, which do not lend themselves to vendor lock-in.

PBS | I, Cringely . August 25, 2005 - Has Google Peaked?

NSBENet Guru

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Well, I participated in my first podcast, and I must say it was alot of fun. However, as with anything else, you cannot have pleasure without experiencing some pain. Our angst was realized with shyt scrape, err I mean Skype. It took roughly 1.5 hours for the moderator et al to 'google' a solution to recording all of the participants voices from the podcast. Additionally, the moderator was using XP, and discovered that the M$ sound encoding tools were inadequate for any encoding, so she grabbed audacity and we never looked back. What would we do without Open Source?

We will probably have to abandon skype, and use something like asterisk, as it appears to be a more robust platform for recording VOIP.

For those of you who wish to listen to the discussion, you can find it here. Please be advised that this was our first attempt, so the editing and such isn't really production quality, but it will get better. Eventually, we'll publish weekly talks and will setup RSS feeds on feedburner or something similar. For now, get the feed here.

If you have any helpful suggestions or comments, please do share.

BTW: NSBE is a professional/social, non-profit, student run, engineering organization that was quite helpful in preparing me for future engineering endeavors.

Maddening cleansing

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Spent the weekend in Chi-town hanging out with an old friend and also checked a Yankee game. Although the Yanks came out on the losing end 6-2, we did take 2 of 3 from the team with the best record in the AL.
I was also asked to assist my friend with innoculating some school laptops, which were running winXP. Certainly not my idea of fun. Considering the fact that the machines were full of adware, spyware, and trojans, it was clear that this would be a huge undertaking.

I believe that there were a total of 25 machines. It took roughly 1.5hrs to disinfect each machine. We followed a very convoluted process, in an attempt to avoid restaging(formatting the hard drive) each laptop.

Unix think tank disbanded

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I'm truly saddened to learn that the Unix research team at Bell Labs has formerly dissolved. Anyone that uses the internet owes a great debt to the founders of UNIX. As you powered the internet and was largely responsible for fostering the embryonic growth of the wide world web.

Before the era of the wide world web(circa 1977), the net was primarily a collection of machines owned by government researchers and later academic institutions. A collaborative effort existed between Bell Labs and the universities (ie MIT and Berkeley). Unix was written in C programming language, which was widely available at universities across the country. Bell Labs scientists, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie were the chief architects of C and Unix.

Unfortunately, Unix would later splinter into various factions due to licensing and commercialization. The failure of the corporate players to resolve the licensing problems allowed M$ to discover the internet and perhaps more importantly planted the seeds for Linux.

Unix Review > UnixReview.com > going, Going, GONE!

House Cmte - DRM

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I will never understand why non-technical people are placed in postitions where they must evaluate technical phenomenon. Last week C-Span aired a session where members of P2P United answered various Senators who were tasked with policing the P2P companies in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling on Grokster. It was pretty amusing to listen to politicians who were obviously not very imformed on P2P or the decision.

Essentially, they were acting as mouthpieces for the RIAA and MPAA. On average, each senator was roughly 55-60 years old. Most of the representatives have never used high speed internet, let alone P2P software. So what were they doing asking questions of a technical nature? It's beyond my comprehension.

Paraphrasing the conversation - Representative from California, "What are you guys doing to stop and monitor porn?" Response from P2P united chair, "Same thing we've always done. It's very difficult for us to monitor every node of our network and sniff each indiviidual packet, as we have millions of customers. Not a very cost effective solution."

Representative retort, "Surely you guys can filter your network, I find it hard to believe that it's not feasible. Our children are at risk. What are you doing about piracy?" Mr. Adam Eisgrau Executive Director, P2P United response, "I assure you that filtering isn't feasible. Regarding DRM, I propose that we adopt a model of creative commons licensing by which the artist willingly shares the material..."

Naturally this is concept fell upon deaf ears. The representative bared their teeth and threatened group to change their ways or there would be severe repercussions. It seems that the politicians believe that the parents shouldn't raise their own children. Why should technologists be saddled with this responsibility too. If you do not want your child to view porn keep monitor there online activities. Actually, there are dozens of ways to accomplish this(ie web proxies, and other third-party software tools.)

Senate to Examine MGM vs. Grokster Ramifications

Another article of note is shown below.

House Eyes DRM Interoperability


Where is the value?

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M$ seems to be looking for ways to invigorate its business model. I struggle to find anything that could be considered growth in their schema. In fact, one could argue that M$ hasn't delivered any compelling value proposition to the marketplace in quite sometime. They have been saddled with lawsuits, and have been preoccupied with DRM diversion. Oh yeah, they are also busy spreading FUD about open source software.

