Saturday, November 5, 2011

An Equitable Mortgage

I'm a "systems guy." I look at cause and effect. Unintended consequences.  Processes.
We hear in the news crazy stories of about foreclosures where the entity holding the paper cannot be identified. A huge part of the "mortgage crisis" came from lenders writing mortgages that were just bad. The market was in a frenzy and the political environment encouraged home ownership.

At the height of the lending frenzy, I was approached multiple times per week by the shadiest sorts of agents who were willing to put me in a house. I've been dealing with tax issues for over a decade and could not guarantee that I could make payments. I was assured that that would not be a problem. Because I earned a good amount of money, anything was possible.
Never mind that I run my own business and my actual profit is a tiny fraction of my "earnings."
Never mind my credit was in the toilet.
I would have to fight off these opportunistic sales weasels and say "no" to these insane offers.

I can totally understand how someone less informed would jump at the offer to get into a house and start rebuilding credit.

But enough of the history, on to my proposal:
Mortgage contracts have two parties. But only one seems to have any power. The homeowner cannot arbitrarily transfer the loan or deed without permission of the bank. So why can the bank?
Let's keep the imbalance caused by the money, but require written permission by both parties to modify or transfer the loan.

Friday, November 4, 2011

SwitchEasy Trim

I'm a big fan of SwitchEasy. In a sea of generic silicone phone cases, it's nice to see a company think outside the box. For previous iPhones, the Color and Rebel were some of my favorite cases. With my upgrade to the iPhone 4S last week, I ordered some of the iPhone 4 cases to try them out.

That all-glass iPhone is darned slippery. Had a few close calls in the days I waited for my new cases to arrive.

First up, the Trim.
I chose this because I like the engineering: The ribbed plastic band should provide good "crushability" to protect the corners of the phone. The rigid polycarbonate back should help protect the rear glass and act as a stretcher to keep everything tight. You can still see the Apple logo.
The case is available in 7 colors.
TRIM package contents

In the package we get the usual SwitchEasy overkill:
  • The case
  • Two (black and white) dock adapters
  • Two sets of seals (dock connector, and headphone)
  • Plastic card for applying screen protector
  • Two screen protectors
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Viewing stand
  • Instructions

Another view.
Package Contents After Opening Some Stuff

The case is very snug and requires some muscle to get it on. Once it is on, it is snug and secure. The molding is clean. The fit is precise. The seals fit well.

We've barely dropped below freezing, so I can't report on its cold weather performance.

I unfortunately got to test the protection a couple days ago, when the phone was knocked off a kitchen counter. Landed squarely on the corner - the best way to shatter your phone. The phone literally bounced.

Here's a view of the case in place:

Case Installation Testing

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lon v.s. the IPhone 4S

I've been packing an iPhone 3G since it was introduced.
At the time, it was new and cool.
Native apps, faster data network, and microphone inputs. It was an amazing phone and portable computer.

Then came iOS4.

Apple's apps, like Maps, became useless. The phone became so slow that was not able to perform most tasks.
Since I pretty do everything on the web, I was still able to use the phone.

But last week I updated to the iPhone 4S and everything is great.
Well... Mostly Great.

First off: the 4S is fast. Obviously faster than the 3G, but also appears to generally be faster than the dual-core Android phones I played with.
HSPA+ is actually faster than stock 3G. It's not 4G, but it is noticeably faster for web surfing and maps.
Colloquy benefits from the additional speed and irc is very pleasant on the new phone.

The display is crisp and very readable.

Multi-tasking actually works. I can be streaming TWiT or Frogpants and still participate in the chat room.

I don't use iCloud. I use Google as my "cloud" service.
I don't use Mail. I access my mail using the GMail mobile web interface.

And now to the stupid problems:
Siri works. Really.
"Remind me to leave at 3:00"
Poof! Reminder set.
If the Reminders app isn't running, the alert doesn't happen.
Almost missed the bus today because of that.
Siri really should turn on the Reminders app if it's requested to set a Reminder.

Yes, the Phone app.
The Phone app does cool audio processing like monitoring a second microphone to cancel background noise on your call.
But if you plug in headphones, it gets all confused.
It starts to amplify the background noise until it drowns out the call and eventually starts a feedback look which makes conversation impossible.
Lots of discussion on the Apple support forums, but no acknowledgement of the problem from Apple.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wisestamp revisted

The last time I wrote about WiseStamp was about two years ago.
At the time I was thrilled with the service.
To recap:
  • Rich HTML email signatures in gMail
  • Ability to bring RSS feeds
  • Firefox extension

That original service worked great for me. But WiseStamp has not stood still in the last couple years.
It's now available for Chrome as well as Firefox. I use both browsers on a regular basis, so this is great for me.

They've added support for all the popular online mail systems including gMail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, and AOL.

 The editor just gets better and better:

Cleaned up menus and predefined templates.

The RSS feed feature is now a whole "App" system where you can add lots of different content blocks that show your latest post to Twitter, WordPress, eBay, or many other services.

I work with a PR firm that wanted to centrally manage all their employee's email signatures. It was one of their man concerns about moving to Google Mail.
Wisestamp solves that problem with their  Enterprise product.

So Wisestamp is perfect, right?
Well, almost....
Nearly every screen has an Upgrade button.
They really want you pay for the service. Which is perfectly understandable.
But what is not understandable is the pricing.
They still have a free version. That's what I'm using.

Next step up is $4/month. And they go up to $25/month.
First: That is WAY too expensive for such a service. Most people use free web mail. I pay $50/year for my Google account. I'm not going to another $48/year for better signatures. And I'm certainly not going to pay $96/year. (The "most popular" option.)

I put Wisestamp in the same category as Xmarks, LastPasss,,  and KeePass. Upgraded versions of features you already have.

