November 30, 2005
Want an exit strategy? Just Google it!
You know Google as a search engine company. But those mad-eyed venture capital types - you know, the ones who over-hyped the dot com boom, and, in an obscene feeding frenzy, turned it into a bust? - increasingly see it as the equivalent of the NASDAQ. They're evaluating start-ups on the basis that they might be bought by Google, to fill a gap in its growing portfolio. It's ironic, to say the least, given that Google thumbed its nose at Wall Street, and managed its own IPO via a Dutch auction.
According to Business Week [PAY WALL], Google is resolutely refusing to spend big bucks on the darlings of the venture capital world , having passed on acquiring Skype for instance.
Consequently, the investment vultures are beside themselves with fury, accusing Google of arrogance and disdain for the role they play. Which, having seen the shenanigans they got up to a few years ago, Bleeding Edge tends to equate to that of bloated parasites.
Worse, Google is depriving the sharks of their quarry, because that $120 billion market cap means it can outbid any VC for a start-up. According to Business Week, "That's encouraging entrepreneurs to "bootstrap it" -- go it alone, lean, mean, and cheap, without the help of expensive VCs."
It quotes the view of Baris Karadogan, of US Venture Partners, that Google is creating a whole new ecosystem for entrepreneurs. "Karadogan says he's closely watching a group of entrepreneurs who are designing a highly specialized online advertising tool, hoping to sell it to Google for $50 million. 'Before,' he laments, 'you needed a VC. Now you can build a Linux-based data system for $100,000 and survive long enough to sell without ever raising a venture round.'" Which in our opinion, is great news.
November 29, 2005
Bleeding Edge is on the judging panel for Smarty Host's top blog award, the winner of which will pick up $10,000. We only get to see the 11 finalists of 530 entries, which makes us a touch uneasy, but the selection criteria looks pretty sound.
Of course we can't say who the finalists are, but we can say that one hasn't made any posts since Friday. One seems to be down. Oh dear.
Why Bleeding Edge blogs
We kid you not. This morning we went for a very long walk into the city. Tramping along through Albert Park, we gave ourselves a lecture on the financial realities of this blogging life. You see, we think we've proved that in Australia at least, it's pretty much impossible to survive with a blog that posts original content, rather than sucking up what other people write, and creating buckets of links.
"Really," we told ourselves, "you've got to stop wasting your time, and do some more freelance writing. Blogging doesn't pay the bills."
Then, this afternoon, we got the following unsolicited e-mail from a reader:
"I will interrupt myself right at the start and say I notice you saying (again, or still?) how busy you are.
"Busy is good as long as it is productive, satisfying and within your limits. These limits are very individual and relate to more than mental and physical stamina. They include attending to other things in your life that refuel the tank. Food, entertainment, family, friends, good wine, rest. Please keep it all in balance or you WILL burn out.
"What I was writing about before I rudely interrupted myself was patronage of your site. Living a simple life as I do (I didn't keep it all in balance and I did burn out) I don't have a lot of the "ready $" but I do value and use your site. I was wondering about becoming a patron by arranging a direct transfer to your nominated bank account
each month. The amount I have in mind is $10 per month. Whilst it would be a lot easier for me it may create work for you that you do not wish to undertake, particularly if others wish to avail themselves of the facility.
"In a quieter time let me know what you think about it. I'm not offended if you decline."
We wrote a humourous column in the Weekend Australian for several years, and we were doing much the same thing in Good Weekend magazine and other publications before we turned to writing about technology. We probably got more positive feedback than the average journalist ever does. But we never felt that we actually had a relationship with our readers. That's what's different about blogging. Honestly. We're very touched. Thanks, Steven.You really did make our day.
DRM which works
There's been a lot of criticism, on this blog and elsewhere, of the many problematic DRM schemes that the media companies are trying to force down our throats. However, most of us appreciate good music, film, and books, and are prepared to pay for it. So, are there any good solutions around? And what does a good solution look like?
Personally, I'm happy to use DRM protected content, as long as it doesn't stop me from using the product I purchased effectively. That means I should be able to transfer it to multiple devices that I am using without jumping through any hoops, and when I'm done with it I should be able to give it to a friend or family member (as I can do with CDs and books)
eReader provides just such a system for protecting their ebooks. eReader lock each book that you purchase from them using your name and credit card number. When you first open a book bought from them, the software asks for your name and credit card number to be entered, and unlocks the book. It remembers this information for next time, so future books you buy with the same card can be read without going through the unlocking procedure.
You can easily give an ebook to a friend or family member - if you trust them with your credit card number, just tell them what to enter to unlock the ebook. If not, next time you see them you can enter the number in for them. When they first open the book, it will say on the front page "From the library of Jeremy Howard' (well, that is, assuming that your name is "Jeremy Howard" - which has always been a workable assumption for me).
eReader works on Palm, Windows Mobile / Pocket PC, Symbian (i.e. Nokia, Sony Ericsson, etc mobile phones), Mac, and Windows, and books you buy for one platform work on all other platforms too. If you lose any ebooks you can always re-download them from eReader's site for free. The eReader software is the best I've used - clear text, simple interface, and good use of the full screen's area. Oh, and it's free.
