The Service Industry Tue, Jan 29. 2008
Andrew, my (ticked-off) friend, don't cloud the issue between pirating and releasing open source.
As an author, I've sold legally-protected "intellectual property" (two book manuscripts) for income, and it has ticked me off that my work has been pirated and made available on the web (though I'm not sure it's had a negative effect on sales). I respect other's right to determine how their creations are used, and I don't pirate software or movies (though I have taken advantage of the Canadian private copying regime for music). That said, I do believe that open source is an incredibly powerful concept, and that (almost) all software should be distributed that way.
It's widely held that "security by obscurity" is not security at all, and that real security comes through good design, precise customization, diligent implementation, and ongoing maintenance (services).
I'd argue the same with software: "income by obscurity" -- selling code -- is absurd, especially when bits can be copied for $almostNothing. The real value in this industry comes from good design, precise customization, diligent implementation, and ongoing maintenance (services).Ours is a service industry, and we need to stop pretending that it's a product industry.
Atomic Time in Your Pocket Sat, Nov 3. 2007
Well, it's time for the semi-annual daylight savings time change. One thing that has annoyed me in recent years is the fact that, for a few weeks after the time change, it seems that many clocks are out of sync -- some a few minutes fast, others a few minutes slow.
For networked computers, the Network Time Protocol (NTP) can be used to synchronize the system clock with time standards available on the Internet, which are in turn tied to atomic clocks operated by the National Research Council in Canada, the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US, and other organizations. NTP used to be a chore to set up, but now it's pretty trivial -- in Fedora, for example, you just have to check the NTP option during installation (or select System>Administration>Date & Time, click on the Network Time Protocol tab, and then checkmark the field labeled "Enable Network Time Protocol").
What many people don't realize is that cell phone networks also use NTP (or a similar protocol, I'm not sure about the inner workings of the cell networks). This means that most cellphones display the time to within a second of the official standard -- it's like having an atomic time reference in your pocket.
So, if you're adjusting your clocks tonight, consider setting them according to your cellphone.
The Return of the Bidirectional Internet Thu, Sep 20. 2007
One of the exciting things about the early web was that it was fully bidirectional. Since almost all of the early Internet connections were symmetrical, anyone who could read the web could publish on the web. Web server software was lightweight, and installing it was the only barrier to publishing a site. Every Internet-connected computer was a "host", not a "client" or a "server".
This changed with the introduction of asymmetrical broadband connections and client-oriented systems (read: Windows 95 and successors). Vendors made the assumption that we wanted to consume content, not create and manage it.
Now, finally, the tide is turning. Although most residential and small-business broadband connections are still asymmetrical, the upstream bandwidth is sufficient for medium-duty serving. Here in Toronto, a 3-8 Mbps download/800 kbps upload speed is very common and priced between $40-60. The 800 kbps upstream speed is half of a T1, which used to be the standard business-class data connection, and is sufficient for serving a low- to medium-volume web site. Although some ISPs such as Rogers and Bell still haven't grasped the concept (and may never), other ISPs such as TekSavvy are run and staffed by smart people that understand the demand for unencumbered, fast pipes. Most non-Windows operating systems do not distinguish between client and server roles and are happy to be both.
We're seeing the bidirectionial internet appear in other places too: browser extensions that provide services traditionally supplied by "servers", personal domain names, and SMTP and DNS servers running in homes.
The return of the bidirectional internet: is an exciting and empowering change that's well overdue.
Test Ads? Tue, Jul 10. 2007
Sign the Neutrality.CA Petition Fri, Jun 8. 2007
Please Don't Mandate Compact Flourescent Lamps! Sun, May 6. 2007
Several governments, including the Government of Canada, are talking about mandating the use of high-efficiency lighting. This is being reported by news outlets as mandating compact flourescent lights (CFLs) over incandescent lights.
I haven't read any of the proposed legislation, but I trust that the new laws mandate a certain level of efficiency instead of a particular technology, because it would be a mistake to mandate the use of compact flourescent bulbs. There are many unresolved issues surrounding these lamps:
- CFLs contain mercury. While it is true that they potentially reduce mercury emissions by reducing the demand for electricity from coal-fired generators, not all electricity is generated from coal, and coal-fired plants are reducing their mercury emissions. Because CFLs contain mercury, they must not be placed in ordinary household garbage, and precautions must be taken if a bulb breaks. Many consumers do not know how to handle disposal or breakage safely.
- There are a number of reports of fires caused by CFLs near the end of their life. Consumers have been advised to discard CFLs if they notice browning at the base of the bulb. However, this reduced the useful life of the bulb (therefore increasing the cost) and most consumers will not inspect bulbs that are operating normally.
- CFLs produce ultraviolet light, which is converted to visible light by a phosphor coating. Some ultraviolet light is released from the bulb, but little information is being made available about the amount of UV light released by a CFL.
- CFLs produce less light as they age.
- CFLs are not well-suited for use in areas where they are turned on and off frequently.
I'm not saying that we should avoid compact flourescent lamps and stick soley to incandescent lighting, but there are some questions and concerns being raised about CFLs. We must continue to research alternative light designs, including high-efficiency incandescents (which are expected to reach CFL efficiency levels in the next few years using nanotech fabrication techniques) and light emitting diodes (which are very efficient but not yet competitively priced), and most importantly, any new legislation must not require the use of CFLs but leave the door open for all high-efficiency lighting technologies.