I'm not willing to pay a lot for these, since I already have those features. The going market price seems to be $0-$1/month.
I'd like to see a version with everything but the enterprise features for $10/year.

Oh. And I must say the presentation of the pricing feels a bit sleasy. "Only $6/month. *Billed Annually)"
So why not just say what the actual price is?

The bottom line:
Product is still great, and constantly getting better.
Business doesn't seem to understand the market and I'm concerned for their long-term prospects.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

National Blog Posting Month

There's a slew of "National Thing Verbing Month" initiatives out there in November.

NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month
NaPodPoMo - National Podcast Post Month
NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month

I won't be participating in the Novel Writing month this year, but I will blog every day. I''m going to try to figure out the role of blogging in a world with with all these social media platforms.

So let's set the table: Why still blog?
  • It's mine. I'm responsible for the domain and hosting. It's my brand.
  • In-depth. There's basically no limit to how long an article can be.
  • Profit! A widely read blog can actually make money from advertising

Why use other platforms?
  • Easy. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are very easy to use. Even when mobile.
  • Engagement. Because those social platforms manage audience, reader response it generally much higher than with a traditional blog. For my group, Google+ is terrific place for extended discussions.
  • Part of something bigger.  My posts can appear alongside articles by great and interesting writers.
  • Visibility. My articles are much more likely to be read on Google+ than my own site.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why "Throttling" Won't Help Network Congestion

"AT&T Logo" by girardi
You'd better be sitting down for this: The telcos are screwing us again in the name of helping the consumer.
I know. Hardly seems possible...

Verizon started reducing available bandwidth to customers around the time they got the iPhone, and now AT&T has announced that users with Unlimited plans will also have their bandwidth reduced
".. once their usage in a billing cycle reaches the level that puts them among the top 5 percent of heaviest data users."

The reason both companies give for doing this is to "address network congestion."

Where do I even start?

Bait & Switch:
I don't care what the contract says. Unlimited is Unlimited. Not "Unlimited*"
This is straight up consumer fraud.
If the telcos weren't burying our elected officials in lobbyists, we'd see a huge regulatory backlash over these anti-consumer practices.

Measurement Period:
The determination of who is in the top 5 percent happens over the course of a billing cycle.
Everyone's got a different billing date. Sure, I can be a top user during my billing period that starts on the 1st, but you could be a top user during your billing period that starts on the 2nd.  If they count it that way, then more than the top 5 percent will be marked for throttling. The top 5 percent in about 30 different billing cycles will be affected. So the actual number will be more than 5%. Assuming pretty even distributions, probably only slightly more, but it's still more.

But it's actually more confusing than that:
"These customers can still use unlimited data and their speeds will be restored with the start of the next billing cycle.  Before you are affected, we will provide multiple notices, including a grace period."

But let's skip that and assume they really determine who the top users are on a monthly basis.
If I somehow got a good signal and was able to burn up a ton of bandwidth at the beginning of my cycle, I will get a grace period. During which I'm contributing to network congestion. And I get to go back to my full speed on my billing date. Clogging up the airwaves again.
This only relieves network congestion created by me near the end of my billing cycle. Most of the time it has no effect at all.

Data Volume ≠ Bandwidth ≠ Congestion:
Wireless customers connect through local Cell Sites. I can't find hard numbers but the big carriers operate at least tens of thousands and probably hundreds of thousands of Cell Sites.
Leasing a site, setting up a tower, and connecting it to the Internet is an expensive proposition.
So the carriers don't (or in some cases, can't) add more sites to service an area even when there is overwhelming demand.

But a single person connected wirelessly to the Internet is basically only connecting to one Cell Site at a time. Even if that one person has a device that can connect fast enough to cause network congestion, they can effect people sharing that same Cell Site at the same time.

If I use a fast 4G connection, but only use it during off-peak time, I could use a ton of total bandwidth in a month, but have no adverse impact on the network.
There's much more congestion caused by a lot of people using a little bandwidth at the same time. That's why you can't connect at conferences and events.

As people get and use smart phones, they use more and more wireless bandwidth.  This puts a load on the existing wireless infrastructure during peak times. The solution is for the telcos to put up more sites.
But sites are expensive. In some places there simply aren't locations available for lease. The wireless carriers don't want to spend money upgrading their 3G networks when they've already started work on the 4G networks. Unfortunately, most growth in bandwidth demand is currently happening on the 3G networks.

I suspect that we will see limited improvements even when we get effective 4G wireless, because the current "backhaul" (the connection from the Site to the Internet) for most sites was designed for 3G bandwidth.

So the wireless carriers are experiencing increased demand, but don't want to spend money to expand the network.
Perhaps these new policies are simply a way to discourage a segment of users from using the network at all by making it unpleasant.
They certainly aren't there to help with network congestion.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ubuntu Natty Narwhale: First Look as an HTPC

I've got a shiny new 2TB drive for my home theater PC (HTPC)!

Let's replace a drive and take this opportunity to install the latest Ubuntu

The construction of the HTPC was covered in previous posts.

Short form: ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO hooked up to the stereo via optical cable, and video via VGA.

I created a USB thumb drive installer on the Mac, but I couldn't get my PC to boot from the thumb drive. BIOS recocognized the drive, but it just didn't work.
So back to the tried-and-true CD installer.

Installer - Gorgeous!
Issue #1: Bootloader
First issue came when selecting the installation drive.

  1. I put in a brand-new blank drive.
  2. Selected that for install
  3. After rebooting, the system hung. No bootloader was installed.

The second time I went through the installation process, I chose the Do Something Else option. On this screen, you can select where to install the bootloader. Select the recently blank drive and then go Back to the previous screen. Now you can do the big Install and Replace and it will also put the bootloader on that drive.

