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September 15, 2009

Twite, twee, tewwible

I should add to my list of reservations about Twitter that I am largely revolted by the neologisms which have sprung up around the service. Tweeple? Tweeps? Twibes? What are we, three? (Sorry, “twee”?) At least the verb “to tweet” reuses a perfectly good word already in the lexicon. I’m not opposed to new words, but have a sense of style, people.

Posted by pjm at 11:45 AM | Comments (2)

September 13, 2009

Dubious claims

The new apartment complex has complex-wide wireless through some kind of service agreement with a local company. In the complex newsletter, they have a sort of table comparing the provided wireless with cable modem and DSL. The problem is, most of the claims they make are bogus on closer examination.

Bandwidth. They claim this service has equal bandwidth to cable modem and greater than DSL. This may be true if you can jack in to the network at the router, which nobody in the complex can. Instead our bandwidth rates vary by our physical location, and generally are significantly worse than we would get from in-apartment service.

Furthermore, the bandwidth bottleneck for most people is not their service, but the hardware of their own network (wireless cards, routers, etc.). Show me someone who can saturate a cable modem connection, and I’ll show you someone with the technical know-how to laugh at this bandwidth comparison chart.

Security. “Because we have a firewall!” Who can spot the weakness in this argument? Yes? Is it that anyone who doesn’t plug their computer directly into their broadband connection these days usually has a router which uses NAT to distribute local addresses and therefore has a reasonable firewall from “go”, limiting their computer’s exposure to computers on their network and therefore probably computers they own, whereas this service leaves users exposed to every other computer using the service in this complex?

To use an analogy, if you only drive your car anywhere, you’re only exposed to the sneezes and coughs of your family, but once you get on an airplane, you’re sharing recirculated air with all the hundred-plus people you’re flying with.

In other words, this service is no more “secure” (and don’t get me started on “security” as a binary condition, as though connections can be classified as “secure” and “insecure”) than anything else; it simply moves the security decisions out of the hands of the end-user—who, I will admit, might not be competent to make them—and into the hands of a service provider up the line… who might not be competent to make them.

The fact that the people pushing this service can circulate such risible arguments with a straight face is a direct consequence of our unfamiliarity with the basics of how computers and their networks work. (Seriously, guys, I hope you didn’t get venture money with this kind of argument.)

Can’t we get a snappy word, like “illiteracy” or “innumeracy”, for this problem?

Posted by pjm at 7:17 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2009

Why I still don't trust Twitter

I said I’d write something about this when I first mentioned my foray into microblogging: what my reservations about the whole thing are. Preface each of these sections with “I don’t really like the idea of…”

  • …fragmenting myself into yet another channel. Aren’t we all supposed to be finding our own personal audiences? So why are we dragging them all through a few dozen different venues—“my blog, my microblog, my Facebook page, my bookmark stream, my photo feed”—instead of keeping everything in one place, perhaps with the option of allowing users to pick the aspects of the wider stream they wish to follow? (I think this may be the converse of the “too many inboxes” problem danah cites: “I don’t like having to deal with Yet Another Walled Garden’s attempt to replicate email.”)

  • …forcing people to sign on to a closed, for-profit service to get information I’m not getting paid for. Look, folks, Twitter is a business. Right now, their capital is our attention, which we’re giving them for free by providing all the programming they could ever want. Nobody has really come out to explain how they plan to monetize this yet, and I don’t grudge them the chance to do so, but I can imagine a scenario in which I’m not comfortable with that plan.

  • …signing up for a Single Point Of Failure. Fail Whale. Seen it? Guess how much obligation Twitter has to you as far as making it go away. Guess smaller. Much, much smaller. Also consider this:

“The total failure of Twitter during the DDoS attacks highlights the fact that, with Twitter, we’re relying on a single service for mass communication of this type,” said open microblogging supporter and Ektron CTO Bill Cava. “Most everyone understands it’s ridiculous to expect one service to provide email support to the world. The same is true for micro messaging. The reality is, it can’t and won’t continue this way for too much longer.”

  1. …signing on to a closed system. I guess this is the same as 2 and 3, really. This entire point is explained very well in an August post in Wired’s Epicenter blog, which (as noted above) largely deals with Twitter’s SPOF vulnerability, but also with its insularity.

