technology

Growing pains Internet-style-y

Heaviest users of Web face limits on 'unlimited' - Chicago Tribune

I've been reading about this particular theme for a long time now; personally I believe content providers and network providers should, by necessity, be wholly separate entities so as to avoid conflicting interests.

Companies such as Comcast and Time Warner also fear becoming a "dumb pipe"—providing the conduit for data-intensive Internet activity but not managing the flow or making any money from it.

Why should they get to make money from the flow? They already get to make money from simply providing the access. These companies, much like the railroad companies of yore, have been provided with the chance to make investments in these kinds of networks, spreading their infrastructure across public spaces that they do not own, and can never own.

As far as I'm concerned, the pipe providers might as well be government-sponsored and chartered corporations like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Housing-loan-wholesalers and dumb-pipe-providers, although operating for a profit, exist to provide a public service - increasing the access and price efficiency of home loans or internet access.

Access to information is a basic human need, something that has been coming to peoples' attention in regards to the switch from over-the-air analog TV to a purely digital transmission medium.

These are just growing pains. The issue of information access is too essential to the health of our people for us to allow these corporations to set strong-arm policies regarding the use of the network infrastructure we allowed them to build.

Facebook Zombies: Scourge of Pre-Teen Thin-client Cloud Computing in Spam-bot Form

This was posted on my Facebook wall by a guy I know from high school. For some reason, I doubt he authored this particular missive.


one of my friends is possessed by a spam bot on Facebook and spams my wall with a typical spam advertisement

Yeah, he's gonna post a message on my Facebook wall out of the blue and leave that kind of garbage.

However, this bit of Facebook wall-spam came right after receiving a couple friend requests that were awful suspicious. Take a look at the first profile:
totally bland facebook profile, most likely a bot

It's interesting that she has almost no friends that are all in one place, and certainly no one that I know. Why would they want to be my Facebook friend? The profile also has no real content in it - just a picture.

Then I got another friend request a week or so later from an awfully similar profile:

totally bland facebook profile, most likely a bot

This one at least is attached to a university I might actually know someone at, but still, the profile is in the same pattern.

  • highly geographically scattered 'friends' with no high concentration locales

  • absence of any unique personal information
  • no wall
  • female

Why does female matter? I assume the bot creators have a higher response rate if they use female pictures in the profiles that they use to 'friend' males with.

the wall spam

I think that seeing this Facebook wall-spam indicates we have achieved an interesting new level of potential network compromise. I can only see two possible situations whereby someone could manipulate a Facebook account in this way. The first is simply that the account login and password have been compromised, and possibly the Facebook spams are carried out by a program running on my friend's computer (accidentally downloaded virus perhaps). This is somewhat likely, but I believe that this spam is the result of a malicious third-party Facebook application.

I can easily see the situation where a malicious program is able to run on Facebook's own servers in the guise of a third-party application that someone has added to their profile. Although I doubt the Facebook development kit is full-featured enough to have exploits hidden inside it that could be particularly damaging, it would seem that this sort of bot creation is certainly not impossible. Imagine it - a bot that's largely not detectable by administrators, because it's not really doing anything it's not supposed to be allowed to do. It operates within its own layer inside the Facebook cloud, never having infected the thin-client used to access the cloud, or the cloud itself, per se.

However, if we are to assume it's a malicious program, or 'computer virus', it would have to have a vector of infection, correct? Well, based on my buddy's page, it seems he's ripe for the plucking. Here's a random screenshot:


Even if I'm totally wrong about this whole thing, something of the sort seems inevitable:

the computer virus's second cousin, twice removed


Welcome to the dawn of a new era in Cloud Computing.

sick of whateverBooks: I hate Apple (and Steve Jobs)

For a very long time, I never even had the chance to use a Macintosh computer. When I finally did I didn't understand why people liked it - it was the same crap with a different finish on it and a slightly different layout so it just took me a while to warm up to it.

