Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My in-laws and I were having a discussion a few weeks ago about the idea of utlimate potential. I have the relatively firm belief that unless you are clearly incapacitated in some way with a specific physical defect that causes a mental or physical impairment from normal function of your faculties... that anybody can be/do just about anything... but at a cost. Some people are better at some tasks than others. For example, there are some people for which Math is second nature. They can do calculations in their head that would take me hours to do with every possible tool at my disposal. Does this mean that I'm incapable? Does it mean that they are super geniuses? No on both counts. Instead, I posit the notion that anybody is capable of anything, but with the right amount of practice.

An example: I am 5' 8" tall. Water Polo goalies are usually at least 6' tall. Many of the goalies that I routinely competed against throughout high school were over 6' tall. After tons of hard work and dedication with in-pool work, running, weight training... the team I played with spent a solid 4-6 hours each night practicing. In the mornings, we would spend an additional 2-3 hours practicing and conditioning. That meant a solid 6-9 hours each day perfecting our craft. In the end, I made honorable mention for the All-American team for Water Polo. We twice got second place in our CIF section (a defeat at the time, but looking back, a victory). This taught me that I could do just about anything to which I'd set my mind.

However, as I continued on to college, I learned the corollary. There are limits placed not by capacity, but reason. I arrived on the water polo team and found myself as a fourth-string goalie. The three goalies ahead of me averaged 6'10" and the 3rd string was 7' tall. Could I have made it to the starting position on the team? Perhaps. However, it would have been at the cost of every other positive thing in my life. No free time. No cutting corners anywhere. No freedom. No choice. Everything would be dedicated solely and completely to that single solitary goal. With so much of my time in high school being devoted to water polo, I threw in the towel. I was done. Not because it was impossible, but because it was improbable.

Today, I ran across an article from The Simple Dollar where it is discussed that ignorance is not such a bad thing. If you're intellegent, you can overcome ignorance. I think that is the bulk of my side of the discussion. I truly believe that you are what you make of yourself. If you decide that you "can't" ... you can't. If you decide that you can, make a plan for yourself and improvise to the finish line... you can.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Google ChromeOS

Okay, let's lay things out. (1) If you have an open mind, keep reading. If you have already made a decision that Google Chrome OS is NOT going to be anything but short of a game changer, stop reading and move along. If you're willing to listen to why the nay-sayers that are being so vocal against Chrome OS could be wrong... read on.

One of the common statements that has been made about Chrome OS and "why it will fail" is that it is a "crippled" operating system that can only run web applications. Others have commented that it will be "100% locked down and that they couldn't create a secure system without locking it down completely." Succinctly put, a commenter on CrunchGear's post "Why we need to chill about ChromeOS" says, "there's 1001 things a chromeOS can't do that a conventional OS can."

So, to address this, let's really take a look at what Chrome OS is... lets not take flame war banter for our evidence. Instead, lets take a look at the only official information about Chrome OS, the Google Blog posting about it. They stated:
"The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform."

Now, lets just be clear, did they say that you would only have the ability to run a web browser? No. Instead, they identified that Google Chrome (a Google sponsored distribution of webkit based open source web browser project, Chromium) will be running (and I'm adding extra emphasis here for those that are a bit slower) WITHIN a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. So, Chrome could be running alongside other applications that can run on the selected platform (x86 or ARM) and within the new windowing system. Does that mean that we will be running other applications? Not necessarily... we don't know. Does it mean that we could be running other applications, signs point to yes.

The big question will be, how "new" will the new windowing system be? Will it break from the X11 windowing standards which have been the basis of window managers for decades? If so, will other applications still work? If not, will there be easy ways of porting applications? If the "new windowing system," or window manager, is friendly to applications that can run under other window managers, everything should continue to work.

What is a Window Manager?
Wikipedia: A window manager is system software that controls the placement and appearance of windows within a windowing system in a graphical user interface.
There are other definitions, but we'll stop there because they are all sufficiently similar. Please note that there are several window managers that will operate on top of the Linux kernel. Gnome and KDE are just the two most well-known out there. So, this would be yet another "windowing system" to run on top of the Linux kernel. The focus of which would be the total integration of the web into the desktop.

How could this be done? Imagine having web pages able to be displayed as we have come grown accustomed to files within folders? Perhaps consider the idea of the web being a background for local files. These things were part of the focus of integrating Internet Explorer into the operating system back in Windows 95. Anybody remember "active desktop"? I see it coming back but with even more integration into the surrounding operating system.