And that’s why I also opened an account on identi.ca. Everything that’s there is also on Twitter, so if you want to swim with the stream, no problem. If you don’t… well, there’s an alternative.

Later on, if I find time, I’ll explain how adding a third micro-blogging format (I’m counting Facebook status messages) actually made things more manageable.

Posted by pjm at 7:55 PM | Comments (0)

Smalltime auto rehab

I don’t really know what to do with my car.

I made a list of nine things which, if fixed (or at least most of them fixed), would make me think, “Yeah, I should drive this for another year.” I fixed five of them tonight, by myself, using silicone adhesive, silicone lube (don’t ask me, I just read the labels), super glue and sweat.

I also added a tenth I’d forgotten when I made the first list.

I also used a lot of mild detergent and some specific solvent on some windows and plastic surfaces, and removed six parking stickers from two colleges and two towns. (Stickers from a previous employer are proving harder to remove.) Someone needs to do a much more thorough job cleaning the carpets and seats.

The next five are a little tougher, and require some research to figure out how to address them.

  • The power socket has popped out of the dashboard, and it dangles. I would need to either replace it, or the collar that held it in the dashboard, or figure out how to make it stay put again. (Just gluing it in is not really my preferred option.)

  • The left headlight has a lot of condensation inside. It’s been like this for a while and it’s clearly not putting out as much illumination as the right. If I can figure out how to get it off, I can dry it out, but I also suspect there’s a gasket leak somewhere that allows it to cloud up.

  • There may be a leak in the trunk as well, which would have contributed to my problem last winter of condensation freezing on the inside of the windshields. This model of car has a known problem with leaky gaskets around the taillights, so that might be the simple fix.

  • The volume knob on the stereo, while usable, is not reliable. (It often does the opposite of what you desire.) The only way I know of to fix this is to replace the stereo, which seems expensive if I’m not keeping the car much longer. (On the other hand, it might make the iPod system easier.)

  • I’m also starting to see one of the chronic symptoms of “old car” which is the upholstery beginning to come loose from the roof at some of the edges. Oddly enough, this seems like one of the easiest things to fix, given the right solution of glue.

Any ideas or pointers to good tutorials are welcome.

When I made the list I told myself this was so I could have it in good shape for re-sale. I think having a vehicle detailed before selling it used is worth the price in terms of closing the sale for a good price. But I’m also finding that (a) I’m cringing at the idea of shopping for new cars, and (b) the more of the little things I fix, the less pressing I find the need to replace this car.

Posted by pjm at 6:11 PM | Comments (0)

September 7, 2009

Home office issues

Problem: The (new) home coffee maker makes much larger pots than the small one at the office, much more than any reasonable individual (or at least I) would consume in one work day.

Solution: Fridge the leftovers overnight, drink with some milk and sugar on a day when warm beverages seem like a bad idea. This turns out surprisingly well; I almost think I prefer cold coffee to warm.

I suppose I could just put less water in the machine, but where’s the fun in that?

Previous in-office experiments included actually freezing the excess coffee to make ice cubes for later iced-coffee beverages, following a suggestion I found in the newspaper. (Iced coffee made with frozen-water ice cubes becomes, well, watery.) Unfortunately, the freezer at work lacks the horsepower to actually freeze things on a regular basis (we’re lucky it keeps milk drinkable for 4-5 days) so that didn’t work so well. Here, maybe the freezer could do the job, but it turns out we don’t have ice cube trays. I knew I should’ve bought some at the Ampelmann shop!

Posted by pjm at 1:00 PM | Comments (0)

September 2, 2009

Something for everyone

My editor at the IAAF is a fan of Finnish athletics, and he inadvertently reminded me that the idea of “Munich tragedy” is different for everyone.

When I visited the Munich Olympic stadium, I looked at the start and finish of the men’s 5,000m (Prefontaine’s race), and I looked over at the tunnel where Frank Shorter entered the stadium (and resisted the urge to yell, “It’s a fraud, Frank!”) I also looked over at the housing complex which used to be the Olympic Village.

Later, Chris asked me, “Did you pause for a moment of silence at the spot where Lasse Viren fell?”

Posted by pjm at 10:36 AM | Comments (1)