November 25, 2005
Software you need: AVG Free (new version)
I do hope you've given Roboform a try now, which was the first program I introduced in this "Software you need" series. Along with Roboform, another program I install on all new PCs is AVG Free Edition. AVG Free is a really nice anti-virus program which does just what an anti-virus program should: it stays out of the way! At 4am each morning it quietly wakes up and downloads the latest updates, and then goes back to sleep until it's called on. The price is right: AU$0.00. It doesn't nag, advertise, or contain spyware.
A new version of AVG has just come out which boasts faster scanning speeds. If you already have AVG Free installed, it will have silently installed the upgrade for you already.
I suggest you also enable anti-virus on your email server, if it supports this feature. If you use FastMail, click Options->Spam/Virus Protection, and check 'Enable virus protection'.
Bolt in public life
Your devoted Edge person has been beavering away since 6.30am, trying to cope with the demands of one's personal life - there's the 60th birthday party, the need to organise a menu, and a small jazz combo to entertain the guests, etc. - so that we can attend an important event at lunch-time.
We want to try to make it to RMIT's Storey Hall at 12.30pm to listen to that well-known intellectual, Andrew Bolt, debate Professor Rob Watts. As you may recall, Bolt has recently criticised an RMIT teacher for forwarding an email to students giving them details of a [then] forthcoming environmental protest. Bolt was also professionally furious about an academic who postponed classes to allow students to attend a protest rally. The topic of the debate is the role of universities in public life.
We'd like to hear a little more too, about the role of Andrew Bolt in public life. For instance, we'd love to know his scientific qualifications, given that he continually assures the non-thinking public that there's no such thing as global warming, and those scientists bound by the requirements of peer review, who seem to us are pretty much unanimous that we are, indeed, damaging the environment.
November 24, 2005
A little more of us
You may, perhaps, have noticed that the flow of posts to this blog has been somewhat restricted of late. We've found the move to the office has eaten up a lot more time. And what with approaching the end of a long and difficult year, we're frankly feeling stuffed.
Nevertheless, we plan to try to summon up some more energy, and try to provide a little more intellectual stimulation.
Any suggestions as to what we should be looking at?
Life as an avatar
Try not to think of Bleeding Edge as, you know, a journalist. Or blogger. Think of us, instead, as a (somewhat verbose) online reflection of the sort of person we'd like to be, if the virtual world were real. Think of us, perhaps, as an avatar.
Bit Torrent joins the Dark Side
Bram Cohen, the author of the wildly popular Bit Torrent downloading tool, and the self-proclaimed Mozart of coding, is a philosophical chap, what with his public speculations on the measure of success in life, so he'll no doubt understand why a lot of people will consider his deal with the Motion Picture Association of America, to take down links on the Bit Torrent site to pirated movies, a bargain with the Devil.
You can see from the difference between the picture in the above link, and this one, that Bram seems to have undergone a radical physical change since he raised $US8.75 million in venture funding to develop commercial distribution tools for media companies. He's become somewhat more, you know, clean cut, if not positively shorn - vaguely resembling this chap, perhaps - to say nothing of suddenly speaking in commercial tongues :"It totally makes sense for Northern California and Southern California to work together,'' he said, under the apparent delusion that his deal was a geographical, rather than a purely commercial transaction. "The content-owner companies and content-delivery companies should be working together.''
Bleeding Edge tends to agree, as it happens. We're not in favour of downloading copyrighted movies, but if the industry won't make its new releases available in all markets simultaneously, they have to expect to foment rebellion from movie enthusiasts. And although we hope that Bram does achieve his ambition of having the movie industry use his software to make their products available over the Internet - indeed we've suggested just that in the past - we do hope that they settle on reasonable pricing, and don't hobble the content with DRM locks. If Northern California is speaking to Southern California on this matter, we do hope it will remember to make these points.
Posted by cw at 10:26 AM
November 23, 2005
A sobering thought
We've seen a ton of infected file messages over the past 24 hours, as the Fastmail anti-virus checker cuts virus-laden email off at the pass - all of them associated with the new variant of the Sober worm. We can't remember seeing this many for years. It takes us back to the bad old days, when people would believe anything, and click on anything.
What's depressing is that all these messages are coming from people who have clicked on an attachment to a message that purports to be from the CIA or the FBI. In terms of social engineering, it's mind-boggling. What possesses these people, in this day and age, that they really believe that the CIA or the FBI is going to send them a personal email ?
Internet Explorer Exploit
November 22, 2005
News: a matter of interpretation?
According to Jason Koutsoukis and Garry Barker, who shared a byline on the page 3 lead of this morning's Age, "Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has refused to publicly endorse Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie's continued tenure on the Reserve Bank board."
