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Archive for Nov 2008


Tail Optimized Mutual Recursion in Clojure

Clojure, a LISP-dialect dynamic language that targets the JVM has been generating some interest in the programming language community lately. By targeting the JVM, Clojure gets speedy performance in a cross platform way. One of the problems with targeting the JVM with a dynamic language that relies heavily on recursion is that the JVM doesn't support tail recursion (also called tail call optimization). The idea is pretty simple: for some common patterns of recursion the function call can be removed and the recursive function be optimized to a loop. The result is not only programs that run faster, but
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Online Stores Crowded on Black Friday

The Business Technology blog at the Wall Street Journal reported last night that several ecommerce merchants experienced slowdowns and in some cases service disruptions due to higher than expected demand. It shouldn't come as a surprise that people are shopping online Friday. This year, retailers have been promoting online sales more heavily than in the past. In the case of Sears.com, the promotions seem to have worked too well: The site was unavailable for many visitors between 10 am and 12:40 pm EST Friday, according to Keynote. (It was also down when we tried to access
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Kynetx Puppet Update

Pat Eyler sent me a note asking if we were still using puppet. In the spirit of trying to leverage my response to him for the widest possible audience, I thought I'd blog the answer. Kynetx has been using Puppet (and a little Capistrano) to automate our infrastructure since this summer. While we haven't gotten everything as automated as we'd like, we're quite a ways down the road and it's making life as a small startup bearable. My ultimate goal is to register a node in the system that delivers Kynetx Network Services (KNS) to the
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Bring You Own Context

Om Malik writes about the recent terrorist attacks in India and the torrent of information on Twitter. He says: Despite the tremendous volume of information --- and its immediacy --- coming from Mumbai via Twitter, getting context about the situation has been a struggle. While a few people have been tweeting firsthand accounts, much of the information has been re-tweets or just rambling, reaction-based tweets. Maybe I was overcome with emotion, but the sheer volume of tweets and lack of clarity only fed my frustration with Twitter. (I'm sure it's the same kind of frustration people
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Rocket Geeks

For anyone who grew up in the 60's, watched the space program move from satellites to men on the moon, and built model rockets while dreaming of going into space, this Wired article on homebrew rockts and the rocket geek who build them is a must read. My kids do model rockets and have varying levels of interest, but it isn't anything like what my friends and I had. We lived for the next mission and news of every flight. Launching model rockets was, for us, a way of participating in that grand endeavor, even on a small, small
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The Storm Blows

Image via Daylife I had a friend who wanted an iPhone, but decided he'd wait and see how the Blackberry Storm stacked up. His son had an iPhone, so he took it into a Verizon office and played with them side by side. He tells me that in 5 minutes it was clear to him that he'd hate the Storm. He told me this as he was showing off his new iPhone. David Pogue reviewed the Storm for the NY Times and reached the same conclusion. I haven't found a soul who tried this machine who wasn't appalled, baffled
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EFail, not EMail

Jeff Atwood has a longish post on the problems with email. Of course, the biggest problem with email is there's way too much of it. I used to try to respond to each (non-spam) email I got but now I can't keep up. Unfortunately, I can't let each email commit me to spend time. Jeff references Tantek ?elik's excellent post on the subject and gives three pieces of advice: Channel that private email effort into a public outlet. Discussion boards, blog entries, comments, wikis, you name it. If it can be indexed by a web search
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Good Succeeds by Creating Useful Products

An old friend from Excite@Home, Jeff Huber was quoted in the NY Times on Google's product marketing strategy and the issue of data privacy: "We do have a philosophy that our products should speak for themselves. We tend not to make a lot of noise," said Jeff Huber, senior vice president for engineering at Google. As always with Google, the price point is appealing: zero, if you don't count the amount of personal data that I am trading for all that utility. With Google, it is always simple, and any engineer will tell you that simple
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The Halting Problem, in Verse: Scooping the Loop Snooper

Geoffrey K. Pullum, Professor of General Linguistics in the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences University of Edinburgh has written a marvelous verse, in the style of Dr. Suess, that explains the proof that the Halting Problem is undecidable in a clear and humorous way. The verse is called Scooping the Loop Snooper (PDF). If only all of Computational Theory were this easy to understand!
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Geopolitics and Cloud Computing

When I first read "Pentagon's New Map" and heard Tom Barnett talk about how he analyzed geopolitics, I realized that here was an theory a geek could love. Tom uses concepts like and system administration to talk about how the world does and ought to work. I got to interview Tom about his second book, Blueprint for Action and I'm anxious to get my hands on the new book, Great Powers. So, I wasn't surprised when a post from Tom called A nice primer on cloud computing and its relationship to SOA showed up in Snackr.
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The Conservative View on Guantanamo