The long awaited vaporware product previously Longhorn(aka Vista) has been under development for close to three years. The launch date seems to slip with regularity. So, what is common place are constant patches(aka Service Packs) for XP. I seem to remember that NT received six service packs before XP was made available to the public. I estimate that we'll see at least four service packs for XP before Vista arrives sometime in 2008.

As I've stated many times previously, the closed-source, proprietary software development model simply doesn't permit frequent software releases. The finite number of engineers available to review the code, makes it next to impossible to modify the code and release a product without bugs.

Medicine with Open Source twist

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What if Open Source methods were applied to medicine discovery? It seems that major breakthrough medicines are stifled due to the hundreds of obscure patents that essentially force smaller pharmaceutical companies to scuttle essential research for possible cures to diseases like cancer.

I have already discussed in great detail the evils of improper patents and the litigous nature of software development, but let us take a moment to reflect on the harm that has already occured due to the inability for small companies to compete with huge Tier I pharmaceutical companies (ie Merck, Pfizer, and Lilley), as they do not have the huge litigation warchest required to protect against the inevitable patent violations.

Additionally, there is are many tropical diseases that are not likely to be cured because much of the research would need to be funded by mainstream companies. The irony is that the people of these more 'civilized' nations make up the majority population, and if allowed to be innovative their discoveries could significantly benefit their mainstream neighbors.

Proponents of this method of research, assert that open source would help level the playing field for developing nations, and help erradicate the stonewalling and corruption that often prevents necessary cures from becoming reality.

For those who are interested, the upcoming feature film, The Constant Gardener, addresses some of these concepts. While it doesn't specifically call into question, open source strategies, it does focus on corruption that leads to manipulations of 'so-called' developing nations.


OnTheCommons.org | Open Source Biomedicine

PC Annoyances

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I figured I'd share this one with you, as I do routinely get the random 'help me, my PC is sick phone calls', (btw: None of that time is billable yet).

Experts' Blog

Podcasting - revisited

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What is the allure of podcasting anyway? The first misnomer is that it somehow is inextricably linked to the Ipod. Wrong. For whatever reason, the idea of timeshifting audio content using a mobile device, has been extended to that nearly ubiquitous Apple device. For the record, you don't need an Ipod to podcast. I'll probably never own an Ipod. I can't get with super hype.
Any portable device that plays mp3, .ogg formats will suffice. Heck, my Treo 600 fits the bill quite nicely.

So the article below describes I-Tunes launching its podcasting content service. Call me a nerd snob, but I always get that uneasy feeling when aspects of the blogosphere become public. Stuff just becomes very commercial and creativity takes a backseat. Hell look at the large number of people who call themselves bloggers. You can visit the huge proliferation of 'blogspot' blogs. It's like daytime soaps. Well, that's a rant for another time.


In One Stroke, Podcasting Hits Mainstream - New York Times

Clean Green

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What if Ford decided to create a brand that only manufactured hybrid vehicles? Pretty aggressive concept.
However, it seems unlikely cosidering the prevailing culture within the auto industry. The OEMs design product which they consider to be profitable. At this point neither Ford or GM can afford to gamble on arguably speculative technology.
Nonetheless, considering the skyrocketing fuel costs, it is clear they cannot survive on the SUV market. There are hundreds of them sitting in dealer lots that will never be sold, regardless of the incentive laden packages.

Heck their are some who really don't consider hybrid technology to be innovative.
Actually, I believe that B-Series vehicles have a better chance of success than the pure hybrid play. Well, I suppose the fickle market will dictate the winners and losers. One thing is certain, we can't wait for China to begin dropping their low cost vehicles on our shores before we solve the dilemna.

The Green Machine That Could Be Detroit - New York Times

Speech Recognition - Who cares?

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I often wonder if vendors develop products in a vacuum. Voice recognition software has been available to the public for several years. To date, I do not know a single person who uses the software. Conceptually, it is very cool to be able to talk and have your PC/handheld or whatever device and have it understand and execute the construct as appropriate. However, is it practical for the mainstream, joe average or better yet M$ user? I'm not certain that it is. Consider that you must teach the machine to understand your dialect, intonations, inflections, etc. The computer is only as intelligent as the space between the monitor and keyboard.

Granted it would be nice if I could simply speak my SMS into my Treo600, but I could only use that feature for one or two applications. Clearly, I would not want to utter my passwd, to gain access to email or AIM.

I suppose the bigger issue is that vendors like IBM haven't figured out how to offer a compelling value proposition to the consumer. Clearly if there was a huge demand for the product, hordes of vendors proprietary and open source vendors would be running to develop the applications. Yes, I do know that there are niche markets (ie vision impaired and other physically challenged users), but unfortunately, they are not the majority of computer users. So obviously, there are technical solutions available (albeit various levels of success), but demand is moderate at best.