Turn to Stephen Bartholomeusz's column, however, and we learn that Costello "issued a statement yesterday that described McGauchie as a valued member of the RBA board and that his value 'stands on the strength of his contribution to that board and is not assessed by reason of other directorships'".
According to Bartho, "Costello, more than any other member of the Government, would have realised how destructive it would be to link McGauchie's tenure on the RBA board with his advocacy of Telstra's interests". He opines, therefore, that "Donald McGauchie can now probably plan on having his term as a member of the Reserve Bank board extended."
Koutsoukis and Barker also quote Costello's apparent endorsement of McGauchie: "Can I say Mr McGauchie is a member of the Reserve Bank board. He has made a very valuable contribution to the Reserve Bank. His contribution to the Reserve Bank is measured on that position. It is not measured by reference to any other directorships that he holds, and we keep these issues quite separate."
There are no further clues in the Koutsoukis-Barker story as to how what appears on the face of it to be a public endorsement of McGauchie's RBA post is, in fact, quite the opposite, and "Mr McGauchie is facing the axe from the RBA board when his five-year term expires next March," because "senior Government ministers appear to have lost confidence in his corporate governance capabilities in the fallout over a stoush over regulation affecting Telstra."
Bleeding Edge is of course aware of the fact that what the Howard Government says, in many cases bears absolutely no relationship to what it intends, and eventually does. But when senior journalists on the same publication can, in the same issue, come up with two precisely contradictory interpretations of the same statements, we suggest that either the practice of politics in this nation has become utterly byzantine, and therefore no longer a viable instrument of democracy, or journalism, as a medium for conveying objectively verifiable information, is broken.
What we seem to have are two levels of "fact": what one might call "surface fact", which in this case we presume Bartho is commenting on, and "deep fact", which (principally, given his position in the Canberra Press gallery) Koutsoukis is apparently interpreting.
Shouldn't we be giving the reader some better navigational aids? Even, perhaps, a policy? Or should there be a public education process so that we can all learn, in this Howard-Costello era, how to re-interpret English?
November 21, 2005
Getting more from Wikipedia
Wikipedia has become an essential research tool for Bleeding Edge. We've installed a bookmarklet to make it easier to search, and we've created a user account to give us some more quite useful options.
November 19, 2005
How God works
"Hiddink's genius is manifested in many ways. At 59, his record speaks for itself. At club level, he is the most successful Dutch coach in history. At international level, he has taken the Netherlands and South Korea to the semi-finals of the past two World Cups. Now he has achieved what many thought was Mission Impossible. In three short months, he has completed an overhaul of the Socceroos - not in personnel, but in strategy and mentality."
The new Google Internet?
Would you believe Google has plans for 300 super data centres - 5000 Opteron processors and 3.5 petabytes of disk storage crammed into a shipping container - connected to the company's dark fibre, and placed at 300 Internet peering points around the world?
As Robert X. Cringely puts it, the results would be profound:
Take Internet TV as an example. Replicating that Victoria's Secret lingerie show that took down Broadcast.com years ago would be a non-event for Google. The video feed would be multicast over the private fiber network to 300+ data centers, where it would be injected at gigabit speeds into each peering ISP. Viewers watching later would be reading from a locally cached copy ... For the first time, Internet TV will scale to the same level as broadcast and cable TV, yet still offer something different for every viewer if they want it.
As for the coming AJAX Office and other productivity apps, they'll sit locally, too. Two or three hops away from every user, they'll also be completely backed-up by two to three data centers down the line. Your data never goes away unless you erase it. Your latency and system response are as low as they can possibly be made for a network app.
And remember the Google Web Accelerator that came and disappeared? It's back! Only this time the Web Accelerator will have the proper hardware and network infrastructure to make it worth using.
Honestly, these days we don't know whether to believe Cringely or not. But it's a compelling scenario.
November 18, 2005
This morning we arrived at the new Bleeding Edge cave with every intention of completing a column, Nine hours later, it's clear that the column will have to wait. We've been far too busy to write anything as substantial as a column.
We've been engaged, you see, in distractions. We have always been prone to the peripheral, but we are only just beginning to realise that computers and the Internet have succeeded in making these distractions a central part of life. It isn't just E-mail, SMS messages, and instant messaging that pull us away from our productive orbit. The simple act of scrolling a document provides a tiny hole in our focus that invites a diversion.
According to a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, the modern necessity to "multitask" has transformed the average desktop environment into a complex hub requiring rapid switches of attention.
The phenomenon has been analysed by human-computer interaction experts, and something called "interruption science". Their studies indicate that the average office worker spends only 11 minutes on any given project before being interrupted. Worse, each 11-minute span was fragmented into three-minute tasks, like answering e-mail, or reading a Web page. And it took an average of 25 minutes to recover from each distraction.
It's become so endemic, that there's now an entire discipline devoted to its study, called "interruption science".
Obviously New York Times journalists are among the prime victims of these trends, because they seem to be fascinated by the topic. Another article suggested that many of us are suffering from something called "pseudo-A.D.D" (Attention Deficit Disorder), apparently caused by the attractions of the Inbox.