My Prediction

My prediction is that you'll still be able to use non-web applications. Google isn't about hamstringing people. They want information to be accessible. You don't make more information accessible by cutting off access to the old way of doing things. You build bridges. If you can bring the web further into the scope of the desktop, you make it easier for the information that all of us have been holding onto for years (from photos, documents and videos) in digital form to leak out onto the web. I have gigabytes of pictures that have gone un-shared with family and friends because of the hassle associated with transitioning them to a usable web site that can handle that data size. If Google Chrome OS can take care of that kind of problem (and I think that is their aim) then I'm all for it succeeding.

What about Gaming and Other CPU Intensive Operations?

Again, I sincerely believe that Google is not aiming to kill the desktop completely. If they are, I'm in the same boat as the nay-sayers that think this is destined for the dogs. Instead, I think they're aiming to make the desktop web-centric. Make your first stop the web... then come back to your local world as necessary. I believe that the "as necessary" will decrease over the years. OpenGL has been implemented in web pages. Your music collection can be stored online. Your videos too. Spreadsheets? Google Spreadsheets. Word Processing? Google Docs. Pictures? Google Picasa. Email? Gmail. There are answers everywhere. Many people, however, will point out that web applications just aren't quite "there" yet. I would agree. I still write large documents
(250+ pages) within OpenOffice. Why? Google Docs still doesn't give the flexibility I want/need for image placement and other desktop publishing type of tasks. That is just one example. There are still many short comings of web based applications. However, the gap is narrowing... and quickly.

My question for you is: "What's really tying you to your desktop?"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I've written the following as a general explanation of what is wrong with the idea of blindly forwarding emails (many of which end up being false).

If you're not sure if something is true, verify it! You're using one of the largest information resources ever created... the Internet. Verifying an email is a very easy thing to do. Grab a 4-5 word quote from the email and any proper nouns (English class refresher: specific people, places, things). Drop it into Google and click search. Likely, you'll end up finding Snopes in the first few links. When you click on that link, you'll be taken to a page that will detail the results of the investigation that was undertaken to determine how true (or false) the email actually was).

Please, stop the false information from getting passed along and ruining our legacy left for future historians.
Presenting false information in the form of incorrect attribution, particularly if the incorrect attribution can be considered to be harmful to either the correct or incorrect author, could be considered libelous.

Email is a form of publication. You are a publisher to the world now. You need to fact check just like all the other publishers throughout this world. If you've done the best you can and still end up making an error when you publish... you are legally obligated to do the right thing and issue a retraction.

My comments in this reply stem not from the notions in the forwarded email themselves (or even the idea of forwarding them to people) but from the general lack of effort that people in general put into making sure that information is complete and correct in the "Information Age." Truth is more important than knowledge, for without truth, what is left of the knowledge we have gained?

Many people that I've called out on mis-informed emails over the last 12 years have felt persecuted... even singled-out. Keep in mind that I send out an email along these lines about once a week. My response here is not a response specifically to you, but to anybody that forwards information without checking the facts. Unfortunately, you are not alone in forwarding incorrect statements in email. Usually the notions that are being conveyed as "true" are more harmful than simple incorrect attribution of a piece of text.

Also, keep in mind that as this piece of text was a creative work by somebody in our modern age... it would also fall under copyright law. The redistribution of that work could be the subject of your prosecution in civil court due to a question of violating copyright law. Unless somebody has specifically said that you can redistribute (re-publish) a work, you are violating their rights and they can sue you for damages. Personally, I believe copyright law is a sad thing. I wish it would go away as I don't agree with the idea that we need a government-granted monopoly on a creative work to derive monetary value from it. However, in the meantime, its the law until we can get some members of congress to fix the archaic intellectual property disasters that are Title 17 and Title 35 of the US Code.

No love lost, I hope...

PS: If you want to forward this, you can do so (with the portion that I have written), in its entirety, with correct attribution for non-commercial purposes. I'm releasing this under a creative commons license (with attribution, non-commercial, no derivative works).

Monday, November 03, 2008

Growl, Snarl, Mumbles ...