As the author states in the article below, Speech recognition takes a huge amount of clever programming to perform in a capable fashion. Hopefully, there will soon be some compelling value proposition to warrant widespread acceptance.

How Speech Recognition Works And Doesn't Work--ExtremeTech Feature

Piracy by necessity

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Extremely hilarious cartoon which describes how our archaic 'push' broadcast television model forces Bob the millionaire to become a pirate. In the words of Cory Doctorow "Aargh"..

www.eirikso.com » Blog Archive » How Bob the Millionaire became a pirate

Sistas in Technology

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One of my news correspondents dropped this feel good piece on me last week, but due to numerous distractions, I was not able to share it with you until today.

Some of you may recall that I analyzed the remarks made by Harvard president, regarding the dearth of women in technical fields. While I disagreed with the ideas that were conveyed by the former Harvard president, it is an all too familiar discussion.

So the best method of debunking the myths is with real examples of women who display a fervor for technology.

Robotics is an area of great interest and amazement. In fact, one could argue that serious advancements in robotics and mechatronics, would be of huge benefit to society.

For those of you are not familiar with the Sony AIBO, it is perhaps the most interesting consumer robot on the market. It has the ability to adapt to its environment and learn various behaviors. Essentially, it can become a virtual pet without the mess.

Additionally, it appears that there is a very large AIBO
hacking community.

These very talented young ladies did very well in the US Robo Cup Open and have advanced to the international Robo Cup Competition. Their AIBO entry, is the only one controlled by an all female contingency. I wish them the best of luck. Do ya damn thing.

SpelBots @ Spelman College

Update: It seems that Spelman team is struggling with some technical difficulties as they were defeated by the Dutch AIBO team.

More Hybrid musings

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Ford will be delighted to send the Hybrid Escape to NYC to replace the aging Crown Vic fleet. Regarding comfort., I am not certain what the impact will be on the riders. A ten inch reduction in legroom seems pretty substantial.

With hybrid cabs, Big Apple may be going green

Nerds go Prime Time

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I must admit that I was an avid TechTV viewer, and after the Screen Saver cast was dismantled and the show became more sophomoric and less techie, I tuned out. Not to mention most cable providers did not include it as part of basic cable.

Alas, PBS is going to offer content which is in the same vain of the discontinued 'Great Thinkers' broadcast of TechTV fame. Since the show will be released under the Creative Commons License, I plan to get the legally distributed torrents, and nerd the fsck out ;)

PBS | I, Cringely . NerdTV

No comparison

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I'm not sure if the author is at all knowledgeable about the technology differences between Bittorrent and Kazaa.
Basically, its like comparing apple and oranges. Let me get my cluebat out and get warmed up. First Kazaa is not a protocol, it is merely a piece of software that uses the Fast Track protocol. Fast Track protocol is vulnerable to spoofing of files, due to the fact that the checksum and encryption schemas are quite poor. I'm sure that anyone who has used Kazaa can attest that you it is not uncommon that the content of files could be very different than what is expected. Additionally, the payload of the software is complete with crappy adware/spyware.

In contrast, BitTorrent is a robust filesharing protocol, which was designed to share pieces of large files in a distributed network. It is vastly superior to P2P tool in many respects:

  • Encryption algorithm
  • Checksum scheme
  • Distribution method


I recommend that anyone who wishes to learn more about BitTorrent, check out the protocol developer, Bram Cohen's talk.

Blogcritics.org: Bit Torrent vs. Kazaa

USB MP3 car stereo

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Just what I need to add to my wish list ;)

Boing Boing: USB MP3 car-stereo with SD reader

A new hybrid ?

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Is this yet another variant to the arguably innovative hybrid technology market? It seems that the ever increasing costs of gasonline are forcing consumers to make a conscious effort to purchase fuel efficient vehicles. Actually, I read recently that fuel prices are at an all-time high. Damn I wish I had access to mass transit right now. I miss it greatly. Anyway, I digress. Make sure you check out Gas Buddy. It lists low gas prices by region as reported by consumers.

It appears that OEMs have become interested in alternative fuel technologies. Hmm. Even GM has figured out that you can sell H2 Hummers in the midst of an impending gas crisis. I believe they are considering a Hummer H3, which will be the size of a Ford Explorer. How funny is that ? Soon Cadillac Escalades will also be miniature too.

In a nutshell, the market dictates what manufacturers deem to be interesting. Apparently, hybrid (gas and electric) powertrains have been on the scene for quite awhile, but consumers did not seem to care at all. When gas prices increased significantly, consumers and industry became very intersted in alternatives to gasoline vehicles.