"It's in human nature to wonder whether you've got new mail," said Alon Halevy, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington who specializes in data management systems and artificial intelligence. "I don't think anything else is as compelling to divert attention."
Dr. Halevy and others are working on something callled "semantic e-mail", which would be able to analyse your email and interrupt you only when it's important.
While he's at it, it would be very handy indeed to have some semantic blog tools. We're convinced that running a blog magnifies the problem. There's all those comments to read and approve, and sometimes respond to, to say nothing of one's own posts. We probably check each blog site (Razor has two) for comments at least half a dozen times a day.
At Microsoft, some anal-retentive researchers are apparently seriously vexed with all this inefficiency. They're working on interfaces that will help us keep our minds on the job. And then there's the Getting Things Done crowd, on whose time-taming activities we sometimes report.
Their focus, clearly, is to keep us churning out stuff. We can't help wondering, however, if this increasing tendency to succumb to distractions isn't really a disorder. Perhaps they're small reminders that we need to divert our attention, occasionally, from what's happening on the desktop, and devote a little time to doing things such as what we did today: ring a couple of old friends, and catch up with each other's lives. We can always write that column on Monday.
November 17, 2005
Software you need: RoboForm
In this brief happy time between the end of the hangover inspired by last night's soccer victory, and the hangover soon to come from tonight's visit to Vue de Monde, I am taking the opportunity to start a new (ir)regular column entitled "software you need". This is where I introduce you to those litle gems of software that make my day-to-day computing experience more pleasant - they are the first installers I run on any new computer I set up.
Without further ado, introducing Roboform. Roboform is a brilliant bit of programming that fills in your web forms for you. You enter in your name, address, birth date, credit card details, etc just once into the software. Then, any time you hit a form which asks for any of these details, Roboform will offer to fill it in for you! It's amazingly clever, guessing correctly 95% of the time which information needs to go into which text box.
Furthermore, it watches as you fill in your usernames and passwords into login forms, and offers to remember them for you. To return to that login form in the future and automatically fill it in, just choose the site's name from the Roboform menu. It works on IE, Mozilla, and Firefox, and it can even be run from a USB key so you can use it on other PCs. You can protect your Roboform database with a password.
There are other form-filling options around (including the one built into Mozilla), but none are as effective as Roboform. It's free to use, unless you have a lot of logins for it to remember. The software is updated regularly - I have been using it for years and every update has been free.
Posted by at 05:02 PM
Guus = god
November 16, 2005
Aussie Aussie Aussie!
Congratulations Socceroos - you've got us through to the World Cup! I was there at the MCG when Iran stole qualification from us, I watched the TV from Montevideo 4 years ago when Harry Kewell so nearly got us through... I was beginning to think we'd never make it....
Congratulations Frank Lowy, John O'Neill, Mark Viduka, Guus Hiddink, Mark Schwarzer (whose 2nd penalty save is one of the best I've ever seen) and all the players - and let's not forget Frank Farina who led the team until just a few months ago.
It's going to be some late nights next year here in Australia as we watch the World Cup live from Germany!...
Telstra's move to re-monopolise Australia
It's fascinating to watch Telstra embarking on a blatant exercise in reconstructing the monopoly that saddled Australia with such notable telecommunications achievements as "broadband" Internet that is so slow it isn't regarded officially as broadband (and costs a lot more than genuine broadband), mobile phone charges that are the second highest in the developed world, and margins that, at 45 per cent, are regarded with envy by other carriers.
Today Telstra's been providing some of the details of its broadband ransom plan that would allow it to continue to charge inflated prices, and simultaneously crush the competition.
We suspect that their chances of getting away with this sort of crap are precisely nil. If they did, we'd have every other 20th Century monopolist queuing up for their own little sweetheart deal, and consumers would be breaking down the doors of Parliament House. At least we hope they'd be breaking down the doors of Parliament. Although you have to wonder, given some of the comments in the Whirlpool thread. The people who are asking "Why shouldn't Telstra be able to do this?" are in the minority in an expert forum. But we suspect there's an awful lot of Australians - particularly Telstra shareholders - who think a return to a Telstra monopoly would be a jolly good thing.
Important: Do not use Sony's uninstaller
If you are unlucky enough to have had Sony's rootkit/DRM installed on your PC, do not use their uninstaller to remove it. As described on the Washington Post, the uninstaller has an enormous security hole which will allow any web site to run any code on your PC, including formatting your hard drive, reading your passwords, or stealing your files.
The security hole does not require a sophisticated hacker to exploit - any Visual Basic programmer can write a simple exploit of this hole. This is much worse than the side effects of the original DRM, so just leave the DRM there, rather than using Sony's uninstaller.
Luckily, most readers of this blog are Australians, and this rootkit/DRM is not on CDs distributed directly in Australia. However, imported CDs may have this software.