Solution: Do the dance described above if you are installing a new drive on a multi-drive system.

Issue #2: Network Configuration
The installer never asked for network information during install.
My home media network uses manual addresses, so remote sources weren't installed.

The new Ubuntu user experience is beautiful. I was completely lost however when looking for system settings. Turns out those are under the "power" button. With that piece of information, I was able to get the network working, install my other apps, and get everything updated.

Ubuntu 10 always had issues with unaccelerated video on my system, but 11 worked great out of the box. Smooth, fast, gorgeous.

Solution: Set up network after install complete, then run updates.

Issue #3: VNC
Ubuntu 10's VNC server only worked with unaccelerated video (which I never ran because of other issues), so I would run other VNC services. But VNC was never really stable.
I use my iPhone as a remote for my "TV" using HippoRemote which communicates over VNC. This works GREAT with the default Natty install.
Attempting to use my favorite desktop VNC client, JollyFastVNC, yielded black screens.
Turning off "Tight" encoding let me see the screen, but it did not update.

Possible solution found:

  1.  Open the Terminal app or press ALT+F2, then run/type: gconf-editor
  2.  Go to /desktop/gnome/remote_access and enable "disable_xdamage"

Solution:  enable "disable_xdamage" in gnome/remote_access config

Issue #4: Audio
As with my experience with Karmic, there was no audio.
Pulling up aslamixer did not solve the problem this time.
Selecting the digital output from the analog list in the hardware options in the Sound control panel finally produced audio.

Solution: Select correct output hardware. Doh!

Issue #5: ssh
Attempting to shell into the machine failed.
Apparently, no ssh server installed by default on Natty.

Solution: install openssh-server

Issue #6: XBMC
XBMC was not preinstalled, and doesn't appear to be in the default repositories.
At this time, there is not an official Natty release.
However, the Maverick sources seem to work

Solution: add to your repository list

Issue #7: Crash Recovery:
Sometimes thing will go wrong. I had a "Force Quit" button in my previous installation.
Found an excellent post on how to create a Force Quit for Natty.

Solution: Follow the instructions to put a Force Quit Icon in your Launcher.

Final Installations:
Installing VLC, gPodder, and Transmission from the regular sources completed my HTPC.
The Unity-powered desktop is much faster and the Launcher works well on a TV screen.

It's probably too soon to upgrade Ubuntu for Home Theater PCs. Wait until XBMC or Myth have official releases.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The "First Screen"

Earlier this year, Olson acquired MyThum and created a new company, Olson Mobile.
In the announcement, the CEO, Kevin DiLorenzo, said "Mobile devices are no longer the third screen, they have become the first. And they’re the only screen we carry with us everywhere."

I think he's mostly right. But I think the whole "three screens" thing is meaningless in terms of interface design.
Nielsen Company started the whole idea of "three screens" to describe the changing viewing behaviors of consumers. The three screens they talk about are TV, computer, and mobile.

I can see how they got there: in the world of commercial video, those are three separate platforms with separate licensing and content delivery models. And of course, screen size is something Nielsen can measure...

But if we ignore the publishing and licensing models, and look at how the screens are used, I think we can create more meaningful classifications:

Big Passive:
"The new shrine in the office" by Helen Keegan
In this scenario, the screen occupies a large portion of the viewer's field of vision and has a limited interaction. We are all familiar with this model from traditional television. Sitting and watching with a remote in hand.

I used an Apple MacBook Pro as my primary television for about a year. Even though that would be classified as an "Internet (computer) screen" in Neilsen's "Three Screen" model, when I used it for video, it was a passive experience with a remote control.

A smartphone or portable gaming device held a few inches away fills a similar part of the viewer's field of vision as a television across the room.

Currently, the input systems on most of these devices include a limited number of inputs (remote control, game controller buttons, virtual buttons on a touch screen, or menu selection buttons).
Content is longer form, because of the passive user interaction.

I don't think long form, passive, programming is going away. But I believe we'll see some evolution in the controls. Video and audio inputs will become an important part of these interfaces moving forward.  Your TV will watch you. Your phone will respond to facial gestures and voice. You won't even need to use the remote.

Active Drive:
"invisible iMac" by William Hook on Flickr
This is the traditional computer interaction. The user sits in front of a rich input array like a keyboard and mouse. If you're like me, you have even more inputs.

The user drives all the action. Obviously this is the model for  "working" on the computer, but this also the mode for games. This type of interaction can occur on any sized screen: Large TVs with game consoles, traditional computers, games on touch devices or even simple games on "feature phones."

The user is constantly, typing, clicking, tapping, or pointing.

Video content is often short form because the user has many other options and can easily "click away."

"Android Tablet" by Tony Maro on Flickr
In this mode, the user interacts with the screen for seconds, not hours. Often, the user will not even initiate the interaction. The most fleeting experience would be digital signage. No user interaction, seconds to convey a message.

Traditional television advertising and web ads also follows the "no interaction" model.

But some short experiences are directed by the user. Most informational websites are requested by the user, but then get a short amount that user's time to tell a story.
The web interaction can happen on any device with a responsive browser, but "Apps" are also filling this short-attention role.

Many advertisers want to convert these "drive-by" experiences into longer interactions but I think that is a mistake. Television ads didn't need to stop the show, and I don't think online ads should either. Interrupting the user's plans, in my opinion, is just rude.

Window (Augmented Reality)
There's another type of screen interaction coming down the road, where a portable screen with a camera acts a "window" into the real world. The user can add information to, or virtually interact with a real-world scene. We are just starting to see early designs for this type of interaction, but the hardware needed is available in the current crop of devices. Whether this sort of interaction becomes its own mode of use, or whether it just becomes a context for one of the other modes remains to be seen.
"044_Augmented Reality Tablet Video Stills" by Gary Hayes

But not everything even needs a screen for feedback. There's a lot a of research to be done in non-visual feedback systems.  I've always thought the perfect phone would have just one button and respond to voice commands.

