Archive for November, 2003

Internet Identity

November 30, 2003

Sorry about the lack of postings lately. I’ve been very busy with the two girls, trying to learn Final Cut Express to justify my DV camcorder purchase, and wrestling with a crisis of conscience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity. In the time that I’ve had this site, I’ve gotten a lot of compliments about its breadth and depth. People who I knew mostly casually or through my wife have said that they feel like they know me better than they know people they’re closer to. My wife left a comment awhile ago suggesting that she likes my blog because she gets to find out stuff about me that I don’t normally talk about. A gentleman at another site smeared me as “not a thorough-going man of ideas” based on the site.

The thing is that I’ve never considered this site to be a good representation of me. Practically every part of this site is a shallow presentation of a small portion of me at a given point in time. My biographical sketch is out of date, my values are but a smattering of my total values and don’t even show a hierarchy or change over time, and there are probably fifteen major essays that I haven’t converted to HTML yet.

My blogs were designed to make up for those shortcomings, but they’ve always been an imperfect window into my mind. If I have time to work up an extensive entry, the blogging format is really bad about editing. The pressure to put out an entry a day or an entry every couple days and the poor support for good workflow in the blogging tools means that most entries are rushed out the door, so to speak. I’ve had entries that took a week to compose, but I always had to keep those in a text file on my desktop in order to not interrupt the daily flow of postings.

So what’s a Web-savvy guy to do in this situation? I came up with three choices, naturally:

  1. Stop the whole shebang, cease publication
  2. Half-ass the whole thing and either publish longer entries less frequently or shorter entries more regularly
  3. Whole ass it—don’t even think about getting that domain: I own it and wholeass.com—and use some better tools to make it easier to keep current

For most of last week, I was seriously leaning towards option one. Option two didn’t appeal to me because the possibility of making my web presence less reflective of my self wasn’t going to cut it. Option three scared the dickens out of me because it sounded like a lot of work and, more importantly, a lot of time.

Then came Plone, an open-source, free content management system that is infinitely extensible and eminently customizable. Oh, and entirely web-based. Actually, the software was just a nice idea until I came across very affordable and quality hosting for Plone accounts at Zettai!. They’ve got a lot of experience hosting Zope and Plone accounts, great pricing, and a very liberal allocation of space, bandwidth, email accounts, subdomains, and domains. My current host is great, but he specializes in ColdFusion, which was my previous favorite development environment. I don’t want to burden his servers with a completely new and different environment.

What Plone will buy me is the simplification of document creation, a customizable and powerful workflow engine, and an excellent version control system. Adding new pages is a piece of cake and there are a lot of plug-ins (called products in Plone/Zope parlance) available for free that assist with photo album, discussion fora, and blog setup and maintenance.

Wait, that sounds like a lot of work! Isn’t it the holidays and aren’t the girls requiring a lot of care and attention? Good observation, Eddie. That’s why this ain’t going to happen overnight. I’m going to try to have everything ready for the new year, but I can’t make any promises. What I can promise is that it’s going to look like I took option two for a while longer and then it will seem like I’ve been operating on no sleep after that. Except I won’t have because things will get infinitely easier.

Dotfiles

November 24, 2003

Cool repository of dotfiles for your perusal and downloading. Why make your own .tcshrc when you can start with someone—presumably more adept—else’s?

Jacko the Sicko

November 21, 2003

After reading this deposition regarding Michael Jackson, I can’t help but be sickened. I can’t even enjoy jokes or Top Ten Lists about this pedophile: he’s a monster and needs to be kept away from society, no matter what his achievements or success.

Photo Tips

November 21, 2003

For future reference: photo tips.

Audi Here

November 21, 2003

A new Audi concept car was unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September: the Audi Le Mans Quattro. The pictures are incredible, as are the amount and variety of smileys used in the discussion forum. Finally, another article on the site examines the effort that went into making this concept car in eleven months.

If you’re thinking to yourself that it’s a concept car that’ll never see the light of day, remember that the Audi TT was once a concept car that was virtually unchanged when it went into production.

Ingenious, I Say!

November 21, 2003

A guy has put up a page that allows you to see what your site looks like in Safari. It uses a 400 MHz iMac running Mac OS X 10.3.1 yet it is surprisingly speedy—my requests only took 23 and 25 seconds. It does this through web services, shell scripts, AppleScript, and Python. Wonderful idea, pretty good execution.

Pigeonholes

November 19, 2003

I was eating lunch at Baja Fresh today, I had my usual nachos, and a pigeon walked up in its head-bobbing manner. Having an abundance of chips and feeling a beneficence for a fellow living creature—abnormal for me, especially, because I can’t stand pigeons and birds in general—I broke up a chip and cast it near. He proceeded to break it further against the sidewalk for easier processing and digestion and I was hooked. I gave him about three full chips over the course of twenty minutes as I alternated between pigeon observation and reading a Python book on my laptop.