November 15, 2005
Telstra's new strategy
Telstra deluged the ASX with buzz words in 18 (plus one amendment) separate slide presentations this morning (PDFs available here. Thanks to PowerPoint's incredible ability to strip practically all information out of a presentation, investors are probably still trying to make sense of it all. You'll do a little better with the transcripts.
Sol Trujillo wrapped it all up here, with his vision of a "one-touch, one-screen, one-click revolution" and a new economic model. The most interesting point he made, it seemed to Bleeding Edge, amounted to a recognition that Telstra's historically outrageous margins have got to be cut, with new era of what he called "value-based pricing". We're going to be on the alert for the first signs of that.
Our vote for the most impenetrable collection of jargon goes to group general manager, consumer and small business, David Moffatt, who alerted us to the fact that Telstra is going to "deliver on simplicity and differentiated customer experience", "optimise across the supply chain", "streamline activation and fulfiillment", with "customer insight" driving "integrated customer propositions" addressing the "whole of customer" which they'll identify by "customer experience maps".
From Greg Winn we got the "one-factory vision" - as opposed to the silo vision - but he did provide some surprisingly common-sense remarks.
Justin Milne, the Big Pond chief, seemed to us to have the most unrealistic of visions. He really expects that Telstra will be transforming blogging by allowing people to MMS photos to their blogs. That's been available for quite a while now, and it's not producing big revenue, largely because it's far too expensive, and - at least it seems so to us - not as interesting as conventional blogs. And we're not yet convinced that their deal with Sony to download movies - within 10 minutes at current cable speeds???? - is going to be quite as big a revenue earner as he suggests.
Some other points: Telstra will axe the CDMA and wireless network immediately its new national 3G network is up and running.
It will cut staff by "up to" 12,000 - 20 per cent - over three years, many of them external contractors. Many will probably leave voluntarily, as the head office moves to Sydney.
The Sensis directory business will become an even bigger cash cow, with earnings projected to reach $3 billion in five years time.
Ultimately, in our opinion, Trujillo's greatest challenge will be to change a culture we're far too many people have been used to getting in everybody else's way, to one where they are actually focused on delivering what David Moffatt's language tended to obscure: Simplicity. Service. Value. Performance.
November 14, 2005
Hard drive failings
Got our Inbox back on the weekend, fortunately. But we were curious about the fact that FastMail's problem had been caused by the sudden premature failure of three hard drives in one RAID 6 array. The question we had for Jeremy was this: "What brand of hard drives was involved?" The answer? Western Digital. We're waiting for further details [we expect they've still got their hands full] but somehow, we think we'll continue to recommend Seagate drives in our quarterly workhorse PC specifications.
November 12, 2005
Life without e-mail
What with the promise of no e-mail for three days [muffled shriek], Bleeding Edge is going to have to think of other things to do to fill in time over the weekend. Obviously they'll have to be calming things, because, you know, Monday is going to be hell. Having to handle three days of email, when you get as many as we do, can be quite stressful.
Fortunately, Fortune magazine had some advice for countering stress: " 30-minute aerobic workouts done three to five times a week cut depressive symptoms by 50%... in YOUNG ADULTS". Hmm. Nothing about older adults. Don't these editors realise that young adults don't read their publications? Or much of anything else, for that matter? If they're to maintain their circulations, they're far better off running articles that help keep the old fogeys alive. Anyway, what with bike commuting and table tennis, we're already getting more than enough exercise.
We thought we might do some reading. At Lifehacker we discovered that our reading habits are particularly unproductive. It referred us to a "quick and dirty strategy for reading when time is short". But that made us feel depressed, and rebellious, and in need of another bike ride.
Instead we dropped in to the book shop and picked up a copy of Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which we're about to start reading. We'll let you know if we pick up any productivity tips from it.
November 11, 2005
The Sorry Sony Saga
Sony seems to be in urgent need of a new PR policy, a new DRM policy and new legal advisers, as the rootkit disaster continued to unfold.
Battered by e-mail gods
Wasn't it just a day or so ago that Bleeding Edge put our hand on our heart and declared how happy we were with FastMail? We should have known better. We haven't been able to access our email for most of the day, due to the fact that our account happens to be on a server that initially had a failing hard disk, and now appears to be in the process of being replaced.
Now look, Jeremy. If you're going to have a hard disk failure, kindly have it on a server that DOESN'T carry our account! OK?
And we know that you've probably got your hands full right now, but we'd love to get a report from the horse's mouth. What's been going on?
November 10, 2005
Making Thunderbird fly
As discussed on this blog recently, Thunderbird can take 25x longer than necessary to download emails containing pictures. Rob Mueller and I have been researching this issue some more, and (with help from Bob Peers on the EmailDiscussions forum) have come up with fixes that completely resolve this issue. Here's what you need to do:
- Download and install the latest Release Candidate of Thunderbird
- Click Tools->Options->Advanced->Config Editor
- In the 'Filter' box type: mail.imap.fetch_by_chunks, then double-click mail.imap.fetch_by_chunks in the Preference Name section; the Value will change to 'false'
- Then in the Filter box type: browser.cache.memory.capacity; double click the preference and set it to 32768
- Close the Config Editor, then click OK
- Click Tools->Account Settings->Offline & Disk Space, and check the 'Make the messages in my Inbox available when I am working offline' box (also, click 'Select folders for offline use' and check the boxes for any folders which you use regularly)
After completing these steps, the 15MB email which previously took 48 minutes to download, now took only 2 minutes! Unfortunately, after closing Thunderbird and re-opening it, it had to re-download it from the server... However, for smaller emails, we found that they were successfully cached so they didn't have to be re-downloaded after closing Thunderbird.