Myth: Macs have less problems and run smoother than alternatives

In my personal experience, I have had no more or less problems with a Windows PC than an Apple machine. The bottom line is that they both are running proprietary, closed OSes. If you really have an intense problem, you probably won't get it fixed. I have found that the various Mac OSes are no more stable than Windows, and certainly less stable than a reputable Linux distribution (when I have a good setup going of course). This is despite the fact that they are built on top of a UNIX-like base. When I have attempted to use a Macintosh computer for any heavy-duty computer work such as 3D graphics, real-time audio, or film editing, I have experienced just as many problems as on a similar PC workstation. I also have a friend that frequently uses his very nice and expensive Mac computer for audio recording, sound synthesis, and film scoring, and I hear from him quite consistently about problems he experiences attempting to use his equipment for his serious computing needs.

steve jobs focusing all his energies upon generating his reality distortion field while prostituting the iphone
Steve Jobs focuses upon generating his Reality Distortion Field whilst prostituting the iPhone


One edge that Macintosh computers have is that the OS does not have as many virus, spyware, and adware programs written for it. This is in part due to Apple's tight control over the software environment. Third-party applications are the death of stability for a machine, and one thing people love to do is have all their little bells and whistles. Apple discourages such third-party proliferation by attempting to provide the basic user with a variety of programs that are simple and intuitive to use so they will be discouraged from exploring alternatives - a self contained software economy. The honeymoon is over though; extensive third-party application libraries are a necessary evil, and I believe the number of viruses and spyware written for Macintosh computers is increasing dramatically (obviously in tandem with increasing market share).

Apple rapes you for every last cent

Apple also tightly controls the hardware environment for their machines. In large part, they do this to increase their profit margins, although it does provide minimal benefit to the end user in that they are unlikely to purchase hardware or peripherals for their machine that are incompatible. Upgrade parts and peripherals from the Apple store are easily twice the price I would pay for the same part off Newegg for my home-built PC. Even if you can stick non-kosher replacement parts into your machine or find ways to make shady peripherals from Indonesian manufacturers work, you still have to deal with the fact that all the hardware inside was marked-up massively when you bought it.

Approximately the same high-performance tower and monitor combo that I bought in June 2007 for about $2100 would cost you $3500 direct from Apple as of this writing. $1400 markup from the thieves at Apple. I can buy a sweet laptop with the difference! I think part of this is promoted by cognitive dissonance on the part of Apple buyers; they paid such an outlandish and unreasonable price for something that they force themselves to believe that it was justified.

I was reading an article in the New York Times today that addressed this issue of perceived value; it just happened to be an article about wildly expensive kitchens as opposed to horribly over-priced computers. From the article:

Tellingly, the high cost of certain products, as Mr. Pedraza of the Luxury Institute pointed out, might boost sales. Mr. Pedraza cited a recent study by researchers at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology which mapped the brains of volunteers as they drank red wine. Though the wine offered was the same cheap plonk ($5 a bottle), the pleasure receptors of the brains of the study group lit up more when the subjects were told the price was $45. “Knowing you are able to pay for the best is a very special thing, and it gives you real endorphins,” he said.

In my brief glance over at the Apple online store, it seems like possibly the most egregious boundary-trouncing comes in the form of RAM; a ram upgrade that could easily cost me less than $200 to do to my PC (add 2 gigabytes - probably more like $150 for really nice RAM) would raise the price on that $3500 machine to $4000!! I don't understand how they get off charging $500 for goddamn 2 gigs of presumably 'Apple-certified' RAM, even if it's the latest and greatest speed-demon RAM. That's pure obscenity.

Macs suck for games

Very importantly for me, Apple machines suck for games; poor hardware and no one develops for the platform. I can play way more games with Linux than I could ever play on a Mac. I assume this could conceivably change as Apple increase market share, but it's going to take a while.

Oh yeah, as far as I'm concerned, Windows Vista doesn't exist. When XP becomes obsolete, I'll probably just switch to Linux full-time.

But Macs are just so easy to use!

Hogwash. No more or less complicated than a PC, and an interface is exactly that - an interface. If you want, you can skin up your Linux or Windows machine to look and behave exactly like a Macintosh; it's not until you start digging inside the bowels of the system that you'd even notice the difference.

It's packaged nicely to be sure, but is it worth a 60% mark-up over the general computer market? And if you're looking for cool and useful desktop effects, you'll find them all and more in Linux-land. Hell, you can even find them in Vista-land, although I wouldn't wish that fate on anyone.

Oh yeah, I said I hate Steve Jobs too

The reason I hate Jobs is because of an incident that happened in the past between him and Wozniak before they founded Apple. Long story short is that Jobs exploited Wozniak's engineering skills and then proceeded to under-compensate him and not let him know about it. That pretty much defined the character of their partnership from then on, but Woz never found out he was bilked in an underhanded manner on this one tiny project until 12 years later.