Actually, I believe biodiesel vehicles is a very realistic substitute for gasoline vehicles. The waste byproducts are readily available at your local fast food resturant. These resturants throw away barrels of waste cooking oils on a daily basis. Why not use these wastes to propel your vehicle?
It certainly beats the prices of gas at $2.50 per gallon.

Hybrid-hydraulic powertrain generates worldwide interest - 06/29/05

Treo 600

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Well I finally took the plunge and purchased a cell phone/PDA combo. Before you even ask the silly question, no I didn't pay full price for my practically mint TREO 600. I don't pay full price for anything. You know that of me. I copped it from a friend who was fiending for the newer TREO 650. It was a huge upgrade for me, as I was limping around with a Palm IIIx and a Samsung N400. Anyway, the device can also play mp3/ogg files, so I now plan to try podcasting. It should be alot of fun.

For those who are not familiar with the Treo, it also combines the nearly ubiquitous Palm OS, so you can easily integrate all of your contacts from you legacy Palm devices. Thus you can also sync your calendars and contacts to the Treo from your PC using J-Pilot or some other PIM software. I also added a 1G SD storage media card, so that I may store pics captured from the onboard camera, and obviously store music too.

Grokster - Revisited

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Just when you thought the saga would finally end.. It's seems that some people really want to crush P2P networks, by any means necessary.

You may recall that I discussed this ongoing case in a previous essay. I was unsure whether RIAA lobbyist would appeal to Congress to have the Grokster vs. MGM ruling overturned. Well, luckily the recent ruling will not overturn the earlier precedent. However, it could potentially increase FUD among users/maintainers of other P2P networks.

The struggle continues.

Slashdot | Supreme Court Rules against Grokster

Who uses dial-up anyway?

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It boggles the mind to learn of people still using dial-up modems to access the internet. To be fair, I'm sure that three years ago, most people accessing the internet were still using dial-up modems. However, I think the numbers are probably closer to 50/50 between dial-up and high-speed broadband connections.

I converted to broadband in 2000, and simply cannot figure out how I ever lived with a slow 28.8kbaud dial-up connection. If you're still using a dial-up modem, consider yourself a relic or an endagered species. Actually, it's very easy to make the business case for highspeed. The cost per month are practically identical. Most people already have either cable or POTS line in their homes, so it would be a simple matter of connecting the service. Minimal upfront cost, the DSL/cable modem is given to the customer at almost no cost.

To be fair, the ISP (ie Comcast, SBC Yahoo) will lease the equipment for $5.00/month. If you're frugal like me, you'll probaly want to purchase your own from E-Bay or New Egg.

There really is no reason _not_ to use highspeed connections. I suppose that people tend to abuse the increased bandwidth, as they are more likely to send email loaded with 5mb attachments. Don't get me started. I routinely scold people for poor netiquette. Well that is a different rant, which I'll get into at another time.

Step into the highspeed internet, you'll never go back to dial-up.
Dial-Up Internet Going the Way of Rotary Phones - New York Times

Weblogs vs. Msg Boards

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Came across a good discussion regarding the differences between blogs and message boards.

I suppose to the casual observer, there really aren't many distinguishing features between the two. However, as an avid blogger and one who is familiar message boards, I can tell you that the content is indeed different. Additionally, the intimacy and breadth of material found on blogs are far greater than your average message board.

Common Craft - Social Design for the Web: What are the Differences Between Message Boards and Weblogs?

Redmond tosses hat into P2P fray

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It appears that M$ has decided to get involved in the BitTorrent discussion. Apparently, it is believed that they have been doing research to improve the widely distributed BitTorrent protocol. I have learned to be very leery when M$ attempts to improve an existing protocol. Typically what occurs is the co-opting of standard, which ultimately renders the protocol useless. Well only useful to M$.

Here is what BitTorrent architect, Bram Cohen thinks about these new developments.
Enter Avalanche: P2P filesharing from Microsoft | The Register

Apple - Intel

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Certainly a union of opposites. Steve Jobs has decided to move away from PowerPC platform and embrace Intel. Clearly Apple has been a sandbox for niche players, in fact, were it not for the Ipod innovation, Apple would be an even smaller dust spec in the desktop war.

The move here removes all commoditization barriers, it could prove to be a shrewd move. Some would argue that exotic hardware and specialty applications is what differentiates Apple from its competitors. First and foremost, Apple is a hardware company, as such, I would argue that what has kept them on the fringes is their unwillingness to open their architecture. It is very difficult to compete and gain market share against Dell and other major PC hardware companies who use standard, albeit low-end hardware. Perhaps moving to the x86 platform will force them to expand their horizons behiding their technology in shroud of patents and mystery only stumps their growth.