If you haven't tried Thunderbird, you really should - it's one of the best IMAP clients around, and since it costs absolutely nothing, there's no reason not to give it a try!
November 09, 2005
JH has passed on a fix that will speed up the transfer of large attachments with Thunderbird. All it needs is an entry in the user.js file, which no doubt some readers have been searching for. They should read this.
A facelift for Bleeding Edge
We've been trying to get around to this for ages, but we've finally saved up enough to invest [several hundred dollars] in improving the blog design. There's some spots for display ads in there, so with any luck we might be able to recoup some of the expense, and perhaps even make a little money.
What do you think?
On yer bike
The mission: get the Bleeding Edge bulk from West St Kilda to the new cave at the old convent in Abbotsford, by bicycle, as quickly and as safely as possible. Having spent some pretty exciting years commuting over the Harbour Bridge and through the Sydney CBD to Surry Hills, then from various parts of Melbourne to the city, a nice collection of scars and a busted shoulder reminds us that there are a surprising number of homicidal or spectacularly negligent drivers out there.
No problems with the bike. We've got a nice yellow hybrid [Reynold tubing and Shimano Deore LX gears and brakes. Not the 2006 series, unfortunately, but still pretty good].
Spent Saturday and Sunday trying the Yarra River bike path. A fantastic ride, but it took roughly two and a half hours there and back, and the Bleeding Edge spouse, who accompanied us on the Sunday, was on the verge of heat stroke about two thirds of the way on the outward journey. Back to the maps.
This morning was a much faster ride, despite strong head winds and a lot of dust in the eyes. We went through Albert Park and up to St Kilda Rd, then all the way up Swanston Street , up the hill at
Frankston Franklin Street then up Cardigan St, into Queensberry St and through the Carlton Gardens bike path to Gipps St. Gipps St is the easiest route to the convent (up Nicholson, right into Abbotsford, then hang a quick left and right into St Heliers St). Unfortunately, Gipps St has no bike lane, and a van driver came perilously close to stencilling Bleeding Edge into the bitumen. Anyone got any safer, faster suggestions?
Waiting for Thunderbird
It's hard to write a decent email program - I know, because I've done it myself. Indeed, the mantra of the Mutt E-Mail Client is "All mail clients suck. This one just sucks less." So, I don't want to sound like I'm whinging too much, when I say: Hey Thunderbird developers, wake up!
Thunderbird is the email program that comes from the same fine folks that being us the Firefox web browser. Firefox is fast, stable, and effective - one might expect the same qualities from Thunderbird. Alas, for at least some uses, Thunderbird is slooooooooooowwwwwwwww.
My FastMail.FM partner Rob Mueller yesterday was looking at an email containing some photos of our ski trip to Mt Hotham (which was a great trip, if you put aside the bit where I broke a rib!) The email was 15MB, including 6 attached photos. We generally find downloads zip along at around 140KB per second at work, so we expected that downloading the email would take 15000/140 = 110 seconds (under 2 minutes). However, it actually took 48 minutes!
Rob and I had a look at the diagnostics on the server to see what on Earth Thunderbird was doing to make this take 25x longer than it should be. We discovered that when it displayed the text of the email, it downloaded the entire 15MB including photos - when it only needed to download to 0.01MB of text! Then, it went to display the first photo inline, and instead of using the photo included in the 15MB it had just downloaded, it threw all that away and downloaded it a second time... and of course, rather than just downloading the 1 photo it was rendering, it downloaded the entire 15MB yet again. It repeated this another 5 times - once per photo. So all in all, it had downloaded the whole 15MB 7 times - once for the text, and once for each photo. So that explains a lot of the problem.
The next thing that we discovered is that rather than just sending the whole email over the internet, it first sends 12k, then another 14k, then another 16k, and so forth, until it reaches about 80k. Then it goes back to the start and sends 12k, 14k, etc... This is a really slow way to send a file - it completely breaks all the clever optimisations that are built into the TCP/IP protocols that the internets runs on, and it introduces a lot of overhead as each little transfer has to be acknowledged by the PC. In fact, this method is about 3x slower than just sending the data in one go.
So my advice is, if you need an email client that is good for displaying photos, or downloading large attachments, don't use Thunderbird. So, what should you use instead? Well... err... "All mail clients suck". Personally, I use FastCheck, which is wonderfully fast and works perfectly for my needs.
