20 years later…

My first computer was an Apple II plus. 20 years later I have my second Apple, this time a Powerbook. My favorite part so far? I was able to determine my MAC address by dropping down to a shell prompt and typing ‘ifconfig’.

Milestone: today my wife and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary.

Colds, FreeBSD, ebay

The family caught a cold this week. Daddy, mommy and baby all stayed home yesterday and today. Since I do most of my work at the computer, I was able to stay reasonably productive.

In my free moments I’ve been getting a spare machine set up with FreeBSD to expand my horizons. Thanks for the CDs, Mike! Things are going reasonably smoothly though I have to continually re-calibrate my sense of what is “standard” UNIX (where’s /etc/inittab?). Up and running: samba, rsync, aolserver4.

My very first item for sale on ebay now has three bids!

Attempting ebay

Yesterday I set up an ebay seller’s account to try and unload some of my unused electronics in an environmentally friendly manner. You know, give them a good home. The process was pretty painless. Slick even. Especially the multitudinous ways ebay has found to extract a few bucks here, a few bucks there from you. I put my first item up for sale, and already have one whole bid. How exciting. Let’s hope I don’t get hooked and wind up like this guy 🙂

OSCOM wrap-up

First, some quotes

“I am a sociologist. I study open source programmers.”

“She works for SUN!”

“What I want…I want not to be like what you just said.”

“Brent’s law of CMS URLs: the more expensive the CMS, the crappier the URLs”

CMSes that seem to have traction

There were lots of talks by CMS vendors. The following CMSes stood out as the subjects of talks by people who are deploying with them:

WebGUI – To be used by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard

TYPO3 – In production at the University of Missouri/Rolla

Zope Content Management Framework – Powers the next version of Boston.Com, which will be going live some time this week

Open source: what and why

A recurring theme was what it means to be open source and why to be open source. The first panel on Wednesday had representatives from several open source companies. They were charged with answering the question, can you make money with open source? The answer was of course, “yes, and the fact that we’re here proves it.” But this is a glib answer because it doesn’t take long-term viability into account.

A poignant answer came from Ed Kelly, an attorney who services a number of VC firms. He summarized the VC viewpoint thusly

It’s hard to make money from software no matter what. You give up certain business advantages by being open source, so you’d better be able to a) show that you planned to be open source all along
rather than having stumbled into it b) point to specific business advantages that motivated your choice.

The open source companies pointed to the marketing and labor advantages of being open source.

I was mildly disappointed that this panel was oriented towards business. Profits are concrete and indisputable. From a pure business perspective it’s hard to argue for giving up a revenue stream. Well I guess it’s the Ph.D. in me, but I would have really enjoyed more discussion about philosophy and the effects of economic models on innovation and distribution of wealth.

In his keynote, Dave Winer asked the end users in audience why they would choose open source over commercial software (he didn’t like the term “proprietary”). The consensus was:

1. I don’t want my data locked in a closed format.

2. I want to be able to pay someone to fix bugs in this program five and ten years from now.

Dave pointed out that these goals can be accomplished with software that is not freely redistributable. Some of Userland’s products, for example, ship with source code because Dave knew that a small portion of users would actually inspect and maybe change it. Dave’s assumption was that this wouldn’t lead to massive amounts of unauthorized redistribution. This is an interesting middle ground. Another option batted around was the idea of putting source code in escrow, so that consumers wouldn’t be helpless if the producer went out of business or otherwise failed to fix bugs.

Okay this isn’t everything but I’m tapped out.

Three rings

Lately we’ve been letting the phone ring during dinner time, since usually these calls are from telemarketers. We noticed that most of the ignored calls terminate after three rings, even though our machine waits for four or five rings before picking up. Theory: telemarketers hang up after three rings. If true, I’m happy to wait until the fourth to pick up. But why would telemarketers hang up after three? According to this article at http://www.stretcher.com (scroll down to Third Ring Response), the auto-dialers hang up after three rings to avoid paying for a connections to answering machines. Right on!

Cows and Mexican food

Long day today.

Earlier I read a printed-out copy of 99cows, downloaded (legally!) from scripting.com. It’s an enjoyable if somewhat breathless read. Steel yourself for repeated use of unfamiliar terms like “sneezer”, “otaku” and “purple” (to refer to something other than color). Presumably these make sense to someone who has read Godin’s other works. I got sneezer and purple but haven’t figured out otaku yet.

One thing that caught my eye was cow #77, the Ambient Orb. I thought, “hey, they should open up the programming APIs for this thing.” Well, it looks like they have. Cool!

I do think that Godin says something useful and true though he focusses 100% on the positive. For all we know, 99 out of 100 companies exhibiting the traits he describes have failed. So the book may or may not be a prescription for success, but in any case it inspires. I bet he would have included ArsDigita had it survived.

Mexican food for dinner tonight. The waitstaff kept calling us “amigo”. Sounds tacky, but it was actually kind of nice. Or was that the effect of the margaritas?


If you live near Boston you really owe it to yourself to get over to the Arnold Arboretum. We went there for a picnic yesterday and it was beautiful.

Before heading off to bed last night I read E.L. Doctorow’s story in this week’s New Yorker, at Philip’s suggestion. What a great, subversive piece. I say “subversive” because I think that Doctorow was getting at something more general about people, using the theme of religious communities as a vehicle. So we’ll all nod and say “what a fool that man is”, without realizing that we do the same thing in other parts of our lives.

No respect

The Qwest DSL people called again. They’re having a promotion where the first month is free. After that it’s$140/month for their cheapest grade of month-to-month service. I told the salesman that I am able to meet my business needs with a $40/month cable modem. He said, “Aren’t you interested in the promotion?”. C’mon Qwest, insulting us is not the way to get new business.