When designing content, we should concentrate on the nature of the content and the level of user interaction - not the size of the screen. I ran into this earlier this week when someone explained that their "mobile" site didn't run ads because they didn't fit on the smaller screen. If your business plan requires advertising, and you can't display ads on some screen sizes, then you probably need to fix your business plan.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

These are Not the Clouds You Are Looking For

The pendulum swing towards "cloud" computing may soon reach the end point and start swinging back to local storage.

The swing started with a single computer...

In the early days of computing, we all used dumb terminals to connect to a central computer.

"PDP-11" by ToastyKen
That started to change with arrival of minicomputers like the PDP-11, where you only had to share your computer with a few people.
Then we got to the "personal" computer with things like the Altair-800 and the Apple ][. No sharing at all!
We fulfilled Purnelle's Law: "one user, one CPU."

In the 80's and 90's the Personal Computers got more and more powerful. Multiple processors and graphics cards concentrated the computing power at each user.

The pendulum reached an end-point sometime in the early 90's when we started networking computers. Centralized data inside companies and email moving across the public Internet started the swing back away from computing at the user.

When the Internet  became accessible to regular people, we started seeing the pendulum of computing power move away from the user's workstation and back towards centralized servers.

Larry Ellison of Oracle has been promoting the "thin client" model of computing since the early 1990's.
In this model, lightweight terminals connect to high-powered centralized servers.

Thin clients aren't supposed to be full personal computers. They don't have drives or much local storage, but they do have enough computing power to run rich graphic interfaces.

The rise of the Web changed this direction slightly by letting pretty powerful personal computers readily access data and services on remote servers.

What most people refer to as "cloud computing" nowadays is just a virtualization of these remote servers.

But storing your data on a remote system requires enough bandwidth to store and retrieve that data. New services like Google's Music and the Amazon Cloud Drive require a ubiquitous Internet connection.
Consumers' barely have enough bandwidth for these services now, and the ISPs are constantly lowering bandwidth caps and raising rates.
This does not bode well for the Ubiquitous Internet. It will become less practical to use remote storage for a while as the telcos and cable companies squeeze consumers.
Netflix streaming video service and OnLive's remote game services could really eat up consumer bandwidth allotment.

At the same time, local storage is still growing. While spinning drive capacity growth has slowed slightly, I believe that is caused by limitations in operating systems suppressing demand for larger drives.
The adoption of newer operating systems and the popularity of high-def video content will push the demand for local storage and we should see capacity catch back up the historic rate in a couple years.

Expect to see at least 10 terabytes in your pocket by the end of the decade.  If we move from spinning disks to solid-state storage, capacity could grow even faster.

With bandwidth getting more expensive, and storage getting cheaper, the pendulum will probably begin to swing back towards local storage and computing.

Combine that with neighborhood networking like that envisioned by Bob Frankston, and we start seeing a real cloud forming. Every household shares in the bandwidth and shares in the storage. File storage becomes highly redundant and durable.
We already see this sort of storage available with services like Windows Live Mesh and Symform which spread your data across multiple nodes.

But until we get to this mesh, I predict the pendulum will move towards local storage with occasional synchronization over wifi. Streaming will be reserved for special content because of the extra cost.

But once everything is in a peer-to-peer mesh, we will swing into a new golden age...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Piracy Talk

A recent episode of This Week in Media had a terrific discussion on Piracy.
Let me steal a few of those ideas and mix in some of my own.

When a product is reproduced without permission of the holder of the design rights, that product is said to be "counterfeited" or "pirated." In the digital world, the verb "pirate" means to distribute a digital copy of a rights-protected work.

It's a silly term.

I much prefer "unauthorized duplication" or "copyright infringement."

But the rights holders call it "piracy" so I'll use that term for this article.

Why does online piracy even exist?
I suggest three reasons:

I know some people who engage in unauthorized duplication of rights-protected works because they just don't want to pay for it. This has been true since we had mechanisms for copying media. Software "pirates" would duplicate and distribute floppy disks. Others copied VHS tapes. Still others photocopied articles.

You get this cool thing you want to share with your friends. Remember GIFs of Playboy centerfolds? A lot of things in this category involved some effort on the person transforming the work into a distributable format: removing the copy-protection from a game, scanning the picture, digitizing the video. This sort of "social sharing" was a big issue for the music industry.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Apple Needs to be Perfect

(CC) Lon Koenig "Taken with My iPhone"
I might be "over" Apple.

I've been an Apple fan since the days of the original Apple Computer. My reasons for being a fan have changed over the years. Originally, it was the immense flexibility and openness of Woz's designs. The Apple ][ came with ROM listings, schematics and pinouts - and you were expected to use that information. We did magical things with those computers. Together with Apple we changed the world.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Your Own Private Radio (Station)

"Radio Knobs" by Joe Lencioni
I had to add a streaming radio station to a client's web site last year.
This particular installation was a for a music library. We already had all the tracks in multiple formats including mp3. We simply wanted to push out a random stream of content from the library.
The web server was running Debian "Lenny" on Intel.

The process was pretty straightforward except for having the streamer launch when the server restarted.

If all is working, you  can listen to the radio station using your favorite streaming music player.

Choosing the Tech
We need a basic mp3 stream that will work with popular music players.
icecast2 is the most popular Open Source system for publishing streams. That one's a no-brainer.
Unfortunately Ices, the program from the Icecast group that creates those streams no longer supports the mp3 format. And iTunes doesn't play Ogg. So we need another solution for creating the original stream.