Linux has thrived on its competitors preoccupation with secrecy and patents. Perhaps its Apple's turn to shine ?

BBC NEWS | Technology | Apple Intel move 'could confuse'

Summer Coding

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Google is offering cash for anyone who wants to contribute to an open-source project. Hmmm, perhaps this could be my opportunity to something useful for humanity..

Check out the list of projects.

Google abets open-source internships | CNET News.com

Are Newspapers Dead?

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What is the future for printed media? It's clear that most traditional media channels are scrambling to thwart the onrushing digital age. If you need a precedent, simply recall that the USPS suffered huge losses at the hands of the killer app called email. I assert that the post office never recovered. When was the last time you sat down and wrote a scribe and affixed some postage and dropped it off for a loved one ?

Regarding printed media, I am clear that most major outlets (ie NYtimes) are not experiencing huge growth in market share. In fact, it is logical to assume they would be hard-pressed to maintain their current market share. If they truly believe that the only business model which is profitable is the hard copy black/white, traditional publication, they simply do not have a clue.

In all fairness, some printed media outlets have figured it out, albeit begrudgingly. Check out USA Today, it took a near collapse, for them to have a totally free digital circulation.

Consumers have a choice. The blogosphere has reached a critical mass to radically changed aging business models.

BBC NEWS | Technology | Newspapers face up to new media

BitTorrent search tool

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Social Networks - redux

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Seems that more people are gradually warming up to the idea of creating virtual networks. I discussed this idea in an essay awhile ago.

I imagine that the new social portal gives young college students another reason not to study.

Student's Start-Up Draws Attention and $13 Million - New York Times

Wild Spectrum Wars

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Have you ever wondered why less than 3% of Americans own televisions that can receive high-definition broadcasts? The article below explains in painstaking details the corruption and fighting between broadcasters and cable networks. Ironically, it appears that the FCC was powerless against the bloodbath that victimized consumers.

The government is supposed to orchestrate an equitable method of ending the analog television signal without alienating
millions of consumers. I imagine that anyone who has witnessed a HDTV sports broadcast will recognized the difference between the analog and digital HDTV. The difficulty arises when implementation is dependent upon collaborative effort between government, broadcasters, and cable networks.

A very wild unpredictable outcome is to be expected.

Spectrum Wars (02/18/2005)

Blogging tutorial

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Stumbled upon a pretty good visual aid that describes the method and purpose behind the blogging phenomenon.

I believe the narrator is a Google employee. You will need Macromedia Flash Player to view. Check out Why Blog?

Eerie parallel

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Economic downturn coupled with the dotcom bubble burst, have ushered in a new frontier within Silicon Valley. Below is an article which makes an interesting parallel between the once great 'iron-belt' city Detroit and Silicon Valley.

The New York Times | New Economy: Is Silicon Valley Similar to Detroit?

Firefox - Redux

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More interesting firefox browser publicity campaigns. If you're still using that antiquated M$ browser, please consider switching.

Figured I would share another article with you.

Firefox video campaign storms the Web - ZDNet UK News

Make sure you check out the Funnyfox Web site promos, I am sure that you will get at least one giggle.

Broadcast flag shot down

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The evil broadcast flag was defeated last week. You may recall that I discussed this argument, in an earlier essay. No, the revolution will not be televised. You only learn about such matters in the blogosphere. So, don't expect Dan Rather to explain the details behind this huge victory.

What does this all mean? HDTV tuner card built after July 2005 are NOT required to be broadcast flag aware. So, you can record off-the-air terrestrial HDTV shows without threat of prosecution.

Cool huh..

Boing Boing: V-TV DAY: WE WON THE BROADCAST FLAG FIGHT!

RFID - Passports

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In an effort to bolster the homeland security, the US Gov't is set to pass into law the 'Real ID Act'.. Whereas, an electronic tracking device would be embedded, complete with personal information of the passport owner.

Walmart plans to use the same technology to track merchandise from the supply warehouse to its retail shelves.

joestump.net - Real ID Act

Podcasting

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Lately I have been considering starting an audio blog with RSS feeds. Some also refer to this phenomenon as podcasting. Essentially, it would supplement my existing text blog,but it could provide a more personal touch. You could actually hear me explain some of my rambling and assorted gibberish, rather than read it.

To accomplish this feat, I'll need to purchase a portable MP3 player/recorder. I suppose that I do have plenty of content to share, so I'll not run out stuff to discuss with you.

The only problem that I will most likely face, is finding the time to share my thoughts. I also do not have any idea how well the audio quality will sound to the audience.

It should be fun. We'll see.