Yesterday a federal judge--ironically the same one who'd ruled earlier that Guantanamo prisoners weren't entitled to civil review--ruled that five men held there for seven years be released. There was insufficient evidence that they were involved in any crime. In fact, that's maybe too charitable. If you read the details, it seems like the Government had nothing more than a hunch and an uncorroborated accusation. Think for a minute about what this means: five human beings were held in prison for seven years without much recourse. Think about what that means to them and their families.
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Kynetx Operational Procedures

In the spirit of transparency, Kynetx has published our operational procedures and practices online. As we gain more control over our infrastructure automation, we'll also have real-time operational information and statistics. I'd appreciate feedback on what's there. Keep in mind, this isn't out "dream" but rather we're trying to present a true picture of where we're at. We obviously have goals to make this better and have quite a bit of experience in mature operations so we know where we need to be and where we currently fall short. I don't believe that there's anything there that would compromise
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Skype on My Mac Book Pro is the Best Conference Phone I Have

Today I had to do a job interview with a candidate in Chile. He had Skype and wanted to use it. I was leery because I had four people on my end who needed to be in on the call, so USB headphones weren't going to cut it. We decided to press forward and try the call with the MBP's internal speakers and microphone. It worked beautifully! We could hear him fine and he could hear us--even with some people sitting 8-10 feet from the laptop. So much so that this evening when I was getting
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OS X Leopard Technical Details

Jordan Hubbard, Apple's Director of Engineering of Unix Technologies, spoke at LISA '08 last week. Most people are commenting on the date he gave for the release of Snow Leopard (10.6), the newest version of OS X. I have to admit, I'm ready for some stability improvements, but I was much more intrigued by the details of his talk (PDF). He spent the bulk of his talk on technical features in Leopard (10.5) that many aren't aware of. He starts with a number of security improvements in Leopard: file quarantine, sandbox, package and code signing, application
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CloudFront Seems Like a No-Brainer

Doug Kaye, who actually wrote a book on hosting, has been beta testing Amazon's CloudFront service--a high performance front end for Amazon S3. Doug's favorably impressed. My calculations show that Kynetx would be able to put 80% of our bandwidth load on CloudFront (most static JS libraries) for $1.19 per day and if Doug's experience is typical get better performance to boot! Seems like a no-brainer to me given that we're paying several hundred dollars per month for a 750 Kbps circuit that I'd rather not upgrade for a while. Offloading 80% of that traffic would give us a
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Do You Support P2P File Sharing Inside the Enterprise

The topic of P2P file sharing inside the enterprise recently came up in a conversation I was having. I count myself as pretty enlightened on these kinds of things, but beyond getting large Linux distros quick or sharing disk images, virtual machines, and virtual appliances, I had a tough time thinking of legitimate reasons an enterprise might support it or even allow it. The other side of course is that there are bandwidth issues, both network and people. If you're just supporting people watching the latest episode of The Office in the office, then you've not accomplished much. I
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Leavitt as America's CTO

There's been considerable discussion about Obama's intention to appoint a Chief Technology Officer for the United States. Count me as a supporter of that move. It's almost cliche to say that Technology plays a vital role in the US economy and our place in the world. Of course, when I say CTO, I mean CTO and not CIO. And I think that the job would be vastly different than what CTOs do in a high-tech business. America's CTO would be focused almost 100% on policy issues. After all that's what government does. To be qualified, you
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Obama to Ditch Blackberry and Email

A story in Sunday's NY Times about Obama surrendering his Blackberry caught my attention. Until Jan 20, 2009 whatever he writes on it is private. After that, it's all public. Who among us could live with that kind of requirement? Not many. It's a sad irony that we've constructed a public world--and believe me, this extends far further than the President--where public figures must eschew the kinds of tools we all lean on every day. I know of what I speak. I used to work in Governor Mike Leavitt's office and "channel" was a constant thought in the back
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4000th Blog Post

papalars via Flickr This post on the death of advertising was my 4000th blog post on Technometria. Kind of snuck up on me. The mountain picture has nothing to do with blogging or anniversaries or milestones. I just liked it.
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Social Web TV and TechCrunchIT at IIW

John McCrea, David Recordon, and Joseph Smarr recorded a special edition of their video podcast Social Web TV at IIW this week. Their guests were Max Engel of MySpace, Eran Hammer of Yahoo, Dick Hardt of Sxipper, Paul Trevithick of Parity, and Doc Searls of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Steve Gillmor recorded a TechCrunchIT show with David Recordon of Six Apart, Kevin Marks of Google, and with the help of Echovar's Cliff Gerrish. where they talk about the open standards debate.
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After the Death of Advertising, Shopper and Merchants Can Start Talking

Dave Winer Dave Winer wrote yesterday about the death of online advertising. He says: I've been saying it for as long as people have been building businesses on advertising on the web, it's not a longterm thing. Now we're at the end of the road. Assuming the economy comes back from the recession-depression thing that it's in now, when it does, we will have completely moved on from advertising. The web will still be used for commercial purposes, people will still buy things from Amazon and Amazon-like sites, but they will find information for products as they do now,
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A Great Internet Identity Workshop!