The ezstream application does exactly what need. But the Debian package didn't include a script to run when the server boots.

Use your favorite method of installing Debian packages.
Both "icecast2" and "ezstream" are in the Stable distribution.

Create a playlist for ezstream (instructions are in the README), and configure icecast by editing /etc/icecast2/icecast.xml

The icecast2 package provided a launch script, but ezstream did not.
While I'm not an expert on launch scripts, I was able cobble something together.
Here's my init.d script for ezstream:

#! /bin/sh
# Provides:          ezstream
# Required-Start:    $remote_fs
# Required-Stop:     $remote_fs
# Default-Start:     2 3 4 5
# Default-Stop:      0 1 6
# Short-Description: Example initscript
# Description:       This file should be used to construct scripts to be
#                    placed in /etc/init.d.

# Author: Lon Koenig

# Do NOT "set -e"

# PATH should only include /usr/* if it runs after the script
DESC="EZstream streaming audio source for icecast"
DAEMON_ARGS="-c /var/www/ezstream/ezstream_mp3.xml"

# Exit if the package is not installed
[ -x "$DAEMON" ] || exit 0

# Read configuration variable file if it is present
#[ -r /etc/default/$NAME ] && . /etc/default/$NAME
# Not using a "default." Configuration file is defined above in DAEMON_ARGS

# Load the VERBOSE setting and other rcS variables
. /lib/init/

# Define LSB log_* functions.
# Depend on lsb-base (>= 3.0-6) to ensure that this file is present.
. /lib/lsb/init-functions

# Function that starts the daemon/service
# Return
#   0 if daemon has been started
#   1 if daemon was already running
#   2 if daemon could not be started
start-stop-daemon --start --quiet --pidfile $PIDFILE --exec $DAEMON --test > /dev/null \
|| return 1
start-stop-daemon --start --background --quiet --pidfile $PIDFILE --exec $DAEMON -- \
|| return 2
# Add code here, if necessary, that waits for the process to be ready
# to handle requests from services started subsequently which depend
# on this one.  As a last resort, sleep for some time.

# Function that stops the daemon/service
# Return
#   0 if daemon has been stopped
#   1 if daemon was already stopped
#   2 if daemon could not be stopped
#   other if a failure occurred
start-stop-daemon --stop --quiet --retry=TERM/30/KILL/5 --pidfile $PIDFILE --name $NAME
[ "$RETVAL" = 2 ] && return 2
# Wait for children to finish too if this is a daemon that forks
# and if the daemon is only ever run from this initscript.
# If the above conditions are not satisfied then add some other code
# that waits for the process to drop all resources that could be
# needed by services started subsequently.  A last resort is to
# sleep for some time.
start-stop-daemon --stop --quiet --oknodo --retry=0/30/KILL/5 --exec $DAEMON
[ "$?" = 2 ] && return 2
# Many daemons don't delete their pidfiles when they exit.
rm -f $PIDFILE
return "$RETVAL"

# Function that sends a SIGHUP to the daemon/service
do_reload() {
# If the daemon can reload its configuration without
# restarting (for example, when it is sent a SIGHUP),
# then implement that here.
start-stop-daemon --stop --signal 1 --quiet --pidfile $PIDFILE --name $NAME
return 0

case "$1" in
[ "$VERBOSE" != no ] && log_daemon_msg "Starting $DESC" "$NAME"
case "$?" in
0|1) [ "$VERBOSE" != no ] && log_end_msg 0 ;;
2) [ "$VERBOSE" != no ] && log_end_msg 1 ;;
[ "$VERBOSE" != no ] && log_daemon_msg "Stopping $DESC" "$NAME"
case "$?" in
0|1) [ "$VERBOSE" != no ] && log_end_msg 0 ;;
2) [ "$VERBOSE" != no ] && log_end_msg 1 ;;

# If do_reload() is not implemented then leave this commented out
# and leave 'force-reload' as an alias for 'restart'.

log_daemon_msg "Reloading $DESC" "$NAME"
log_end_msg $?
# If the "reload" option is implemented then remove the
# 'force-reload' alias
log_daemon_msg "Restarting $DESC" "$NAME"
case "$?" in
case "$?" in
0) log_end_msg 0 ;;
1) log_end_msg 1 ;; # Old process is still running
*) log_end_msg 1 ;; # Failed to start
  # Failed to stop
log_end_msg 1
echo "Usage: $SCRIPTNAME {start|stop|restart|reload|force-reload}" >&2
#echo "Usage: $SCRIPTNAME {start|stop|restart|force-reload}" >&2
exit 3


That's it! Log into the server at http://{your_host_here}:8000/admin/ to see the management panel.
Pull up http://{your_host_here}:8000/live.nsv.3mu in your favorite streamer to hear the tunes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Answer the Smart Phone When It's 9 Below

If you're someone who spends time outdoors in Minnesota, then you know that "cold" doesn't really start until you're below zero Fahrenheit.

In really cold weather, I wear glove liners and mittens. Most of time, I wear light insulated gloves so my hands don't get too sweaty. The Columbia Mens City Trek Glove, Breen, Medium have nice grippy palms for handrails and stop the wind.  Great while walking, but a bit chilly if standing around.

If my iPhone rings, and I'm not wearing a headset, I need to pull off my gloves or mittens to "swipe" and answer the call.   That's fine unless the windchill is in the negatives.

A number of podcasts carried the press release for the Digits touch pins. I ordered mine, and can now report.

They work exactly as advertised. The simple two-part mechanism puts a metal pad against your finger, and a conductive silicon pad against the screen. Getting the pin placed properly can be a little tricky, but isn't really very hard. The pad screws on instead of just snapping, so it should really stay in place.

