Thursday, September 30, 2004

Short note while roaming around St.Petersburg

My blackberry works here. I really am not sure why, or how much it costs my company to have it working here, but it is yet another miracle of technology as far as I am concerned. More on that later.

I am sitting in a coffee house. Literally. That's the name of the place. It is a upscaly starbucks type of a place, with basically starbucks level of prices. Yet it is full. This aprticular one I ducked into to hide from drizzle and change the memory card in my camera is next door to the university [ed - later I found out it was the Finance-Economics Institute]. Very wierd. School just started, so you can still see freshman - larger groups, tentatively getting to know each other, and older world-weary (or so they think and pretend to act) sophomores and up.

Anyway, that's my note. Tea and cake is here and so I am gonna eat, drink, and continue my exploration of the city.

ps. a note sent to a friend while taking a tea break from roaming the city.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Flight Over

from here to there. almost. another one from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is still ahead.

Strangely, the Helsinki airport still has a couple of klunky internet-access kiosks and no wireless access. Perhaps Finns just do not want people to hang out the airport too much, given how most of the connections are within an hour or so.

An overwhelming number of my fellow JFK-Helsinki travelers were going on to either Warsaw or Riga. I imagine it is a common occurance as Latvian and Estonian newspapers were given out alongside English-language and Finnish ones. The overall flight experience becomes less and less exciting the more I fly. The 7 1/2 hours of flight time pass by quickly, but by the end of the journey my back is aching and so are my feet. At least Finnair rows are well-spaced, perhaps to accounting for the height of the Scandinavians, so when the person in front of me decided to lie down I was not put into extreme discomfort as I was on Delta and Continental a few times. The width of the seats seems smaller though. My shoulders were definitely out of my "air space" and kept getting bumped into both by my neighbor and the people walking the aisle. Oh well. It was a safe and uneventful flight, which is all one can hope for, really.

I am still very much amazed at both the foolhardiness of the human race and the ease with which we [humans] become fully trusting of things we neither understand nor control. There are two or more million parts that make up the plane. Pilots control a few of them. Passengers control none of the parts that matter. Yet, 200+ people piled into a tin can that would travel 4,500 miles at 33,000 feet for over 7 hours without too many second thoughts. Amazing.

Wireless in airport

I am in the JFK airport. For reasons and weepy explanations see my previous post. If you do look at the previous post you will notice an absence of hyperlinks of any kind. That, obviously, is because of the lack of internet access. Which brings us back to the topic of this post.

JFK actually has wireless access. Without fanfare, and probably well-known to all those who fly often, the service runs in the background and does not bother anyone. I do not know which is more amazing - the fact that the service exists at all, or how unsensational its existence is. The infrastructure required to offer this service would cost so much just a few years ago, that the current price - $6.95 for 24 hours - is ridiculously low. If one needed any more proof of how the technology has infiltrated and subverted our lives, our culture, our selves.

The price seems eminently reasonable, if misleading. After all, how many people are going to be in the airport for 24 hours? In my case I could only use the service for under an hour before boarding the plane - not worth the effort I decided. Given the typical price-gouging that occurs in airports one can only imagine how cheap - indeed almost free - this service must be to provide for the companies. I would have liked to see a pre-paid card based system, or the ability to share my credit-hours between various airports. Another glitch is the absence of power outlets in the general waiting area.

Nevertheless, since I remember being unable to connect to the Internet from airports at all 5-7 years ago, and paying through the nose for kiosk access 3-5 years ago, and finally getting a few booths that would let me connect my laptop directly up until now - the process is pretty remarkable, I think. Previous sentence aside - I am not too cheap to pay $7, and so this post is going to get filed after I get to the office in St. Petersburg.

Trip away

trip, trip...
trip away.

as the paraphrased song goes.

Going away on business to St.Petersburg. Before anyone asks me about Hurricane Jeanne, let me quickly answer that I am not going to Florida. Russian Federation, is more like it. Business trip, this is. Not crazy about going on the personal level. It is also the first time I am leaving my Significantly Better Half (SBH) for so long in the last 7 years. Hope all goes well for me and for her.