Computer History Museum About a month ago, Kaliya and I had a serious conversation about possibly having to cancel the Internet Identity Workshop this time. Registrations were not coming in as fast as usual and no one had committed to any of the major sponsorships. I was concerned I'd end up personally eating the cost of the conference if we moved forward. Shortly after that, Ping Identity and Microsoft both stepped up and gave us confidence to move forward. That's a good thing because this turned out to be the best IIW I can remember. There seem to be
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Supporting Authentication Discovery in a Standard Way

I'm sitting in a session at Internet Identity Workshop that is discussing what standardized support browsers could provide to all authentication systems. Right now all browsers support one: Username/Password over HTTP Authentication. Authentication's come a long way since 1993. Dick Hardt of Sxipper made the observation that users view what's "inside the chrome" as the application. The browser chrome is largely ignored. That seems right to me. Authentication systems like basic form-based, openid, and information cards are all existing without explicit browser support. Forms have password fields, but that's just so that the browser blanks out the characters. Beyond
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Tweetdeck Rocks

Yesterday I found out about Tweetdeck, an Adobe Air application for managing twitter. Tweetdeck is much more than a way for watching your tweet stream and posting tweets. Tweetdeck is a dashboard for Twitter. You can create separate panels, for example, to follow searches. Yesterday I was using it to follow three different searches related to Internet Identity Workshop and seeing tweets from all kinds of people who I don't normally follow. Of course, I found more people to follow! Related articles via ZemantaLooking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on TwitterTweetDeck Offers Features Twitter Lacks [Featured
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Where Oil Comes From

One of the reasons I love reading Jon Udell's blog is that he shares the results of his curiousity. Not only is Jon curious in general, but he's especially curious about data and how your can mundge it to produce information. The latest example is Jon's look at where Oil comes from--not from where you think probably. The answer, if you live in the US is Canada and Africa. 33% of US oil comes from North America (with Canada being the largest "foreign" supplier) and 20% comes from Africa. How did Jon find this out? By importing the data
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Breaking Some Ironclad Rules about Startups

Joel Spolsky Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood built Stackoverflow.com, a site for programmers to ask other programmers questions. If you haven't been over there, you ought to check it out. They have some very nice concepts for building a community site and it's nicely done. Joel and Jeff have been discussing programming, and the building of Stack Overflow on their weekly show on IT Conversations. In this article in Inc magazine, Joel talks about seven iron clad rules he has for starting a technology venture: Vet programmer carefully Put everyone in one office Plan use bug tracking Test software
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WPA Crack

WPA, or WiFi Protected Access, is one of the primary means of protecting Wi-Fi hubs. Ars Technica reports that Erik Tews, a PhD candidate from Germany is prepared to present a paper at PacSec this week that explains how he was able to crack it. The exploit doesn't actually crack WPA keys, but does allow an attacker to sniff a packet, make minor modifications to the checksum and then use the access point to check the results. This man-in-the-middle attack could allow attackers to make ARP poisoning or Even DNS poisoning attacks. Related articles by ZemantaWap Hacked!Once thought safe,
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Has Anything Gone Right for the GOP the Last Few Years?

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (who was re-elected with 78% of the vote) was quoted in a Washington Post article on rebuilding the Republican Party asking "Was there anything that went right for [Republicans] over the last several years?" Utah's Republican governor, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., predicted a "broad discussion of the future of the party" with virtually every big issue on the table. "Was there anything that went right for us over the last several years?" he asked, saying that the party's international agenda has been "flawed" and U.S. prestige abroad "squandered, in terms of where you see our
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Detecting URLs with Regexps

Jeff Atwood talks about the problem of detecting URLs in text. The problem, as Jeff points out, is that lots of interesting characters are legal in URLs, including parens. So, writing a regular expression to distinguish between these two URLs is hard (but not impossible): My website (http://www.example.com) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PC_Tools_(Central_Point_Software) Jeff's solution is pretty comprehensive and cuts the Gordian Knot of enclosing the URL in parens by removing them programatically--a good solution since we're not worried about nesting.
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Why Can My Car Move When I'm Not in It?

