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Straw Poll: Pro-Cancel Culture?

26-Apr-19 11:52 am EDT Leave a comment

On Net.Etiquette

26-Apr-19 11:25 am EDT Leave a comment

Recently, I had another discord.gg altercation which has seen me withdraw completely from the chat service for the foreseeable future. Admittedly, I’m growing weary of the “clique” mentality that pervades the system, and in particular with the emotions of those involved somehow growing so completely out of control (from my perspective) that, initially at least, there’s little sense to be made of it. It’s not that the complaints people may have are totally without merit (although invariably they are coming from a what seems a narrowly-defined group). It’s that I can’t understand how something like an inadvertent breach of etiquette could lead to someone becoming so angry as to label another person as ‘evil’ or ‘irredeemable’ — particularly when the consequences of doing so may simply lead to others who don’t share their own extreme reaction as feeling uncomfortable or out of place. Another consequence to this are those who react this way becoming stressed out themselves, which is the last thing I want to contribute to.

I’m writing about this issue with a degree of historical perspective and as someone who finds human beings conflicted, irrational and difficult to understand in most cases. This can lead to intolerance, belligerence and worse behaviours in some; although I must make the point that this isn’t a defense of my own behaviour nor intended to characterize me as “the victim”. But a recent straw poll of those in my own life (and on social media) leads me to conclude the people generally feel that when there’s evidence someone has violated a convention or social norm they should be spoken to instead of ostracized. So why has the discord service proven to be so different for me?

Once upon a time, many years back, there was a form of what’s now considered “social media” called NNTP or network news. At the time, it was unbeknownst to myself and my first business partner posting advertisements or discourse related to one’s own business ventures was considered “poor etiquette”. So when we decided to announce our new consulting business opening up online, we were somewhat shocked at the response being almost universally negative. Here we were trying to make a valued contribution and getting effectively black-listed for going about it the wrong way. Of course nowadays, the NNTP-like service called Reddit is host to ads aplenty and the etiquette changed radically — not necessarily because people started clamouring for ads to appear at some point. Regardless of how it came to be, what once yielded hate e-mail spamming ones mailbox changed to “acceptable” behaviour.

This isn’t to say that at some future date streaming a discord server won’t go the same way. (It probably won’t, in fact.) But auto-streaming to twitch, YouTube or Mixer (or any of 50 other services) is growing in popularity and contributes value by donating content. It might not be the most popular content, but it is a form of content contributed for the general consumption of all. Add to this the streaming brokers like OBS or Mixer (I think they have a utility that streams to their online site as well as YouTube) or others providing a means of controlling how and what content is presented and you have a recipe for updates to influence what gets published; all potentially without the direct knowledge of the presenter. Or perhaps one of the hundreds of discord updates that occur every year impacts presentation in an unfamiliar or unexpected way.

And then if this scenario prevails and people’s voices were heard from a discord server in a stream without advance permission: we have an apparent breach of etiquette with evidence. It might seem perfectly legitimate to consider me guilty of surreptitiously trying to broadcast content behind the backs of those on a private server, right?

Ignoring for a moment that “secretly” trying to do anything in public online is at best contradictory and at worst outright stupid, the question persists does such a breach of etiquette warrant labelling as “irredeemable” or even being kicked out of a social group (even one online)? And without being given the opportunity to try to explain what might have happened or examine the evidence particularly when the offending party had thought he’d been given permission at one point to continue a stream with parties on the server in question present (although I’d taken such permission to apply only to one specific stream — not a carte blanche permission to stream all the content that would ever be posted)? Evidence alone as it appeared was enough all without context.

For these reasons, it is my view that discord generally needs to be taken down a notch. It simply isn’t right that people are targeted in this fashion. And I did speak with a number of others who’d either themselves experienced the “clique” mentality I’m speaking of or who had been banned from servers (thus separating them from social groups) on the basis of what may seem dubious circumstances involving many different social dynamics. But to summarize, I posit that a violation of etiquette is not just cause to start slandering or hating your fellow human beings.