People may think I'm upset... but the title of the post is just reflecting a few of the notification tools that are available throughout the various operating system platforms. Bear with me on this one as I want to get this posted before I get to bed... so... some of these sentences may be a bit rambling/run-on. I'm sorry. Here are the various tools that I've found on the different operating systems:
  • Growl - originally designed as a hack for the MacOS to get desktop notification of application events raised for user viewing without stealing applicaiton focus (The OS was MacOS 10 ... Tiger specifically... Growl... get it?). Growl was then expanded to allow for network messages to be received via UDP packets (from things like web servers and... well... you get the idea).
  • Mumbles - a Linux version of a Growl client to receive Growl messages (Mumbles also includes mumbles-send to send Growl notifications too).
  • Snarl - a Growl like application for Windows. Originally didn't take on Growl messages... but has since begun to do so with a Growl plugin. Notifications
  • Growl-for-Windows - a Growl port to Windows. This is only a few months along and is subject to wild changes as the developer works out a few problems with a short set of talent in the bullpen. Hopefully he'll be able to find some folks that are versed in .NET and webkit shortly to work out some initial problems with webkit rendering (which, if resolved, would allow Growl notification templates that are used on OSX to be used under G4W too).
So... you're saying... so what? My IM client does this! My email client does this! My... music player does this! Simple fact of the matter is that while each of these does this... there are often (1) problems with each of them or (2) the combination of them or (3) you have an application that doesn't have desktop notifications or (4) you want to be able to style your notifications or (5) you want to get notificiations from one computer to another. For any of these reasons, you may choose to use Growl for application messaging. The Growl design allows for an open exchange of messages or to close off messages behind a simple password. It really is quite neat for somebody who is consistently at their computer and working... but needs to be periodically informed about the ongoing events of various items to decide if they need to fully divert their attention or leave their attention on the task at hand.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Misinformation in Forwards

This post is in regard to an email forward that I received that was similar to the one re-posted for educational purposes on snopes.com: What does Obama read?

Perhaps we can stop this now, rather than later. I have been fighting a war against incorrect forwards for quite a while now (well, since 1995 when I first logged onto the Internet).

Forwarding incorrect information is bad. It is a hindrance to the information society that we live in today. Forwarding incorrect information about a person is not only wrong, it is legally dangerous.

When you write information that is incorrect... even by simply forwarding it... it can be considered "publishing." If what you have published is false, you are potentially subject to charges of Libel which is punishable by a cash payment of damages that result from the defamation of character that the person you libeled has suffered.

The claim, earlier in the email thread about "if this is a tru (sic) picture, I think everyone should know about it. If not, and I have offended you I'm sorry, just delete it!" When did we become so complacent in our society that if you receive mis-information you should just delete it? If somebody publishes in your local newspaper/gazette that you are a member of the Ku Klux Klan, would you just throw the newspaper away? (Please note, I'm not equating Muslims to the Ku Klux Klan, but I *am* using the reference to the Ku Klux Klan to illustrate the regard that Muslims are held, unfortunately, by many Americans in my analogy.)

Obviously, the picture shows Barrack Obama carrying a book that is definitely a book about our world "Post America." We are, of course, assuming that the picture has not been edited and that Barrack has at least been thumbing through the book. Has anybody taken a quick look around our world lately? We're not doing so hot. We have the largest debt of any nation in the world. If our energy policy continues as it's current trend, we will be faced with a trade deficit that has never been surpassed by any nation or trade group of nations. The idea that we could be replaced as a superpower is one to be considered. As we have seen in the previous months, the global picture can change quickly. Any official who isn't preparing for the worst instead of glossing things over and making everybody simply feel safe... I don't want near any elected office.

What is false is the claim that Obama is a Muslim with the claim "by a fellow Muslim." This implies Barrack Obama is Muslim. He is not.

One should also read the Snopes information about the book as well. Snopes.com has a good section about this mostly false email. Honestly, after reading the section on Snopes... after I finish my current reading list, I think I might check this book out at the public library.

Should Obama's religion make a difference? Let's leave that question alone. Instead, let's focus on one thing. The information is false. Do you want people sending you lies? ... well ... let's just stop.

Take a pledge today to either only spread your opinion unsupported (and SAY it is unsupported) and written in your words ... or support your opinions with verified facts.