Finally, buying a Mac makes you their slave

Have fun with the artificially closed software/hardware eco-system you're about to buy into. I would even go so far as to say that Apple is enacting the technological version of Nazi Germany's economic policy: namely an autarky.

Oh yea, and don't tell me Macs are better for media or some crap like that.

A computer is a computer is a computer, and an Apple is just an overpriced one. Also, you can still have a 'authentic Mac experience' without paying an arm and a leg. Simply click on this handy link to a Google search to begin your journey. However, you will not get all the snazzy snazzy Aqua goodness. So Aqua and a warranty would cost me over the life the machine far more than $1400. No thanks.

Of course, most people just like how their laptops look and feel and that's why they buy them. Who am I to tell idiots how to spend their money? My computer is a tool, not some silly toy that's supposed to match my outfit. Am I to conclude that Mac worshipers are no better than LAN party geeks with neon lights inside their computer cases? Is buying into the Mac ethos any different? It's at the root of human nature; tribal relationships that are built upon and reinforced by symbols. Apple is in the business of getting you to pay a premium for those symbols of group membership. people that buy Macs are no different than those that buy silly computer cases with neon lights

My case in point: Why White People Like Apple Products

outbound links

I'm certainly not alone.

Yeah, it's PC World (ecch), but they have some good dirt. Key takeaways: Apple doesn't always have great design, and frequently does not respond to their market.

A revealing mixed perspective. However, I think we can all clearly see what's wrong with the following statement: "Maybe someone should just make a sticker that says "but I run linux on it" that would fit on Apple PowerBooks."

Typical Mac experience right here. Building up a bias sometimes just depends on how (un)lucky you are as this could easily . I have no bias; I know to keep my personal disgust with Steve Jobs, the hideous consumer mentality surrounding Apple, and my distaste of their company practices apart from the logical necessity of high value technology purchases. I would buy a Mac computer if it was reasonably priced and fulfilled my computing needs. Similar to the misguided fellow quoted above, I could always just run Linux or even Windows on it if I don't like the Mac OS.

"Even Apple will be hated one day."
From the article:

Does anyone honestly believe that Steve Jobs and Apple will always be the beacon of hope and affection going forward? If so, that person is either a ridiculously misguided Apple zealot or someone who simply doesn't know how this industry works. . . If nothing else, Apple has shown us all that it will do everything it can to solidify its position as a leader in the industry even if that means it continues its questionable practice of locking down its software and services on its own device. And eventually, that will come back to bite it.

"Fear and loathing is Not a Great Brand Image" - hatred and fear from one of their own loyal users.

More distrust and fear from within the ranks of the converted - does Apple live up to its brand promise?

and don't even get me started on Microsoft

So, if anyone wants to buy me an iPhone (make sure it supports 3G first) or tricked out whateverBook, I'm down with that. Just don't expect me to pay for it. Oh, sorry I mentioned the iPhone and and its $200 haircut.

SogoTrade and Zecco = Pure Discount Broker Crap

Update 4/15/2008: Zecco has people griping in their own forums now - and they said it better than I ever could have: (reprinted for perpetuity)

I tried logging in Monday morning - and failed; After about and hour, I gave up for the day and went about my business. Something similar happened early in Zecco's life, so I figured It's just a start-up problem.

However, that being said - Zecco should be nearly out of the start-up stage. Zecco has an Official Notification out regarding the website being offline and a offhand reference to misleading default "scheduled maintenance"/404 page - An internal review is needed - and not of the technical dashboard problem.

The Friday update was scheduled and advertised ahead of time - meaning that Zecco should not have been surprised with the consequences.

Picking Friday for updating is a smart move on IT's part. Not having a secondary system in place to rollback production changes is unacceptable for a real-time website. I highly suggest IT or management review system update policies to ensure that a plan is in place to rollback changes instantly.

In IT, updates are a part of life. With that in mind, we know that unanticipated consequences of an update are also part of life. However, for real-time systems, clear oncall/quick chain-of-command, multiple response teams & backup servers running alternate versions are part of life(or should be) - in 2008 it's cheap to use virtual servers as backups running proven older versions with proven older routing configurations.

and also from the same forum thread:

I've called at least once a week, every week complaining about the matter of fact attitude zecco seems to have about keeping it's system up at trading times. It's VERY clear these are server errors and crashes (I'm retired from an IT career) Denying these server failures only fuels my fire that I'm dealing with a bunch of liars that only care about numbers. I trade options which generate revenue for zecco/penson everytime I click the mouse.