Discord, for its part, may not be to blame here in any way. There are those who want to “burn the whole world down” and do nothing but cause trouble and mayhem. That’s why discord lets you ban people, fundamentally, I think. Another chat service several years ago called “IRC” seemed to not have these same problems. But if people react in a rational fashion to social challenges and use the technology in a constructive way I think discord could be a very useful and powerful tool indeed.

Right now, it just seems to promote cliques and clique behaviour. And I question who, if anyone, that’s helping.

I should at this juncture for my growing English audience (or so the analytics say) make a few quick points to address potential interest:

  • if I did a stream on the discord Elite server in question, it was more out of habit and typically with a mind to disable channel dialogue from making to the broadcast (although in 1 case I believe it was deliberate)
  • if a deliberate streaming happened, it was done under the following circumstances:
    • I thought I had permission to do so, and/or
    • I didn’t think it a serious breach of etiquette at the time for some mindless reason; and
    • I have streamed on other servers before, including my own without issue.
    • NO EFFORT was made to sneak it by without the group’s awareness (as should be evidenced by it being public, unless you truly think me THAT stupid)
  • it may also be relevant to keep in mind that discord visualizations (which until tonight I wasn’t even aware were activated) DO NOT transmit into the V/R environment without the involvement of 3rd party software, which I do not use; those who think the profile icons of users on the server should somehow have clued me into what was going on are incorrect
  • I’ve counted 3 cases total during my own investigation, thus far, where streaming occurred and these are, at the admin’s “cease and desist” request, removed. If there are still others unaccounted for, you should:
    • send a message to me using discord or, if you have it, my commander’s email address with the URL included
    • notwithstanding the above deletions, there were a total of 9 sessions auto-cast to YouTube from the date I first stated using the server, to my best recollection; most of which seemed free of offending traffic
  • I will continue investigating all content and re-post sessions thought to be free of dialogue from the discord server in question.

On my YouTube channel, there was one case where I’d mistakenly cited the availability of this server as part of a larger service offering. I’ve posted a comment to the video (with highlighted reference on the video itself using YouTube’s rather broken tools for text editing overlays) citing the reference and this correction, but I do so again here to come completely clean on the subject.

I believe it is important for all to keep in mind that each of us is human and quite fallible. Pointing out errors tactfully isn’t the problem, however. We’re all capable of mistakes and errors in judgement, both on and off discord. And as Facebook scandals continue to erupt (something that’s likely to persist for the foreseeable future), chat services like discord are likely to only increase in popularity. Hopefully, as this type of social media grows we can all adopt standards of behaviour and etiquette that will serve to keep people growing their communities instead of limiting ourselves to serving baser instincts.

Let’s try to end “cancel culture”.

Fly safe, commanders!

Planets With Atmospheres: Almost Available?

26-Apr-18 03:00 pm EDT Leave a comment

 

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Frontier staff have recently been heard hinting that planet atmospheres could be gradually rolled into players’ Elite Dangerous Experience soon!

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or me, a veteran Elite CMDR who has been playing various versions of the game since its introduction in 1983 (yes — I am that old) being able to interact with planets regardless of whether they have an atmosphere or not is simply a basic feature.  Although the initial release of Elite back in 1983 offered only single-planet star systems where the “planet” was really just a line-art circle (whose surface would result in the loss of your Cobra Mk III craft if you ran into it), Elite II and Elite II: Frontier both enabled you to take off from partially-terraformed moon Merlin in the Ross 154 star system.  There, one could see the reddish sky and the eerie gas giant Aster dominating the skyline from the tarmac of the local starport with the lights of a nearby domed city also in-view.  Elite Dangerous has taken us back in some respects to an earlier time when such extravagances as being blasted to dust for not requesting tower clearance prior to liftoff from said planet-bound starport was but a glint in David Braben’s eye.  (Braben is, of course, the mastermind behind the Elite franchise as well as the original programmer.)