PS: Stop using the To and Cc lines for forwards! Unfortunately... there are definitely some less savory possible implications to people not using your email address on the BCC line when forwarding emails to you and other people that you don't know. For instance, there are several thousand malicious software programs that exist solely to harvest the To and Cc fields and address books from infected computers for use in spam mailing lists. The long story short? Tell your friends to stop putting your email address on the To or Cc lines when sending your information that isn't specifically directed to you (and to which you are not expected to respond). Even better? Tell your friends to stop sending misinformation to you and stop cluttering the email servers of the world with forwards. If you want to share something with a group of people, publish it. I'm doing that here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mike Juggling

I went to Mike's bachelor party this weekend. We're a bunch of relatively simple guys. Nerds, but simple... this was the kind of entertainment that we enjoyed. Without further ado... Mike Juggling on a bridge of stones that we made.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The *real* amazing race

I simply had to write about the absolutely amazing race that occurred last night at the Olympic 4x100m Freestyle Relay Final. At this point, you've probably heard what happened. If you haven't seen it, you need to watch it. It was an amazing finish for a race and you haven't really experienced it till you see it yourself.
To setup:
France is favored to win the Men's 4x100 Freestyle Relay. The race consists of four swimmers in a relay. Each of them swims 100 meters (1 lap). As with most relays, when one racer touches the wall, the next guy can go. The United States had a series of different swimmers that could be members of the relay team. To conserve strength, they qualified for the final race using a set of 'B' team swimmers (they were a little slower than their best, but were good enough to get them to the final). That put the team in the final. The final relay line-up wasn't decided until very close to the race (something that isn't too unusual in team swim meets). The 'A' team for the Americans for the final was to be: Michael Phelps (lead-off), Garrett Weber-Gale (2nd), Cullen Jones (3rd) and Jason Lezak (anchor). Seventy minutes before, Phelps swam and won a gold medal in the 400m Individual Medley (IM) and Cullen Jones swam as part of the qualifying relay team earlier. Building a prediction for the relay's outcome on the career best times for the American's and the French results in the French winning the gold and the Americans trailing close behind for the silver medal. That was the favored prediction at least and the French were boasting about it to the media by saying, "the Americans? We're going to smash them. That's what we came here for."

In the end, the race resulted in an amazing finish even if the race hadn't been so close because they beat the world record by FOUR FULL SECONDS!

Completely, totally, unbelievable... Check out the streaming video of the race on NBC's olympic website. There's also a decent story that they have written about the race.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Resource FOUND: Generate OpenOffice Documents

I just found a tool that will allow me to create OpenOffice documents from within PHP. A few days ago, when I began the hunt, I located PHP DocWriter which seemed to fit the bill from the instructions... but the files that it generated in the example were noted as corrupted when I tried to read the files from OpenOffice. That doesn't give me much hope. So, I kept looking around... and today found tbsOOo. 'tbs' stands for TinyButStrong, a template engine that is as the name describes. tbsOOo is a plugin for the engine that was released nearly 2 years ago and allows you to create a file from a template. Since the companies I work with are usually working from stationary, I can create a template and have the text from a PHP form drop into it. This will make quotes (and other documents like faxes) much easier to create! Yeah for Olivier Loynot! Yeah for Olivier for releasing it via the LGPL as well!

...Now to actually try it locally!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

A present for me?

If you're looking for something to get me as a present (whatever occasion)... the best thing for me right now is money: the United States of America's designated currency, the American dollar. I thought long and hard about posting this because I feared people would think poorly of me for presuming that I in any way deserved a present. So, let me say this... if you don't think I deserve a present and/or you weren't thinking of getting me a present... ignore this post from the perspective of me. Instead, think of it from the perspective of some other person with young kids that you may have been thinking of giving a present to in the near future.

Presents, traditionally, have been given as a way to reflect how much you know about the person. That is the purpose of measuring whether something is a "good" gift for someone else... because it is typically seen as a reflection of how much you do, or don't, know about the person.

Warning: this paragraph is very me specific. I will save you some heartache over the situation. First, if you feel compelled to give me a present, that is enough for me. I don't care how "well" you know me. The fact that you want to give me a present says enough about our relationship. Additionally, I am a difficult person to comprehend what I'm "into" at any given time. My topics of interest vary broadly from day to day. One day I may be totally immersed in CSS while the next I might be reading everything I can about new circuit board industrial design techniques. The next day I might be trying to figure out how to build a solar cooker. This is further complicated by the notion that I get whatever I can for free. That means that if I can find it for free (legally) on the Internet, I'm probably consuming it there first. That said, there are definitely some things that just can't be obtained for free. For example, I can't find any sweaters, polo shirts or khakis (the style of pants, not necessarily the color) for free. If you know where to find them for free, please, tell me. Now, with that said, I have a wardrobe that is too large right now. I don't need clothes (so don't buy me any!).