Jonathan Yarmis from AMR Research just told the story of someone who visited his house to pick up some kids and forgot to put the car in park. She went in the house as her car took off down the driveway. It ran over a power transformer and then crossed the street and came to rest 150 yards into the trees on the other side of the road. The woman became aware that her car was on the move when Mercedes called her to tell her that it's airbags had just deployed (the power went off first, but that
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Worlds: Tabs for Programming

Via Lambda the Ultimate a pointer to a paper by Alessandro Warth and Alan Kay (PDF) called "Worlds: Controlling the Scope of Side Effects". I didn't get as much out of reading the abstract as I did from the opening paragraphs of the intro: Suppose that, while browsing the web, you get to a page that has multiple links and it is not clear which one (if any) will lead to the information you're looking for. Maybe the desired information is just one or two clicks away, in which case it makes sense to click on a link, and
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Connecting in Afganistan

Michael Yon has a good post about mobile phone use and misuse in Afghanistan. If you're not reading Yon, he's an independent reporter who's been embedded in Iraq and now Afghanistan. I've been reading him for a while. Very good to get a first hand, detailed report. And I love the pictures he puts up on his blog.
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Remember Twitter Vote Report

Don't forget Twitter Vote Report when you go to the polls tomorrow! From the "about" page: Twitter Vote Report is a non-partisan, all-volunteer network of software developers, designers, and other collaborators have teamed up with the award-winning blog techPresident to launch this effort. The only resources contributed to this project are the participants' time and expertise! Millions of Americans will be voting this Election Day. Many of these voters will have terrific experiences and we'd love to hear about those. But many voters will experience voting problems that we have been hearing about for years: long lines, broken machines,
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Stowe Boyd on Lifestreaming on the Edge

The notion that we're drowning in information is false. The world is full of information and we've been dealing with it from the pre-agricultural era. We're reaching back to systems and techniques that we've never lost. There's no such thing as information overload. Attention isn't a resource that needs to be parceled out. This is like the earlier failed metaphor of "knowledge management." You can't manage knowledge like bricks. The movement of message control away from large organizations (the center) to the edge has destabilized the status quo. Non-market collaborative efforts (like open source) have had a similar effect.
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Getting Past Telco 1.0

Doc Searls has a good post on Getting Past Telco 1.0 at Linux Journal. He uses T-mobile's ridiculous "roaming charges" as an example of the kind of thing old-style telcos do that makes their customers hate them. He concludes: We're always going to have big companies. There are many things only big companies can do. But when those things involve the Net, those companies need outside help from free-range developers. They can't do it alone. They can't mandate it from the inside. Won't work. Dan Frye once told me that it took IBM several years to realize that they
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Connected Platforms for Connected Applications

Ian Davis, the CTO of Talis is speaking about connected platforms. He starts with a lesson in economics. In the pre-industrial era, most goods were produced by individuals or small groups working together. consequently, most trading was local. Trading to a large market required a very large company capable of vertically integrating all its functions. The East India company is an example: ships, docks, towns, armies, and even currencies were all done by that one company. Transactional costs for a given market size were usually much larger than the associated value in the pre-industrial era. Transaction costs fell with
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Flow Applications

Chris Shipley is moderating a panel with Dick Hardt (Sxipper) and Sam Huleatt (Workstreamer) on applications that support flow. Chris turns the time over to Dick who demos Sxipper (the new version) that provides information about things your browsing. This reminds me of something I saw at ETech years ago called Dashboard (Nat Friedman). Ultimately this is an idea about getting context about information. Can flow applications make the problem worse by increasing the amount of information we have to process? Possibly. UI helps. Flow applications need to be intelligent about what information is presented. Presence and location information
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It's Always a Good Time to Start a Web Business

Howard Lindzon is up next speaking on by it's always a good time to start a web business. Howard runs a hedge fund. The headlines we're seeing today aren't good. Leaders need to look beyond the headlines. The goal: zig when other's zag (with hat tip to Warren Buffet's "the time to be fearful..." The best time to start a "premium" business or one base don ad revenue was the last four years. Now we need to focus on being "too small to fail." Get your idea and product ready and the first customer under your belt as soon
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Paul Kedrowsky: Around the Horn (Defrag08)

Paul Kedrowsky starts the panel by referring to a James Surowiecki article in The New Yorker called Everyone's Watching. If I understand the reference, the key point is that the current financial meltdown wasn't caused by too little information, but too much--and with no one paying attention. There's some discussion about whether we need to take a step back and pay more attention. On Twitter, @kevinmarks says "this makes me think of Neal Stephenson's ideas from Anathem of deliberately introducing isolation and delay to gather deep insight." Paul doesn't believe that paying more attention is an option. Is the
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Being Lazy the Right Way

Mike Farmer takes on code generation in his blog and argues that frameworks are a better way to be lazy: Newbies can use them as a crutch instead of learning the language like they should. When things break or don't work the right way, they are stuck. Then come countless hours stepping through code that looks like it was written in greek trying to figure out what the problem is. Not my idea of a good time From Frameworks Over Code GeneratorsReferenced Sat Nov 01 2008 21:38:41 GMT-0600 (MDT)
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