Berkeley db defeated

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I have finally conquered the dreaded db known as Berkeleydb. Most of my experiences with db have been fraught with peril and uncertainty. In the past, I had used db for Evolution, the drop in Open Source replacement for M$ Outlook. If my memory serves me well, I seem to recall that db isn't backwards compatible. So each time the db developers upgrade their software, the previous version simply do not work as designed. I distinctly remember being told by GNOME developers, that I was to use db-3.17 and _only_ that version, as all others would not work correctly,.

More recently, I seem to have corrupted my blog database. It seems that I ran out of space on my server, so the db could not be properly parsed by the MT publishing engine. I received a couple duplicate entries and many 'serialized' errors after rebuilding my entries.

So, I decided to simply migrate the default db to the more robust mySQL. I won't go into the gory details here, but I did find alot of help by using the ubiquitous 'google' search. It appears that many other MT users have also experienced problems with db. Immediately following the migration, I noticed a tremendous performance boost in the rebuild process. I no longer receive timeouts etc.. No more serialize..pm errors either.

The question I have for Ben Trott et al at Six Apart is "Why use such a fragile db?". If the db isn't robust to adverse conditions (file locking, mismatch parsing errors, etc), it should not be the default database for the publishing engine. Why not use mySQL as the default?

Anyway, I'll stop my mild 'rant' here. I've slayed db dragon, and I am better for it. Now, I can begin to post entries more frequently, and make up for any lost time.

I'm back on the block like Quincy Jones.

Grokster vs. MGM

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Although this news is a bit dated, I'm sure that it's no less important.
If you're not already aware, the Supreme Court passed down a landmark decision that drastically alters the DRM discussion.
MGM and other members of the MPAA took a mighty blow as a result of the high court decision.

Save the Betamax.

As I discussed in the Free Culture essay, the fight against DRM legislation is much bigger than music downloads.
For instance, what if each time you loaded a CD-R into your Hewlett-Packard CD-Writer, that the hardware had the intelligence to discern whether or not the media violated copyright? If it was discovered that your media violated copyright, the writer would not only fail to duplicate the CD, but it would also phone the legal authorities.

Just imagine the chaos this would create for end consumers and the HP engineers. No longer would these engineers be able to use their human capital to develop innovative technologies. Instead, they would be forced to worry about policing customers who could potentially infringe upon copyrighted material. I'm clear that it's better to let the customers dictate which direction technology will grow, rather than allowing litigation to make this determination.

I'm glad the Supreme Court made the right decision. There is a chance that the MPAA could petition Congress to challenge the ruling; however, this would seem unlikely.

Stay tuned..

Automotive Musings

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Recently, I had the opportunity to engage in an interesting dialogue with an auto industry Group Vice President, and the conversation was quite insightful. I expected to get a great deal of diplomatic rhetoric, instead I was pleasantly surprised by what appeared to be honest and frank feedback.

The discussion took many different paths and touched upon a variety of topics.


  • Fragile state of North American auto engineering

  • Commoditization of the hardware

  • Close follower vs. Adaptability

  • Value added engineering

  • Legacy costs associated with healthcare

A recurring theme was leveraging technology to enable your firm to become an innovator and market leader. He acknowledged that there is a dearth of innovation in the US automaker segment.
He specifically compared the Chrysler 300C sedan and the Ford 500 sedan. He admitted that the uniqueness of the Chrysler product gives it the nod over the newly released Ford. He insisted that the culture must change, to help foster innovative ideas and breathe new life into the US market segment.

He also stated that the 'players' in the US market will be very different in 5-10yrs. Toyota has already begun to mark territories on US soil. Hyundai and very soon a new Chinese competitor will be encroaching on the US market.

Regarding the hardware commoditization..

RSS Feeds

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A few changes to discuss, I've made it much easier for people to stay current on my blog entries. Actually, I most likely reduce the email notices.
Basically, the RSS feeds includes special XML syntax, which permits aggregation by XML compliant readers.
So you'll need to install a news aggregator.

However, if you're on the move, you will probably prefer a web browser based client such as, bloglines. It is a pretty cool aggregator, and gives you access to news feeds from any computer.

My various feeds are prominently displayed as colorful icons below my mugshot.

Update: Pretty good article describing RSS for non-techies.What the heck is RSS.

Demise of Sony

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I know most of you have at one time used a Sony electronics device. Actually, I was a very proud owner of the now classical Sony Walkman. What a relic. Recent developments have shaken the once very solid foundation at the multimedia giant.
Innovationseems to be lacking and many of its competitors have closed the gap.

It appears that Samsung has emerged from relative obscurity to pose a serious threat to Sony. I have purchased three Samsung cell phones in the past five years. At present, I only own one Sony electronic device, that would be a SCSI CD-RW 10x24x32. I purchased this approximately 7yrs ago. You do the math. How many Sony devices do you own?