Right now I need two things that are in the shortest supply: money and time. You might say, "well, that's not fair! I want to give you something that you'll hold onto and cherish for the rest of your life!" The simple fact is that there are very few things that are likely to do that for me that I can hold in my hand. Quite frankly, none of them are anything that you can give me. That might sound snobbish and/or harsh... but stick with me.

I have two young boys. Dr. Randy Pausch put it best when he said this (or something like this, I'm paraphrasing): "when you're young, trade money for time so you get more when its most valuable. When you're young, your kids are young. Pay someone to mow the lawn so you can do something fun with your kids." I hold the time that I spend with my kids very dearly. While I might use the money to pay off debt rather than pay somebody to mow my lawn (our neighbor mows our lawn for us with his riding lawn mower for free), I'm still trading money for time. I will use it to earn more time with my kids by paying down debt. Paying down debt moves me closer to being able to take extra days off from work for camping vacations and so many of the other things that I want to do with my boys.

So, if you're thinking of giving me a present, give me time by giving me money.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

It took me three evenings of casually watching this to gradually get through this amazing work. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) used to have a lecture series where they encouraged professors to produce a lecture that would reflect what they would talk about if they were giving their last lecture. Dr. Randy Pausch, professor of Computer Science at CMU provided his contribution to that lecture series after the series had ended. His last lecture, in some ways, really was his last lecture. Randy had pancreatic cancer when he have his "last lecture." He didn't talk about his kids or his family. Those, he said, were too obviously important and he knew he wouldn't make it through a lecture about them. Instead, he talked about "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." If that draws you in even a little a bit, dive in and take a look. Dr. Pausch's words offer more than the title initially reveals and it truly is something that everybody should watch. It is long, clocking in at precisely 76.45 minutes. Find the time. This is worth the lessons that this man has to share in his final months.

Without further ado, Randy Pausch's Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Monday, June 09, 2008

On Google and Free Speech SeattlePI scores a glancing blow

The Seattle Post Intelligencer has an interesting article about Google's track record on "curbing free speech."

I could go on for hours about this particular topic; it suffices to say this:
Google is operating in a multinational environment. We've seen in many cases (Iraq is a prime example) that a free-speech democratic environment isn't suitable for all societies. Perhaps, someday, our world might see a day where that case exists, however, that day is not today. I'm a firm believer that the reason why the United States of America has flourished with free speech is because of the strong educational background that most Americans enjoy as part of growing up. Is it perfect? Far from it... but it gives us a starting point. With that knowledge, we're able to learn and grow as our careers and lives progress.

While Google is, in fact, suppressing important historical information in these countries, the larger good of providing the 98% of the world's information is far more important than giving up on 1/5th or more of the world's population because the government wants a tight grip on 2% (this is likely way too high of a number, but we'll throw it out there for a number to hold on to) of the information.

I believe there will come a day for an ideals show-down between Google and the nations of the world, however, that time has not yet arrived.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

CPL is Dead: LANParties & E-Sports?

It's official that the CPL has ceased operations. In fact, this has been the case for about two months now. The big question in my mind is this: "What is next for E-Sports and how does it affect LANParties?"

In case you haven't been in on this, I ran LANParty.com for almost five years. In that time, there were good times and bad times. But the thing that ran true throughout the entire time is the possibility that LANParties may become a social hub for gamers. Its true that LANParties were a primary cause for me to come out of my shell after a tough transition from high school to college. The entire time, however, I was left with the goal that I wanted others to be able to do the same thing. That is why I helped LANParty.com to run for five+ years. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided that LANParty.com didn't need the support that I was requesting. As such, it has eventually fallen into disrepair. The LANParty organization and announcement tools released to the community in August 1998 are simply not up to the task in today's world.

So, what does that have to do with the demise of the CPL? Well, the CPL always had a tenuous relationship with many of the hosts on the LANParty scene. The CPL served to commercialize what the grassroots LANParty community had been doing on a non-commercial basis. Why is that a problem? Well, it isn't really, but it left a bad taste in the mouths of many of the hosts on the scene. Most wanted nothing to do with the CPL and it left the community hushed about who was or was not a 'cyber-athlete.' (Did I mention that I hate the use of the term cyber? I do.) This wasn't the case everywhere, but it definitely was the case in the geographic pockets that I talked to in the United States. What really needed to happen was an open system of ranking players similar to the way that chess titans are ranked. Several attempts were made at doing just that, unfortunately, they were all mired in making the system seemingly cheater proof.