I put the pad in place, and I can operate my phone just fine with my gloves on. The temperature is dropping today, so I'll get to see this evening if the pin conducts heat as well as electricity. I'll update in the morning with the field report.

In sub-zero conditions, the metal pad felt cool, but certainly not cold.  The pins work great on nylon gloves, fleece mittens (put it on the thumb) and even lightweight knit gloves. I wouldn't poke a hole in nice leather gloves, but then again, I wouldn't wear leather dress gloves in the bitter cold.

I was a little concerned about snagging the pin on handles or railings, but in my public transport travels the last two days, that has not been an issue.

A simple and clever solution to a common problem.

The Internet Zombie Invasion

Brisbane Zombie Walk 2009 by Albert "YingYang" Mactan 
Over the Holidays, I had a recurring dream about a zombie outbreak in the US.
As sometimes happens in my dreams, it was all very cinematic. The casting and production were top-notch.
There were a bunch of these dreams, sometimes two or three in one night. Each one followed the story a single person and how they were trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse.

Most didn't make it.

We were fighting a losing battle. The mindless actions of the zombies were defeating us because they were tough and single-minded.

And, no: I haven't been watching "The Walking Dead."
(I don't have cable - I'm waiting for the DVD.)

The dreams didn't stop until I figured out the metaphore: creatures with no intelligent presence in the world of the Internet are mindlessly attacking it.

We will certainly see a huge blow to civil liberties when the new US legislature convenes and loses its collective mind over WikiLeaks.
Yesterday, the Open Internet suffered an incredible blow when the FCC accepted the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC/Universal.

The "small government conservatives" are already attacking the FCC for attempting any sort of oversight of Internet communications.  They are casting recent FCC actions as a regulatory power grab.  I've been on the fence about "Net Neutrality," but recently it's become clear for me. A free and open Internet is required for the US to stay a major player in the technological world. A major reason China hasn't already blown by us is the limitations and restrictions they place on the Internet.
I don't really fear regulation right now as much as I fear tollways and private restrictions on the domestic Internet.  We are building a future that relies on the Ubiquitous Internet as much as our current world relies on cheap and reliable electricity.
Comcast doesn't want to sell us cheap and reliable bits. They want to sell us Premium Content.

But what the zombies don't (perhaps can't) understand is that the Internet isn't a thing. It's not even a service. It's a place. It's a place where they are not alive. Just animated corpses terrorizing the citizens.
They don't understand our fear as they shamble along. Destroying synapses in the hive mind. Eating at our brains so they can sell Grandma another season of The Marriage Ref.

If the United States is to be a player in the technological world of the near future, we MUST have a platform to build on. Our new businesses must know the costs of working on the Internet without the looming threat that ISPs will simply take them offline or hold their content ransom.
Or those businesses will leave the country.
It's already happening.
The last two companies for whom I did "due diligence" research were looking at moving to Canada.
They can still hire Silicon Valley contractors, but the Canadian government was being a lot more friendly to online creators.

In the EU, they don't even have this discussion. Internet providers aren't content companies. By keeping those roles separate, the Free Market can set pricing and availability of Internet services and content. It's the government-supported monopolies and duopolies that create the need for regulation here in the US.

Of course, many countries in the EU have caved in to pressure from US media companies and have legislated ridiculous (as in "worthy of ridicule) copyright controls. But that problem will solve itself as new publishers opt out of the current systems.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What LA Doesn't "Get" About Online Content

I recently discovered "New Mediacracy" and jumped in with Episode 18: The One About "IndieTV" Versus "Immersive Entertainment." This episode was supposed to be a discussion about web content in the style of traditional television v.s. highly interactive YouTube videos and software.

First off: Good and informed discussion. They entertained and engaged me enough to write this article.
I've subscribed, and look forward to more of this program.

I thought the starting discussion was ridiculous, but other topics like "Is the Web just TV's Farm Club?" really worked.

The panelists acknowledge that they live in an Internet bubble. And this is clearly reflected in their opinions. But what I think they don't realize is that their bubble is even smaller than they think.
They are very LA. They understand TV. They understand YouTube.

Now I'm going to be a bit harsh: They don't understand technology. They don't understand true interactivity. They don't see their own biases.

LA isn't the future of online entertainment. There was lots of discussion about "pitching" shows. Building audience. Making it big. Coming to LA and producing shows. Pursuading advertisers. Using The Web as a delivery mechanism.

My belief is that the next generation of content producers is already way beyond this sort of talk.

The new entertainment industry isn't about blockbusters and making it big. It's about making a living and telling the story you want to tell. Most of the LA crowd thinks Felicia Day and Jonathan Coulton are flukes. I contend that they are the bridge to the next wave.

I think the defining features of the next generation of entertainment are:
  • Unencumbered by license and union agreements
  • Producer-owned and self funded
  • Freely redistributed
  • Smaller audience
  • Profitable
  • No plan to sell out
People working in this sort of model will be able to make a decent living doing what they love while their "Industry" counterparts are auditioning, tending bar, and waiting for someone in power to grant them their break.

The democratized entertainment landscape of the near future doesn't have mass audiences. Sure, there will be individual stories or events that attract everyone's attention for a few minutes, but I think small and steady will become the norm for most productions.

As a number of writers have pointed out, if you have 10,000 fans and you can get an average of $5 from each one each year, you have a full-time job. You won't be rich, but you can make a living.

Everyone in traditional television has the same unstated dream: "I hope I write/produce/score/star in a TV series that gets syndicated so I can be rich and indulge my creative fantasies."

The new dream is more like, "I hope enough people like my show so I can quit my day job and do this full-time."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How To Connect to Alternate Displays with TightVNC

Because Ubuntu's default VNC server (vino)  has many issues, I run x11vnc as well. This is running on Display 1, and I leave vino running on Display 0.
I'm spending a bit more time with Windows since I built an actual Windows-based gaming rig, and I couldn't figure out how to get the tightVNC client to connect to any display except 0.