Samsung Is Now What Sony Once Was

Printed media in the digital age

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In keeping with the theme discussed in an earlier essay, its useful to note that technology moves faster than social change. So as a result, companies are scrambling to deal with the consequences of the digital era. Traditional media outlets have been hardest hit. In an earlier post, I described the impact on television and its scramble to protect its so-called intellectual property. Well, the newspapers are now faced with the same dilemna. Googlewill soon begin archiving works that have expired copyright. So, next it will be libraries that will have to scramble to innovate.
Brewster Kahle discusses libraries and their value proposition.

The article below describes some of the issues that printed media faces, as it tries to contend with the Digital Era.
Can Papers End the Free Ride Online ?

Bluetooth Sniper

Pretty humorous, but technically cool. If none of you have yet purchased your first Bluetooth device. I would say that you're missing out on a neat piece of technology.

However, regardless of how well you secure your new Blackberry, someone will always be able to sniff and snoop on your data.

Boing Boing: HOWTO build a Bluetooth "sniper rifle"

Wonders of Google

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Apparently I'm late in my discovery, but I just thought I would share this with you anyway.
As I have mentioned previously, Google is the most powerful search engine on the internet. Not only is it capable of doing the more mundane search duties, it now offers a method to index all of the files on your hard drive.

No longer will you have to search for that elusive filename, simply type a few characters that describe what you want. The speed is exceptionally good, and the accuracy is remarkable.

Please be advised that Google Desktop is a beta program that only runs on M$ windows. Because Google is Linux friendly, I'm sure that the company will eventually release the desktop search software for other operating systems.

Microsoft Follies

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Recently came across a very funny article by a M$ engineer. It was particularly amusing because I know dozens of other people that have experienced the same issues. Hence, the reason that I became a Linux evangelist many years ago. How secure is your Windows installation ?
Don't Try This At Home

Why Firefox?

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I'm still amazed that people haven't yet discovered the virtues of the Firefox web browser. I suppose that I could classify the article below as clueless pundit of the week, but to be fair, I believe the author is genuinely interested in exploring (pun intended) the benefits of the browser that soon could become ubiquitous.

Bottom Line: IE is a very poorly designed browser. It is full of security vulnerabilities and is classic bloatware. I seriously doubt that M$ will be able to add the very neat features that Firefox and earlier Mozilla browser have employed for quite awhile.

elizabeth grigg: using firefox

Bugme Not

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Hold your applause, but I have posted my monumental 100th blog entry. Well actually, I have posted a total 130 blog entries. 100 of those entries have been with my preferred MT Publishing Engine and the other 30 entries were done with the older Blogger service. I left Blogger awhile ago because it wasn't very extensible and suffered from security flaws. Basically, I was lazy and the old Blogger tool made publishing fairly thoughtless. Movable Type and Wordpress are the leaders in blogging tools.

Allow me to share another tidbit of helpful info with you. Have any of you ever visited a site only to be prompted to sign-in menu? In most cases these sites have public domain information (ie online magazines or newspapers). I find these sites to be major pain in the ass. I despise websites that require registration to view public domain content. The online edition of the New York Times is the latest to draw my ire.

Alas, there is a solution to this annoyance. It is called Bugme Not. Essentially, the script works directly with your web browser to allow safe passage past compulsory, meaningless website registrations.

Give it a try, I'm sure you'll love it.

Wiki-Wiki Revisited

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I spoke about Wikipedia several months ago. It appears that the mainstream audience is warming up to the idea of this collaborative tool. I happen to use it exclusively. The article below discusses how Wiki is used in business circles.

Socialtext and Wiki in Business Week

Free Culture - Revisited

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Lately there has been an outry for tremendous regulatory restrictions within the digital realm. As I've stated in an earlier essay, we are facing a rare time in history. In that, the growth of emerging technologies are being constrained by lobbyist and commercial interests. Never before in the history of our nation has this previously occured.

The Napster experiment leveled the playing field between the consumer and record labels. Introducing P2P as a viable means of distributing music at no cost, forced the music distributors to revamp their archaic business models. Arguably, P2P is a Killer App, that became a Disruptive Technology to the RIAA and MPAA.

So, now that I've set the historical context, I want to share another bit of information.
The Free Culture lecture that I referenced earlier, speaks indirectly to another forthcoming conflict, the Digital Liberation Television Front.

What I find most interesting about the discussion is that HDTV recording will become illegal in 1st Qtr 2005CY. So, if you buy nothing else this year, make sure you purchase a HDTV tuner card.


Music - No Boundaries

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Now that the elections are over, I'll have to find a panacea.