Again, what does this have to do with the CPL? Unfortunately, as my career has moved forward and I've started a family... I'm not longer as deep in the gaming community as I used to be, however, I'll expound on that for a moment. I think we need a new league that isn't run by a commercial organization. Think Wikimedia (operator of Wikipedia) for gaming. The system could operate relatively simply and on donations from corporations and gamers alike. There would need to be a clear bend towards ensuring that commercialism didn't end up taking over the new league, but that could be done with a careful eye of an attentive board of directors (even if they had to be paid or perked to serve). So, why don't we have this now? Lack of willingness to compromise. Angel Munoz was right when he wrote the announcement that the CPL was finished saying, "the current fragmentation of the sport, a crowded field of competing leagues, and the current economic climate." The last one has an impact on the commercialization aspect of the CPL, however, the first two items fragmentation and competing leagues would crumble any effort to combine the community. What needs to happen is for the leagues to recognize that there isn't any way into the future except through collaboration. Each league that crumbles is a nail in the coffin for any sort of global ranking system that could be used as a basis for creating leagues.
To really see the potential and how close the CPL was, you simply need to look at the history of the NFL. Mogols owned the teams and faced them off with other teams in city leagues until the eventually they all got together, agreed on rules of how they would compete. The CPL was starting to do that. Unfortunately, they still were doing it on their rules and their turf. The sanctioning of a tournament to make it legal for ranking was a complicated process that most LANParty hosts found daunting at best with applications to be a host location. Even then, there was question about who would really be running the show (a question most LANParty hosts don't like to have asked).
In the New Era
So, in the new era, we need to have cooperation and collaboration. Just like everything else on the Internet. Methods need to be determined to create solid profiles of players to support a ranking system. Any ranking system that doesn't do this will suffer the same fate of the CPL because there just won't be enough financial support to keep it going. Think of the sheer financial support that the NFL draft system has for operations. Now consider if on top of being forced to draft players through the draft system, there was no consistent method of determining statistics for players. I digress... let's boil it down to a list:
  • A player listing system
  • A player ranking system with self reporting and methods for contesting an entry by the opponent
  • An event listing system with easy player and event management tools
  • The ability for any site to draw on and report any information in the system
If those three simple goals could be achieved, we would have a chance at creating an open electronic gaming league. There are some easy ways of doing these things now with relatively new web based technologies. Somebody just needs to do it. If you're interested in pursuing this idea, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Status of my WISP

Ahhh... So,... to report back in to the millions that are waiting with baited breath to find out how my wireless Internet service provider network is working... well... it isn't. At least not consistently. I put it up and take it down as I have the time to test it. This week will begin a new round of testing with the Oregon firmware.

The problem? Well, its been a combination of a few things, let's start with the most complicated first.

Software Complications
A deployment to allow for folks to pay for access is not available at this point because the software isn't ready. Two large hurdles still need to be overcome. First, access control using FreeRADIUS. Second, an open source billing system built on FreeRADIUS with the options I want (daily, three day, weekly, monthly, annual, bi-annual, biennial/EOY billing with a set payment schedule for the service period).

Hardware Complications
The hardware necessary to operate the wireless mesh network isn't 100% decided. I've had a bit of trouble with the Accton hardware originally distributed through "them." The devices seem to reboot unexpectedly if the power is the least bit unstable. For instance, I plugged in my outdoor unit at my in-law's house... ran it for nearly 3 hours and saw a constant reboot cycle. The only thing I can think to do on this is to build a very-mini UPS/power conditioner that I could have on hand for selected access points that have this sort of problem. If its a problem at my in-law's house... it is likely to be a problem elsewhere in the same power grid. Another option is that I select different hardware. Currently, my test units are old wireless units that were sourced from that one company that crapped on their customers last October.