CMDR ObsidianAnt who runs an extremely popular running commentary on Elite Dangerous shares with us in his latest YT-cast a preview of what might (and should) be coming throughout 2018 and perhaps 2019 by merging the view of an Asp Explorer spaceframe with a short demo of worlds created using a tool called Space Engine, available for download here.  ObsidianAnt says that Space Engine and Elite Dangerous are “two very different pieces of software” in his video, but perhaps not being a software developer himself he’s missing some background.  Whatever code is used as the basis for Space Engine, I’m extremely skeptical at the outset that the two titles (the other being Elite Dangerous) can’t be integrated.  True, there are numerous tasks associated with software integration methodology, but speaking as a systems developer (my own strength) I’ve been tasked with taking two “very different” pieces of software and experienced some degree of success in getting the job done several times in my career.  Superficially, I’m not seeing any architectural issues or other seemingly insurmountable challenges.  Frontier Developments has a very capable team of software engineers, obviously — and it would be something just short of unimaginable to say a 3rd-party product like Space Engine can’t be made to work with Elite.

Of course, one must keep in mind the console platforms which might introduce challenges I could, in fact, not imagine.  But on the PC, it’s unlikely to my mind the effects we’re seeing in Space Engine can’t be successfully migrated to Elite Dangerous.  At the very least having a perusal of the Space Engine source could cultivate stronger implementations of atmospheres on the worlds of Elite Dangerous.

If you have a different take on this subject, please chime in with a comment below.

And regardless of the timeliness of new feature intros to the game — kudos to Frontier Developments, creators of Elite Dangerous, for creating a truly immersive and enjoyable spaceflight sim.  We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for that next “big thing” to come out….we know you won’t let us down!

The Future of Elite Dangerous: The Great In-Game Debate

25-Jan-18 11:31 pm EST Leave a comment
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MDRs IronJaguar and SoapyKnight joined me in an unarranged VoiceComms chat session this evening to discuss wing options.

Or so I thought.  Suddenly, we were talking about VR gaming and the collective disappointment with how long new features were taking to be rolled into the Elite: Dangerous universe.  As a software developer myself, I’m acutely familiar with how it’s produced.  Prior experience with the world’s largest software production company, Microsoft, has helped that education and acquaint me with the most modern practices involved with the full software development lifecycle.  I thought I’d bring this view to a pair of gaming consumers; one from New York and another a fellow Canadian who lives relatively close, geographically (which is not a given in the world’s second-largest country).  CMDR IronJaguar, in particular, laid the heaviest expectations on Frontier (the producer of the Elite game series).  Could he be convinced to be more understanding of the issues involved in producing Elite: Dangerous?  And what about Frontier’s competitors?  Where is Star Citizen?  What about EndSpace and From Other Suns?  Could they pose a threat to Elite’s dominance in the VR flight sim market at some point?

Watch today’s gaming session here to find out!

Elite Dangerous Universe: Calendar dates?

24-Jan-18 10:39 am EST Leave a comment
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ello CMDRs!  It turns out that the date on the Elite Universe timebar (3304) is pretty close to the same day of the week we experience in 2018:

January 3304

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As you can see from the above, today ‘s date in 3304 (January 24th) falls on a Thursday, while in 2018 it is obviously a Wednesday.

Just another interesting fact about the gameplay of Elite, brought to you by CMDR Trium!

Follow the Adventures of the FNS Quantica!