Nothing like a new gadget to cure all ills.
It appears that I may have finally found the piece of hardware that would permit me to pipe my huge audio archive to different areas of my home.

I believe the price point is a bit rich for my taste, but it certainly has potential. The device appears to be very extensible and the most importantly the architecture is 'open'. Sending music through the house wirelessly is very cool.

Rod Chavez: SLIMP3

BTW: I accidently fat-fingered a file that prevented submission of comments. Apologies for the technical difficulties.

Hybrid Vehicles

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Some of you fellow techies may find this fairly interesting.
I came across a pretty interesting article that describes the components of a hybrid technology.

It also includes a very cool flash enabled animation.

Free Culture

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Many people take for granted the wealth of information stored on the internet and the freedom it provides. However, technology patents and the threat of litigation threatens to stifle the very innovation that the internet was founded upon.
Prior to the introduction of the World Wide Web, the early internet was a huge collaborative landscape, comprised of researchers. These pioneers took pride in problem solving for the good of humankind. It was certainly a free culture of unbridled information gathering.

Wiki-Wiki

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Gosh, the Summer is nearly over. For whatever reason, I have not been posting regularly. Could it be that I am at a loss for words ? Ahh. don't count on it.

Actually, last year at this time, I was just returning to the States from my European vacation . Ahh, how I long for Oktoberfest.

Anyway, I digress. In my daily perusing of the net I stumbled some intriguing information. Figured I share it with you. Most of you know that I'm an avid reader of non-fictional texts. I also happen to appreciate the power of Google. Have you ever wondered how and why encyclopedias have become extinct ? Well, you should experience the Wikipedia phenomenon.

Social Networks -Revisited

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Ok, I finally gave into the Linked-In phenomenom. To my surprise, I discovered many of my colleagues had already taken the plunge.
I suppose my cynicism was unfounded. Nonetheless, I'll let you decide for yourself. Check it out.

Social Networks

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I was recently invited to join LinkedIn a new business-focused networking service. I've not yet accepted, as I'm doing some independent research. Check out what others are saying..

mamamusings: linkedin: first impressions

Bluetooth Heaven

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Despite the fact that we embraced the technology few years later Europe and Japan. The cell phone has nearly become a ubiquitous device in America. Because I made the decision to go strictly cellular, I abandoned my landline phone early last year. Hence, I happen to spend more time on the cell phone than the average person.

Tech Squad

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I stumbled across another interesting tidbit of information relative to kids in the inner-city and engaging them in technology. Fellow B'klynite Ejovi discusses the MOUSE program.

ejovi.net: digital divide -1

Weblog: Open and Free Publishing

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Last evening, I gave a talk on the 'blogging' phenomenom to the NSBE-DAE. Essentially, the audience was comprised of mostly professional engineers. I have given workshops to this group before, but never discussed such an abstract subject. For whatever reason, I really do not believe I reached very many of them. I resorted to many different strategies to help them grasp some of the concepts. Typically, candy is pretty effective in helping them recall some of the key points of the discussion.

However, on this evening I had to do a bit more teeth pulling than usual. Oh well, I suppose you can't win them all. Nonetheless, I did reach a few. Perhaps there are a few new aspiring bloggers in our midsts.

Anyway, you can find the talk here

Blast From the Past

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Have you ever wondered what happened to all of the wayward websites that disappeared years ago. Well, I gleened this helpful
archive from a fellow blogger. It has mirrored many now defunct sites, it is really interesting to see how different web authoring techniques have changed over the years. I even found my old site from 1996.

Digital Divide - Fact or Fiction

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Recently, I read an interesting article that discussed access to technology issues, systemic to the city of Detroit. You can peep it here Mich Tech News.

After perusing the article, I began to formulate an analysis of my own on the subject of the much discussed Digital Divide.

What I find interesting is that the concept of Moore's Law
is never considered when people disuss the Digital Divide. In fact, most arguments attempt to make a correlation between the cost of technology and the Digital Divide. I assert that Moore's Law debunks that argument. If you're not familiar with Moore's Law, take a look at this article.

The key enabler to Moore's Law is the decreasing cost of transistors,
brought about by vast improvements in silicon wafer manufacturing technology.
Hence, we now have 4GHz CPUs that are manufactured at nearly the
same cost of its early ancestor, the 386 CPU, almost 30yrs ago.

So, if the costs of manufacturing computer chips are dropping at
alarming rates, and subsequent costs of electronic gadgets (ie Blackberry,
cell phones, etc) are also decreasing at alarming rates..

We know that many of our black youth are huge consumers of these gadgets.

Why is it so difficult to get black children/families interested in technology and computing ?

Isn't this also a large contributor to the digital divide ?

Another good Digital Divide article was written by Ejovi Nuwere.

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