Why am I not excited on a personal level? Mostly because it just does not feel very safe. I am also not all the crazy about leaving SBH alone. She is not happy about it, and when you are married that pretty much means that when one is unhappy, the other one is also. Moreover, I ended up flying towards the end of the Yom Kippur. I generally try to fast and meditate during this holiday, even if we do not attend any services, but of course today was just busy and crazy. I managed to fast [ok, I am still in the process as I type this], but no enlightenment is likely to come out of it.

Anyway, I am going to be back in a few days. See you then: Dear Web-based Log/Diary.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Somebody had to take responsibility

RDK tips with this fun story about They:
The inventor formerly known as Andrew Wilson has changed his name to ''They.''

Last week, Taney County Circuit Court Judge Jim Justus granted the name change. Next, They, 43, took his documents to the motor vehicle department and got a new driver's license bearing his new name.

They said people often make references to an anonymous ''they.''

'''They do this,' or 'They're to blame for that.' Who is this 'they' everyone talks about? 'They' accomplish such great things. Somebody had to take responsibility,'' They said.

read the whole thing.

It is never too early to state the obvious

CNET, in its uncommon wisdom breathlessly declares that:
Study: Security measures often overlook human factor

and that

A large part of the problem is that organizations remain focused on external threats such as viruses, while internal threats are consistently underemphasized, the survey found. Executives are quicker to spend money on technology such as firewalls and virus protection than they are to properly prepare their employees.

"Companies face far greater damage from insiders' misconduct, omissions, oversights, or an organizational culture that violates existing standards," Edwin Bennett, global director of Ernst & Young's technology and security risk services, said in a statement Thursday. "Because many insider incidents are based on concealment, organizations often are unaware they're being victimized. Too many organizations feel that information security has no value when there is no visible attack."

No kidding. Social Engineering has been the preferred method of hacking since time hacking began. It is telling, that years after even Hollywood has made a movie about social engineering and computer security top executives still do not get it.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Syrian troops pull out of Lebanon

Syrian troops pull out of Lebanon

Should not that be a huge story? Israel has certainly complained about the silence of the world press on this situation. They had a point, compared to the outcry Israel's 1980's incursions received Syria's de facto occupation of Lebanon has been avoided by major media for some time now.

Why is Syria retreating? Are they looking to beef up defences against a possible US invasion? Are they bowing to some sort of pressure by US? EU? Is this part of some clandestine, or not so clandestine, deal to head of sanctions or farther deterioration of Syria/US relationship?

Perhaps no purely political foreign relations story can get any serious play in the US papers and media for long. No guts, no blood, no coverage.

ps. This is not to say Syria has not covered its actions in Lebanon with blood. But at least the withdrawal seems orderly, if quick.

perhaps the reason the story is not getting much play is my ignorance of history

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- About 300 Syrian soldiers in a convoy of trucks and armored vehicles crossed the Lebanese border into Syria early Thursday, Lebanese security officials said.


The redeployment has been met with skepticism as Syria has withdrawn troops from Lebanon before and later replaced them. As with past redeployments, much of this week's movement appears to be a matter of rotating troops around Lebanon rather than withdrawing them.

from AP [free registration required]

Single-pane navigation of arbitraty depth multi-typed taxonomies

Single-pane navigation of arbitraty depth multi-typed taxonomies

Ok, so this is is a mouthful of a title. Nevertheless I have been considering this very problem for some time now. Not necessarily the "single-pane" variant of it, but the general issue of graphical representation and representation of traversal of such taxonomies.

Now really, why would anyone care -- it seems like a pretty esoteric problem. It is not. I may create a complex title (which is possibly incorrect - I am not sure multi-typed is the right formal word for what I mean), but the reality is much simpler. An example of a taxonomy could be an organizational chart, a file system, or anything really with categories and subcategories. A tree, by one other name.

When you have to build software products with a human for a final information consumer, and sometimes original information generator, taxonomies become pretty important. The two most common ways to navigate these structures via a GUI are:

These interfaces are nice, although fraught with their own issues, but certainly do not work very well on a smaller devices, like Blackberry or Palm. Is there a way to compress the display of these arbitrary number of subcategories into a screen that is effectively narrow enough for just one pane? Of course. As is common when it comes to computer-human interaction, Apple has an answer.