That is, until a smaller bird, a sparrow perhaps, discovered the buffet. This bird had the audacity to scoop a large piece right out from in front of the pigeon, who was dutifully busting it up. The bird—a third the size of the pigeon—then flew away some distance to share the bounty with an avian friend. I was a little pissed at this thievery so I stepped up the pigeon’s allocation. The bird’s friend then swooped over to steal the new offering. WTF!

This has renewed my disdain for pigeons, specifically, and birds, in general. What kind of creature lets another much less powerful creature take away its food? If I were that pigeon, there’d be some sparrow bits in the offerings I left on car windshields.

My Best Idea Ever

November 17, 2003

The best business idea I ever had was grand in scope, beautiful if executed properly, and could have revolutionized the IT industry. I had it about two years ago and it was one of those eureka-in-the-shower moments that I sometimes have. It was basically what Robert X. Cringely calls hive computing.

My idea was to use desktop computers for serving web pages. Uh huh, snooze. In other words, I wanted to create some software (or cause some software to be created, more likely) that would allow an average desktop computer to handle a Web request and serve it back using its spare computing cycles in between real work. This distributed network could combine to handle all the requests for a company’s Web site, its intranet, or its extranet. In other words, getting rid of the expensive servers—the so-called “big iron.” Most Fortune 500 companies have thousands and thousands of desktop computers and several hundred servers of various persuasions. A lot of those desktop computers are spread across the nation and the world. Through geoserving, requests could also be handled by the most appropriate—read: nearest in proximity—computers.

It was a revolutionary idea. It still is. The problem that caused me to abandon it—aside from some rather vehement naysayers—was the sheer enormity of the idea. Serving up static HTML pages would be a walk in the park; dynamic ones pose a little bit more of a problem. There’s so many different app servers that would have to be made to be distributed and the whole communication issue was a tough nut, as well. Moreover, there’s security issues, routing problems, and customer acceptance.

If anyone reading this wants to tackle the problem, let me know and I’ll sign off whatever rights I may possess by law. I’ve moved on, but it’s still an intriguing idea and the grid computing industry has improved considerably. I’ll also happily share my notes that I prepared in a frenzy of brainstorming.

The Other Superpower: Wal-Mart

November 17, 2003

This article about Wal-Mart is incredible. I knew that the retailing giant rode its suppliers hard—witness the RFID mandate and deadline—but I didn’t really grok the squeeze they put on them. I don’t fault them for it: after all, the loss of an American job to a foreign company means that more money is being made by the American company and that money doesn’t just disappear. Plus, the reduced costs mean reduced expenditures by consumers, which means that you can do more with less. And Wal-Mart has certainly been at the forefront of that!

Sure, there’s a certain nostalgia for small Mom-and-Pop businesses. There was a nostalgia for small farmers as well, but that’s pretty much passed as consumers enjoy the bounty of agribusiness. Wal-Mart is essentially saying to the American consumerate: resistance is futile. Those same people are obviously spending quite a bit at Wal-Mart since the $250 billion in sales has to come from somewhere.

[UPDATE: My friend Larry (who apparently doesn’t like using the comments function I provide. *ahem*) said what I should have said except that I rushed this entry during my lunch hour:

Now, if Vlasic wanted to avoid the “distortion” of every aspect of its operations it could just say, “Hmm…well, no thanks, we don’t want to sell pickles at that price because our brand is more imporant.” Yes, they’d lose the whole Walmart account, but that’s the nature of the thing. It was hardly Walmart putting pressure on Vlasic. It was Vlasic putting pressure on itself to expand via Walmart, even if it meant cannabalizing their other sales and eroding their margins in a way that was ultimately self-defeating. It was a strategy. If they really wanted an exclusive brand they could stay away completely from big box stores and sell pickles for five times the price from organic cucumbers and whatnot.

Anyway, I understand that it sucks to work with a customer who is so demanding that it’s almost not worth doing business; or to get oneself into a position to compete for that business that you’ll then fail if you turn off the spigot down the road. It’s a very upsetting circumstance, but Walmart is nonetheless an unmitigated good—and it’s alleged bad behavior is a key component of why it’s good.

]

Nigerian Spam

November 16, 2003

Now this is a first! I just received a Nigerian spam email—you know, the one from some African who needs you to help him get $15 million out of the country—through the contact page on this site.

That means that some spammer visited my site and entered the scam into a form instead of getting my email address from the image. That’s strange. I wonder if it’s become automated or if some actual human being did that.

[UPDATE: Apparently, the spammer was referred to me by my comment over at CamWorld and came from the netblock “207.50.228.xxx” which doesn’t resolve. Interesting. Do I ban the IPs? As an isolated incident, I suppose that I’ll let it pass.]