Update: Bob Peers on the EmailDiscussions forums points out that the latter problem (caused by downloading in chunks) is easily fixed. He says: The fetching by chunks can be turned off by setting user_pref("mail.imap.fetch_by_chunks", false); in your user.js file. Or in TB 1.5 RC1 just go to Edit:Preferences:Advanced:Config Editor and filter for it there. In my opinion it should be false by default. This fix brings the time down from 48 minutes to 16 minutes - still much worse than the 2 minutes that it should take, but still a nice improvement.
November 08, 2005
Attack on the zombie armies
We suspect an awful lot of people are going to get quite a surprise when their ISP informs them, some time soon, that their PC is one of the living dead. The Australian Communications and Media Authority has launched a trial program - the Australian Internet Security Initiative - to identify and disinfect zombie PCs, which are associated with by far the majority of spam and increasingly phishing and other illegal attacks.
Under the program, the ACMA will give Telstra Bigpond, OptusNet, Westnet, Pacific Internet and West Australian Networks a list of infected IP addresses on their networks, and the ISPs will pass on the good news to their customers, along with some advice on what to do to disinfect their computers.
We like this bit: "If the owner either cannot or will not fix the problem and their computer remains a threat to other internet users, the ISPs may take steps under their acceptable use policy to disconnect the computer until the problem is resolved" - although that word "may" does have us slightly bemused. We've always wondered what incentive there is for Big Pond in particular (which unlike most ISPs charges for the uploads associated with zombies), to identify them and shut them down, given that they probably represent a substantial revenue flow.
We've also wondered why vast numbers of people are allowed, through sheer ignorance and neglect, to continue to make life unpleasant, and financially dangerous, for millions of other users.
The ACMA mentions some measures, including firewalls and anti-virus programs. Unfortunately, that won't necessarily solve the problem. There are other steps that users should be taking to see whether their anti-virus program and firewall are doing a good job. Not all of them do. LeakTest, for instance, will identify those firewalls which give users a false sense of security, but in fact don't monitor outgoing traffic.
November 07, 2005
Handling the truth
What a pretty picture: a PR initiative to help improve the accuracy of journalists.
November 05, 2005
The Beazley-Howard axis
Louise Dodson's examination of Kim Beazley's pathetic performance on the issue of counter-terrorism powers leads us to an overwhelming question: Do we really have an Opposition?
It seems to us that Beazley is emerging as almost as great a threat to the Australian parliamentary system as John Howard, simply because he's afraid to take a stand. On anything. He's a blimp. A soft capsule containing a lot of hot air. As former backbencher Bob McMullan pointed out, "Labor had been too immersed in the political tactics at the expense of the principle involved ..."
McMullan was referring to the party's performance in [not] addressing the anti-terrorism legislation. But under Beazley, that's what Labor has done, time and time again. Remember Tampa? The ALP is in such disarray that at best, it lacks the nous to elect a leader who knows how to lead. At worst, it doesn't have a real leader within its ranks.
If leaders are a reflection of those who are being led, then Labor is a party of tired old time-servers, lacking passion, principles and self-respect. Michelle Grattan doesn't agree, of course, possibly because she's fascinated by the political tactics, rather than the principles involved. Frankly, we're tired of political commentators waffling on about the finer points of tactics. They seem to think they're sports reporters.
As Louise points out, the job of the Opposition is currently being done by Liberal MPs like Petro Georgiou and Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis, and the National Party's Barnaby Joyce. God help us all.
On not trusting Sony
Remember we said that we weren't proposing to lift our black ban on Sony BMG products, because the company had lost our trust? Fred Nerk accuses us of engaging in a vendetta. He couldn't be more wrong. A long career in journalism has taught Bleeding Edge that once an individual or company lies to you, hides something from you or tramples over your rights, they're likely to do it again. Well, it turns out that Princeton professor Ed Felten has had a look at the software update that Sony claims removes the DRM cloaking technology that upset most people who know anything about rootkits.
According to Ed, it doesn't just do what Sony suggests: "The update is more than 3.5 megabytes in size, and it appears to contain new versions of almost all the files included in the initial installation of the entire DRM system, as well as creating some new files. In short, they’re not just taking away the rootkit-like function — they’re almost certainly adding things to the system as well. And once again, they’re not disclosing what they’re doing."
Ed's view is pretty much identical to ours: "No doubt they’ll ask us to just trust them. I wouldn’t. The companies still assert — falsely — that the original rootkit-like software 'does not compromise security' and '[t]here should be no concern' about it. So I wouldn’t put much faith in any claim that the new update is harmless. And the companies claim to have developed 'new ways of cloaking files on a hard drive'. So I wouldn’t derive much comfort from carefully worded assertions that they have removed 'the … component .. that has been discussed'."
November 04, 2005
Sony backs down
Just for the record, Sony has decided that perhaps that root kit that we suggested was an abomination, wasn't such a good idea after all. But that doesn't mean we're going to lift our black ban on all Sony BMG products. That company has lost our trust.