I finally found the answer on softpanorama. You don't actually use the port number or the display number. 
Take the display number and subtract 5900. So display #1 becomes -5899. Display #2 is -5898.
Enter this value like a port number in the server IP field.

Why this uses the negative compliment of the actual port number, I have no idea. 

But now, I can access my home TV and monitor my podcast from Windows.

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Favorite TV in 2010

Disclaimer: If it wasn't broadcast over-the-air, available online or if the DVD didn't come out right away, I probably didn't see it. I'm one of those "cable-cutters."

Caprica (SyFy/Hulu)
Prequel to the amazing Battlestar Gallactica.  We meet Commander Adama as a child and see the origins of the Cylons and their belief system. Real interesting stuff about politics and technology. Morals, business and crime. Questioning the nature of reality is interesting for humans. A whole other question for robots...

Haven (Syfy/Hulu)
Based on "The Colorado Kid," this story takes place in your standard Stephen King New England town.  Filled with odd characters with unusual abilities. The story follows an FBI agent who comes to town and realizes she has some odd connection with the strange goings-on. The first season was a bit methodical in it's story construction, but finale... oh my! Moved it from an interesting show to a must-watch for next season.

The Guild (web/online/DVD)
We got the fourth season of The Guild this year. This ongoing story of the members of on online gaming guild who now occasionally connect in real life deserves its place at the top of the online video heap.
The writing gets even better. A couple new characters. Some of members of the Axis of Anarchy return.
While the show if very funny and approachable, only online gamers are going to catch all the clever references.

Sherlock (PBS/BBC/DVD)
My favorite TV this year.
Only three episodes in this first season DVD, but just great.
Straight up Sherlock Holmes ("high-functioning sociopath") but set in current time.
Very true to Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, but truly modern and... well just delicious!

The Walking Dead (AMC/iTunes)
Based on the graphic novel of the same name, this show follows the very human stories of a group of people who survived a zombie apocalypse.  So far, standard end-of-world/action fare, but the stories are well told.

Archer (FX Networks/Hulu/DVD)
This animated series parodies the spy adventure genre.  It's funny, raunchy, and over-top.
Can't wait for season 2!

Castle (ABC)
A very mainstream show that blends procedural crime drama with comedy. The jokes are good. The mysteries are well above the TV average. And best of all, they occasionally work in "Firefly" references.

Firefly (DVD/Blu-ray/AmazoniTunes)
Sure it's been cancelled for years. But I, and other fans, watch it over and over. Still the best TV I watch in any given year. You can't stop the signal!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The First Rule of Retail Web Sites

Note: The incident that inspired this article happened in 2008. Since this particular company has hopefully solved the problem in the intervening years, I've changed the names. But the lesson is still valid.

Never prevent the customer from placing an order.


Let the customer place an order!

Doesn't matter what the reasons are - let the user place the order and then backfill information if necessary.

But a major company that usually gets it right, got it very very wrong recently.

I went to purchase a new hard drive for some backups last week.
Dug out my NAMELESSCOMPANY account info, went to the site, logged in and found the drive I wanted.
Put it in my shopping cart, went to check out and...
No checkout button!
This didn't seem possible, so I carefully scanned the page. Even went so far as to pop it in an HTML editor and search for Checkout. Simply not there.
Tried a different browser. Same result: no checkout button.

So I went to a competing site to order the drive.
But I couldn't let it go... Maybe I was missing something.

I returned to the NAMELESSCOMPANY site. Check my contact info (all still current).
Expecting disaster, I click on the Live Chat Support widget:

14:18:00 System Welcome lonkoenig ...
14:18:00 System Connecting to server. Please wait...
14:18:00 System Connected to
14:23:12 System Tim NoName has joined this session!
14:23:12 System Connected with Tim NoName
14:23:12 System
14:23:12 System Hello. Welcome to NAMELESSCOMPANY@work online chat. How may I help you?
14:23:46 You i am trying to order a new hard drive. have it in my cart, but i can't figure out how to check out!
14:24:16 You One would exoect a checkout button...
14:24:53 Tim NoName Well, looking at your account it appears to be inactive in our system, which is why you cannot complete your order.
14:25:13 Tim NoName Let me transfer you to our sales team so they can activate it.
14:25:13 System You are being transferred to another queue. Please stand by...
14:25:13 System Tim NoName has left this session!
14:25:33 System Walter NoName has joined this session!
14:25:33 System Connected with Walter NoName
14:27:06 Walter NoName Good day, I understand you need to reactivate your account?
14:27:25 You only if you want me to complete my order...
14:27:47 Walter Noname Please bear with me and I will take care of this for you.
14:28:49 Walter NoName I have reactivated your account. please log out and then log back in. Your account will be active.
14:29:26 You btw - no indication to me that the account was not active. I can log in and set profile info. I just don't get a checkout button on order. NAMELESSCOMPANY should be glad I bothered with the online chat instead of ordering from a competitor
14:30:33 Walter NoName We apologize for the trouble. Since the account was not used since 1999 it had gone dormant.
14:30:53 Walter NoName Do you require further assistance?
14:31:21 You congratulations. Now I ge5t "Your account has been disabled. Please contact your account manager for assistance."
14:32:57 Walter NoName Have you tried closing the browser and reloading to log back in?
14:33:19 You no that would end the chat...
14:33:24 You i will kill cookies
14:34:50 Walter NoName I suggest you do that as the account needs to be reset. You can contact us through chat again if you need assistance. The account has been dormant for so long it needs to be refreshed.
14:37:23 Walter NoName Thank you for using NAMELESSCOMPANY Chat. Please contact us if you need further assistance.
14:37:23 System Walter NoName has left this session!
14:37:23 System The session has ended!