Today, I'm making arrangements to transfer my account to anywhere else. I'm done with sloppy management and unprofessional IT people. I suggest all of you follow suit.

Allen Reynolds Jr.


My experience:

So I get up this morning and attempt to get into my two brokers' websites.

Zecco is completely unresponsive and I have not been able to log in for over an hour since the markets opened today!

I thought SogoTrade was fine - until it decided to do this to me while I was watching my NTZ position:


SogoTrade shows its true worthless colors with this classic error

AWESOME!

At least I didn't have an open position in Zecco... unfortunately I do have a somewhat precarious position of 300 short shares of NTZ that I'm holding in my SogoTrade account, which is sitting at a minor loss, but if it moves against me even more... I'd like to at least have a stop order in place. If I would have known SogoTrade was so worthless I would have put my stupid protective stop in, jeebus!

I guess with Zecco and SogoTrade you get what you pay for. Maybe one of these days I might be able to get an actually worthwhile broker that I can rely on. These have not been my first connectivity issues with either broker, and Zecco has proven itself to be particularly unreliable.

Is this their way of sticking you for the cost of 'broker-assisted' trades that you can make by calling them up?

At least some brokerages have the integrity to not make you pay more for a phoned-in trade; maybe because they realize that a lot of those phone-ins will be because their web-platform is COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY WORTHLESS?

I was finally able to get to the Zecco homepage without simply being unable to connect - they say the site is down for scheduled maintenance!

SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE ON MONDAY MORNING RIGHT WHEN THE MARKETS OPEN

Scheduled maintenance my butt - what broker would be so dumb as to schedule maintenance at possibly one of the most crucial trading times? Sounds like someone puked all over their servers, or they're using IT slave labor from foreign countries that have no clue about market hours.


discount broker Zecco's servers show their true colors

Wow Zecco, you got my vote - you have such an awesome sense of how to run your business and please your customers!

Cost for Zecco phone-in trade: $20
Cost for SogoTrade phone-in: $27

For reference:
Zecco Brokerage Account Review - yeah, decent execution if you can actually place any orders.
SogoTrade Brokerage Account review - supposedly NXTM was on their short list on last Friday, but I was unable to short it and received no explanation why I was unable to do so (their customer service has been worthless in responding to this issue).

Long story short - if you're more active than you are completely and utterly dead, you might not want to choose either of these brokers.

Open Source Software, an Inevitable Future

So the idea of open source software has been around for a while now. If you don't know what 'open-source' means right now, I can guarantee that within a hundred years everyone will know exactly what it means. This is because open-source software is the future.

If you'd like a more comprehensive background on OSS and some of its implications for the programming community, you should check out Eric Raymond's excellent write-up The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Aside from all the wonderful things that OSS brings to the table, from its frequently unconventional development environments to the ability of anyone to take a look at the nittiest-grittiest details of a program, OSS greatest strength is not its own.

I would say that the relatively inflexible nature of important requirements is OSS's greatest strength. Once you define a particular methodology for doing something, whether that methodology happens to find the square root of a particular input, or that methodology presents a spreadsheet program to the user, the internal logic of these methodologies is entirely static. To be sure, the spreadsheet program has to have updated interfaces in order to actually display a spreadsheet on your screen or to allow you to manipulate that spreadsheet using a graphical interface, but its internal logic, the 'spreadsheet-ness' of the program, is entirely static. Of course, you can represent spreadsheet-ness in more than one way, but how many different representations do you need when you already have one that works well, or well enough?

In a nutshell, although you may have to define new interfaces for how you're going to pass inputs to your square root program, and for how you're going to interpret the output, the internal logic of the square root program is not going to change at all.

Also, due to the open and collaborative efforts that go in to producing OSS, requirements are frequently satisfied in the most generic or the most efficient manner possible, greatly expanding their use beyond the programs that originally necessitated those requirements.

The avoidance of re-inventing the wheel is a prime motivator for programmers, and OSS eventually gets around to making some damn fine wheels. The conceptual leap from considering a 'wheel' as a basic tool to considering 'spreadsheet-ness' as a basic tool is relatively small.

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