The iPod interface allow a scrolling traversal of the artists, genres, and albums - a taxonomy - within just one screen pane. What an obivously good solution for all sorts of handheld applications.

ps. Well, I really liked the title of the post, and was not all that exciting about writing much afterward.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Natural selection is so passe

Natural selection is so passe

From MSNBC & Reuters comes this:

British scientists are developing a robot that will generate its own power by eating flies.

The idea is to produce electricity by catching flies and digesting them in special fuel cells that will break down sugar in the insects' skeletons and release electrons that will drive an electric current.

This is robot is intended ot be a

"Called EcoBot II, the robot is part of a drive to make "release and forget" robots that can be sent into dangerous or inhospitable areas to carry our remote industrial or military monitoring of, say, temperature or toxic gas concentrations," New Scientist magazine said on Wednesday.

Now, this sounds cool, but is not this a bit dangerous? Not to get all sci-fi channel on my readers, but are not implications of self-sustaining automata well-documented by now? And what about the ecology... These robots are not going to have natural predators, so what is to stop them from switching to other things that contain sugar... Like fruits. Could they eat all the flies and then switch to fruits and small children? Will their predatory attacks end with a mess of rotting fly meat and fuel cell fluid on my kitchen wall?

I just do not know if we are ready for fly-eating robots.

Firefox ascendant

Firefox ascendant reports that

Web metrics suggest that the software giant's Internet Explorer has been losing a significant number of users in the past nine months to open-source browser Mozilla and its offspring, Firefox. The gains for the two browsers, which are both produced by the Mozilla Foundation, are most noticeable at Web sites popular among geek-chic early adopters.

I have been noticing it too, not only from the visitors to this site, but to my own domain and my company's as well. Of course, I am also one of the people who has switched from IE to Firefox version 0.8 a few months ago (ed - what does that make you? A middle-term early adopter?). Many of my friends switched either a little before or a bit later.

I am not sure whether it is the technological superiority of the Firefox browser, boredom with IE, or perception of better security that is driving the adoption. Of course, Microsoft made it somewhat easy by essentially letting IE become stagnant for a couple of years. Regardless - I am glad that some variety is coming to the browser statistics of the website near you.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Blue skies & cloudscape

Blue skies & cloudscape

Warning: deeply geeky venting ahead
To make deployment faster and easier, IBM Websphere Portal ships with a Cloudscape database. It is used to store portal-related information and metadata. This is the short version of how to see inside a cloudscape database installed with the IBM Websphere Portal Server.

Assumed: IBM Websphere Portal 5.0.x running on Windows

prompt> cd $PORTAL_HOMEprompt>cd shared\app\cloudscape\bin

Cview will open up a java application and from there you can attempt to open your Portal cloudscape database located in the $PORTAL_HOME\cloudscape\wps50 directory.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because someday you will try to run the:
prompt>WPSconfig.bat enable-security-ldap
command and will run into an error like this:

[logmsg] 2004.09.16 17:25:30.652 action-update-database-wps-ldap
[logmsg] EJPC3068I Updating database "wps50"

[java] Could not connect to database
[java] SQL Exception: Failed to start database 'wps50', see the next except
ion for details.

file:../config/actions/db_cfg.xml:525: Java returned: 2

then you will be sorry, and you will research this topic, and perhaps even read this entry and save yourself some time.

ps. Why not just go to the Cloudscape main page and find the info that way? I am not sure, but Google did not point me there. Perhaps it will you, the reader, here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Open Source vs. Open Standards note

Open Source vs. Open Standards note

I posted a comment on this Crooked Timber thread, and then decided to cross-post it here. One of the comments on the thread said:

Fair enough then - but what interests me is how this open source stuff provides an interesting example of how collective resources can really allow individuals to do creative and unexpected things. "

And I wanted to elaborate on that a bit. So far most of open source stuff that has not been donated by larger organizations (e.g. IBM, Sun) is rarely creative and unexpected. By far most of the open source software tries to provide a zero-cost license software that does what other, non-zero cost license software does.

I have to agree with Jonathan Shwartz of Sun Microsystems when he says that open source is not nearly as important as open standards. It is indeed the open standards that provide the opportunity to do creative and unexpected things, not the open source software per se. For vast majority of users there is no difference between a piece of software that is open-source - like gcc, or distributed for free, like Sun JDK. What is important for creativity, IMO, is how powerful, open and standards-compliant the software is, not what license it is under.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Flowers as speakers

Flowers as speakers

BBC reports

a gadget developed in Japan is allowing flowers to answer back - with music.