Solutions Considered
I'm considering using Ubiquiti Networks equipment, but haven't yet decided that they would be a better bet at almost twice the cost. Ubiquiti seems like a very large company from their marketing. However, based upon their support and sales departments... my best guess is that they are a company of very few employees (<15). That isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm a CIO at a company that is a scant few 7 employees. The only catch with a small company is that features are slower to come out. Since the hardware that I'm using needs to be flashed with different software to be mesh capable... the question is what about the hardware gets "lost in translation." Unfortunately for Ubiquiti, the four internal omni-directional antennas are the sacrificial lambs that head for the slaughter in the name of open source firmware to support a BATMAN mesh. That means an external antenna and sends the unit towards $100/node. Boo. If the Ubiquiti equipment had a driver that would work with OpenWRT for its automatic antenna switching... the UbNt equipment would be first on my list regardless of the $49 - $79 shift from the Accton to Ubiquiti. Another flaw with the Ubiquiti equipment is the shortage of flash and RAM. This is something, apparently, that some of the guys down in Argentina from LUGRo-Mesh have figured out... sort-of. Their firmware is fitting on the 4mb-flash/16mb-RAM configurations... but they don't have a central dashboard and they don't have user restrictions (splash page click-through only). D'oh! If only the LUGRo-Mesh group would coordinate with Vacouver and Oregon/Italy! This is something that I'm going to be pushing in the coming weeks is a solid effort to push these three groups together and hopefully combine efforts.

Range Tests
My initial range tests with my stock antennas on my old equipment was actually quite promising. I was counting out 4-5 city lots. Most of the city lots in my area are easily 120ft wide. That means an initial range of about 600 ft. Add to that the fact that I was not exactly line of sight (several cars, mailboxes, shrubs etc) and I was terribly impressed. I think it may have actually hit somewhere in the range of 800-1000 feet if I hadn't goofed up the experiment by accidentally rebooting one of the nodes with a power cycle. Whoops. I'll be testing more this week (hopefully the weather will improve again... I don't want to have to rain-shield my test equipment).

As you can see, its been a busy time. My initial goal of having paying customers by "this summer" is still on track. However, my hope that my first customers would be in June is quickly fading with the passing days of May. Its still a possibility, but is fading.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This afternoon, after a rainstorm passed through, Isaac and Elijah were insisting that they wanted to go outside. Since everything was still SOAKED in the grass... there wasn't much space for them to do anything (plus, it was still lightly drizzling). So, I popped up the baby-gate on the back porch and cleared it off so there was space for them to wander around. Mind you, there wasn't anything to do there, but they wanted to go out! The back porch, while small, is covered... so we put sweatshirts on and stood around on the porch for about 10 minutes. Elijah got bored first. He demanded that he be allowed inside.

Isaac didn't want to go inside yet though. So, we stayed outside. I was able to grab the lawn chairs that have sat outside all winter and clean them up a bit. While wet, they were clean enough to sit in. After I finished, Isaac wanted to sit in one with a cup of milk. So, I grabbed a cup of milk for him and a cup of water for me. I sat in the second chair which was quite wet. It was worth it though. While we sat there, Isaac proclaimed that there were two chairs that there were birds in the trees saying tweet, tweet... and that they were flying in the sky. We also talked about the cars in the driveway and that they weren't crashing because, "we don't crash cars." A lesson that we've been working with on his toy cars that I hope sticks with him through life.

Sitting there with my first little boy, watching the world around us and seeing him with the capability to express what he saw was priceless... I saw more than ever that he's not just my first little boy anymore... he's my first big boy.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A ridiculous patent

US Patent 6816878 - A system for providing a warning signal to a plurality of persons and/or locations on a geographic basis comprising...

Okay. I understand the spirit in which this patent was awarded. However, the awarded language is too general. I'm looking at this and I can't imagine how a whole slew of systems don't infringe on this patent! It is, in fact, stifling innovation. I cannot, in effect, do any of the following:
  • use Asterisk (an open source Private Branch Exchange suite used to control office phone systems) to create a call list of any kind. The call list must be manually entered to prevent infringement.
  • use any mailing list for distribution of information on an alert basis. I can remember using Lyris ListManager in about 1998 to sub-divide groups of individuals for sending information about events in a particular geographic area.
Let's think of a few things:
  • How does the national amber alert system work? Probably infringing.
  • How does the "Reverse 9-1-1" system work that was used to warn (with a call) those that were threatened by California wild fires in October 2007? Probably infringing.
  • The systems for sending cell phone alerts to college students if something bad is happening on the campus (think Virginia Tech April 2007)
Never mind the suggestion of prior art ... Do we really want such necessary items to be "protected" from use without licensing to these two guys?

Call to Action
Let's get this thrown out based on prior art. The patent was filed February 11, 2000 and issued November 9, 2004. If you can think of anything else that can be evidence of prior art (in other words, it had provable existence prior to the filing date) write about it in the comments below. Thanks.