The No-nano, no-hair office
We're sure that many of you will be perplexed by the most recent post, which suggested that the chief toad had suddenly lost his senses, and (a) employed a lot of staff and (b) given all those staff iPod nanos.
We must therefore point out that aside from one one-day per week research assistant, Bleeding Edge doesn't have any staff, and what with the newspaper industry's historic parsimony when it comes to paying journalists, he's not likely to be receiving a free nano any time soon.
No, the generous contributor to this blog is Jeremy Howard, whose business acumen means he actually has a profitable business, and can therefore institute an iPod Benefits Scheme. We're doing a re-design, which should make it easier to determine who is posting what around here, but until then, given that Jeremy's becoming a frequent poster [we must say he's improving the quality of the blog immensely], you can check who the author is at the bottom of each post. Anything that mentions hair, for instance, clearly wasn't posted by CW.
November 03, 2005
Attack of the Nanos
Our office is currently overrun by Nanos (or should that be Nani?...)
A couple of weeks ago I thought I'd get all of my staff at FastMail.FM and Optimal Decisions a USB key - about 4GB seemed right. At the same time, I started wondering about Christmas pressies. It turned out to be one of those serendipitous moments where things came together just nicely...
At Harris Technology I found 4GB USB keys for $489, which seemed a little pricey. I remembered that Apple famously squeezed Samsung for the best price on memory when they made the iPod Nano, so I looked up the price of the 4GB Nano: $359 . Amazing - especially when you think that the Nano comes with a color display, headphones, and a click wheel (and looks rather smart too!)
As it turns out, the Nano, when plugged into a PC, appears as a separate drive, just like any standard USB key. So, bizarrely enough, the cheapest way to get a 4GB mini drive right now is to buy a Nano! I went and visited the Finance Wizard upstairs, and he confirmed that the Nano should be tax deductible, as long as we document the higher priced options, and as long as they are used to store at least a few work-related files.
So, I ordered a whole bunch of these lust-worthy gadgets straight from the Apple Store. In a very nice touch, Apple even laser-etch any message you like onto the back of the unit. The Nani arrived less than a week after my order, and today the office was filled with smiling faces (although I might add that little work got done as a result...)
Pay for comment?
Tflip's suggested, in our debate on Sony's outrageous DRM rootkit, that companies are paying people to post favourable comments on blogs. Now we must ask: Are Fred Nerk and Stuart on somebody's payroll?
November 02, 2005
The new cave
We've been flat out all day, moving into the new Bleeding Edge cave, overlooking the Yarra (somewhere down there under the trees) at the former Abbotsford Convent. We've got the phone on, and we're trying to get iiNet ADSL2 connected.
We're trialling a fantastic (but expensive) Therapod chair, which seems to be much better for the back, and we've just completed the latest version of the specifications for the quarterly Bleeding Edge workhorse PC.
One thing that's astonished us is the sudden, all-but-complete disappearance of CRT monitors. We can't seem to find them in stock at reasonable prices anywhere. Fortunately there's some pretty smart LCD screens out there for substantially less than $400.
What else have we been doing? Well, we've been handling a lot of comments on the Sony DRM software both here and on Razor. This issue is fast becoming an international cause celebre that we suspect will cost Sony dearly. It's got us beat how the anonymous Fred Nerk, commenting below, can be so sanguine about this affair. Having had much the same response from some people on other issues lately, we're formulating a theory that the Australian consumer is becoming a compliant patsy for the manufacturer. Just as the Australian voter seems to be prepared to wear almost anything from the Government, in return for the illusion of prosperous times.
Did anyone notice the appalling export figures? So that's what responsible financial management looks like, huh?
November 01, 2005
The consumer: Sony's cannon fodder
You may have thought, because you paid them for that music CD, that Sony would respect you enough to leave you to enjoy it, unmolested. But no, it turns out that Sony doesn't really think you've made a purchase. It thinks you've volunteered to join their nasty little commercial war with Apple over whose Digital Rights Management software will prevail.
First we came upon this disturbing little story about a music lover who discovered that Sony had crippled a CD he'd wanted to buy with Sunncomm's latest DRM software, which meant it wouldn't play directly on the iPod. Nor could you easily make a backup copy, or travel discs. That makes it, for most of Sony's potential customers, practically useless.
It's useless for the artists too, and their label, none of whom was apparently aware that Sony, as distributor, had unilaterally co-opted them into their army, without their knowlege and approval. Consequently, the label is giving fans some clues on how to get around the DRM.
Then we got an email [thanks Matt D.] referring us to Mark Russinovich's Sysinternals blog, which detailed his discovery that a Sony BMG CD had infected his system with a Rootkit - a piece of cloaking technology that is generally used by the malware industry - to mask installation of the software equivalent of a pair of jackboots. It not only limits what owners can do with their purchase, it's also poorly written, provides no means for uninstall, and is likely to cripple a user's computer if he were to attempt to delete the files.
Bleeding Edge think that this fits the definition of malware. Consequently, we've decided to institute an immediate blackban on all Sony BMG music. We suggest you might like to do likewise.