Called Ka-on, which means "flower sound" in Japanese, the gadget consists of a doughnut-shaped magnet and coil at the base of a vase.

It hooks up to a CD player, TV or stereo and relays sounds up through a plant's stem and out via the petals.

Pretty cool. Interestingly, I saw a description of such a device in a book just a week or so ago:

on Page 115:
"... intensive research and musings. Walking slowly, Erasmus went to his private sanctuary, a botanical garden where he listened to classical music piped through the cellular structures of plants. "Rhapsody in Blue," by a composer of Old Earth. In the contemplative garden, the troubled ..."

Amazon's "Search Inside" feature is quite useful for these pointless comparisons. Granted, the device currently availably is a bit more crude, but still, a fun recollection.

Friday, September 03, 2004

RSS View statistics

RSS View statistics

How do you mesure the number of people who read a weblog in the age of RSS? One of the methods, I guess, is to only do RSS headlines or RSS abstracts. Blogger, for example, gives its users an option of only showing 255 words or so, instead of the full post, in their Atom RSS feed. That, however, defeats some of the purpose of the RSS, which is to allow quick content delivery and, possibly disconnected, consumption of it.

I am not sure what the right answer is. All actions on the Internet are a balance between anonymity and leaving tracks all over the place. Perhaps RSS readers, such as FeedDemon, could ping the publishing sites whenever an RSS feed was downloaded. Perhaps this is something an updated variant of RSS standard could specify in the feed header. Perhaps it could even be enforced by a contract, (i.e. a publisher could specify which clients can download RSS, and those clients would have to be compliant with this new standard? Obviously, this limitations would not be hard to overcome, but most people would not want to cheat, or know how to cheat, or bother to cheat, etc. and would thus accomodate most weblog publishers most of the time...

Or maybe the solution is to just not care? I really do not know.

Word and News of the day

Word and News of the day

The Word of the Day for Sep 03 is:

glitch \GLITCH\ noun

1 : a usually minor malfunction, defect, fault, flaw, or imperfection
2 : a minor problem that causes a temporary setback
*3 : a false or spurious electronic signal

Some of the current news:
Russian Troops Storm School; Dozens Reported Dead
Sudan rejects Darfur peace force
Rare books in German library fire

yeah. nice day it is shaping up to be.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Interesting Question - Safety in Latin America

Interesting Question - Safety in Latin America

Tyoler Cowen asks

In Mexico City I am relieved to step out of the taxicab and into the street. Cabs are a major venue for robbery and kidnapping. In Rio de Janeiro I am relieved to step out of the street and into the taxicab. Cabs are relatively safe, but a twelve-year old street urchin might knife you in the gut for a dollar.

and proposes that

Could it be that Mexican crime is more closely linked to the drug trade and especially the export of drugs to the U.S.? This increases the optimal size for a criminal gang and might cause robbery and mayhem to be better organized and more capital-intensive. Brazil also appears to have an especially bad educational system, which lowers the average criminal age but also diminishes the relevance of taxis.

I am not quite sure how the educational system relates to relevance of taxis. I do, however, wonder if there is a difference in perception of taxi cab drivers between the two countries. Perhaps in Brasil being a cab driver is a relatively white-collar job, requiring reading and writing to pass the exam and providing an above-slum-living level of income. Thus the drivers are considering themselves professionals and engage in violent crimes more rarely. If the situation is different in Mexico, it could account for the difference in driver behaviour and their proclivities vis-a-vis their passengers. Certainly, in NYC there is a difference between how drivers for limo car companies behave vs. regular cabbies.

Cool Service

Cool Service

Fast Company Blog talks about a new translation service

Babel 800 is a new service that offers a network of interpreters that folks can hire to interpret meetings, interviews, and other conversations via speaker phone. You dial an 800 number, enter your client code, select an interpreter, and voila: They'll interpret the speaker phone conversation for you in real time.

very neat. This is the kind of technology-enabled, yet customer-facing service that is good for people with language skills and those without. That covers most people, I imagine.



Erik Sink has an interesting article about Micro ISVs.posted on his weblog and MSDN

It is the first installment, but is worth a quick read.