"System" certainly gets excited! Exclamation points on every line!

Needless to say: resetting the browser solved nothing.
After two tries on the phone, I got to a human who quickly and politely took my order. They didn't need worry about my account being "dormant." Either I have an account, or I don't.

I can place an order if I DON'T log in, but not if I log in with valid credentials.
Certainly a simple bug. But some programmer or software designer someplace at some time made the decision that in an error case, they simply would not show the checkout button.
That person was missing the big picture: they handled the error, but lost the sale.

Footnote: I don't know if they ever solved the problem, because that was the last time I tried to order from that company. I now make most of my tech purchases at the "competing site" I mentioned.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Case Against Social Media

Note: The bulk of this article was written a year ago. Since then Facebook exploded, Buzz fizzled and the more people are joining these networks.

I was just watching an interesting presentation on Social Media trends. Lots of graphs and numbers. Fascinating stuff.

But let's step back and look at what's really going on in the Social Media space.

MySpace was all about juvenile creative expression. Bands. Hooking up. Clearly, just the sort of brand News Corp. would be good at managing. To no one's surprise, after News Corp. took over, nothing new and interesting happened on MySpace. Twitter was simpler, and Facebook was private. Today, MySpace is a good site for music fan clubs and that's about it.

Facebook's original market differentiator was that is offered private communication with your classmates. Sure, you could still find that cute friend-of-a-friend to date on MySpace, but things were a lot more civilized and private than the bedlam of MySpace.

Facebook has the largest collection of photos on the Internet. Crushes the biggest photo site, Flickr.
Today, Facebook dominates the Social Media sector in the United States. But I believe the current surge in Facebook popularity is built on casual social games, not on status updates.

But Facebook wants to be even bigger. And it can't do that without visibility on  search engines like Google and Bing.
Unfortunately, making more content public destroys Facebook's original value proposition.
If they continue on the path of reduced privacy, I believe they become vulnerable. The market could easily fragment into smaller sites that share data, or another player could come in with different user expectations.

Facebook's customers are advertisers. The product is the members. But by abandoning their original differentiator, privacy, they've changed the product. Student-aged people coming to the site don't use their real names. They make up relationships and other information. They are polluting the product and will eventually erode the value of the product.

All of us technorati live on Twitter. It has replaced the blog article as our primary method of sharing information.  It has permanently changed journalism. It is an extremely valuable tool in PR and marketing.

The Answer is Not Social Media
There is a world outside of these Social Media ecosystems. Even on the Internet.

Recently, I poo-pooed Domino's Pizza's campaign on Twitter. A Dominos rep messaged me and asked if I would follow them so they could Direct Message me. The conversation ended there.

I assume that if I had "followed" them, and opened that line of communication, they would have sent me coupons for free pizza. But I chose not to.
The current metric of success on Twitter is follower count. This is idiotic, but that's how the game is played.  I'm not going to lend credibility to an idiotic campaign by giving Domino's my "vote."
The rep could have discovered 6 ways to contact me in 15 seconds if they had bothered. But they chose to limit the field of play to Twitter.
The problem with a lot of the Social Media initiatives is that they limit themselves to these specific platforms.
I no longer have a personal Facebook account, so I'm considered unreachable by many campaigns.
This is idiotic on many fronts. I am Search Engine Optimized! I over-share all over the Internet. You want to reach me? You can push a freakin' button on my web page to call my cell phone!

And let's talk about how Apple masterfully uses Social Media to... oh yeah. They don't care if you follow them on Twitter. And we can all see how that has seriously hurt the company. Right?

Many "success" stories we hear in social media are about hated companies using these social networks to inexpensively soothe irate customers who are lambasting them in public.
How about these companies change their practices to people don't hate them?

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Predictions

Life was pretty chaotic at the end of 2009, so I didn't get the Predictions post in.
Here we go with my predictions for 2011:

Google will save a cancelled TV show by bringing it to YouTube. With "Fringe" moving to the Friday night death slot, it is the most likely candidate.

The Open Internet will take a big blow as a major ISP attempts to create packages for specific web sites with metered service for out-of-package sites and services.

Apple has been resting on its laurels in the phone world, and the backlash will begin. Dropped calls and broken alarms won't end the iPhone, however. New carriers in the US will bring in a fresh batch of iPhone fans. But the early adopters will move on to the next cool thing.

Both Apple and Google will introduce apps on their TV platforms.
Microsoft will not create a set-top box, but choose to expand the TV features of the Xbox 360.

NetFlix will continue to dominate streaming content, but ISP restrictions will make it much more expensive for many consumers late in the year.

The Rim PlayBook will be a disaster.

The Kinect interface, and other technologies that let the TV "watch you back" will get a lot of interest, but the real push of speech/movement interfaces will hit the living room in 2012

Facebook growth will flatten out. End 2011 below 600 million users.

Twitter will not be sold. It will aquire a mainstream company.

US Congress will pass some ridiculously invasive legislation in an attempt to shutdown WikiLeaks

Solid State Drives will break the $1 per gigabyte barrier and become a normal option for most computers by the end of 2011.

Blizzard will announce the "unnamed game."

We will see the announcement of an open-source application suite for Android.

The Nissan Leaf will not find a market.

World of Warcraft will break 14 million players.

Google Chrome will continue to just be a technology demonstration.

Google will break ground on two of its wired cities.

All the iPad-specific periodicals will fold in 2011.

Tablets. Day 3 of 2011 and I'm already bored with the tablets. Expect hundreds of non-innovative tablets this year.

Your cable bill will increase. Probably with jacked up Internet fees.