22-Jan-18 01:41 pm EST Leave a comment

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CMDR Trium Augus, January 3304

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he year is 3304 and mankind has started to explore the galaxy in earnest with tens of thousands of humans fanning out across the cosmos thanks to affordable spacecraft being made available to people from various walks of life: explorers, bounty hunters, miners, exothropoligists and many others.  Supported by other companies like Universal Cargographics, Cannon Research, the Aegis Corporation, DeLacy Spacecraft, Lakon Spaceways and many others, this intrepid group together with (the real) Frontier software development company has created an environment spanning our Milky Way galaxy, including 400+ billion unique star systems containing a smattering of eyeball-catching astronomical phenomena.  Herein, spacecraft commanders (CMDRs) complete on missions for starport or political factions, pursue community goals with galactic impact and/or further the ambitions of humanity in their own unique way, or just trade ferrying cargo from one system that’s in demand in another.  Against this background, you can follow the adventures of CMDR Trium Augus (yours truly) and watch the epic saga of those he deals with unfold.  This is just the beginning of a universe Frontier calls “Elite Dangerous” and is the brainchild of David Braben; who created an old game for 8-bit computing platforms (like the Apple //e or Commodore-64) called “Elite” back in the mid-1980s.  It is upon the legacy of the game (and its successors in the 1990s) that Elite Dangerous is built.

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Click to launch INARA Radio player – which accompanies you playing Elite Dangerous!

Ongoing coverage of the events in this make-believe universe are presented in digest form here.  But I encourage every reader to visit The AppRefactory Inc. on YouTube as soon as you’re finished with content presented here.  My story is one handled in a video presentation that gains new contributions almost daily through the winter months and weekly at other points during the year.

Hope you’ll visit us soon!

Other background info on CMDR Trium is available at the following sites:

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Other websites supporting CMDRs in the universe of Elite Dangerous:

A Solid Programming Intro (for Beginners)

07-Dec-17 08:38 pm EST Leave a comment

 

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Microsoft Virtual Academy: Introduction to Programming with Python (#8360)
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re you new to the world of programming?  I keep telling people it’s really quite simple and if one applies themselves, it’s something everyone can get into if they’re really that interested.  And no – you don’t have to go to College/University to learn how!

So what’s a good place to get into the world of software development fast and see if it’s something that might interest you?  Recently, I decided now would be an opportune time for me to pick up yet another programming language: Python.  It’s been getting a fair bit of attention lately and can be useful I discovered when exploring the emerging world of Artificial Intelligence (AI).  In fact, I did study AI while attending a pre-law programme at the University of Manitoba many years ago.  (Will forego saying how many.)  There I was able to get into the world of AI through an unlikely major: Philosophy.  The Computer Science (Comp. Sci.) programme wasn’t offering any curriculum in the universe of AI yet and it would be a few more years before the Internet made programming attractive as a career choice for me.  But I’d already taken an Intro Comp. Sci. course with prerequisites waived by the Dean of Arts and had amassed a fair bit of technical skill through my exploration of computers as a personal interest.  I knew the opportunity to study AI wouldn’t likely come again while I was at school so I signed myself up.

What has any of this to do with Python?  Well, some feel that being a self-taught programmer puts one at a kind of disadvantage.  I feel strongly they’re wrong about that — although there is a lot of reading one needs to do to get up to speed on programming theory and data management before they can safely claim they’ve got a Comp. Sci. equivalency.  And then there’s the environment of a University that just can’t get replaced.  Even so, online study can make you a productive resource in many organizations including those that don’t offer employment to anyone missing a Comp. Sci. degree (or lacking the opportunity to get one).  I came across a curriculum in picking up Python that offers a performance transcript and even a certification for paying customers.  The curriculum itself is, however, freely available and geared toward the new programmer.

Why might an experienced programmer take this course?  As one of the instructors points out, a programming language is like a spoken language in that if one doesn’t use the skill, it can become “rusty” and eventually even require retraining.  So while tempted to dive right into Python syntax, you might find it helpful to take the two-day course or at least challenge the exams that come with it (at least the paid edition, which is reasonably priced by the vendor, Microsoft) and re-verify that you’re up to speed.

Alternatively, if you’re in a .NET Certification programme, you can find that this material will nicely compliment the other available materials out there.

This course wins a rare 5-stars from me!

Keybase Brings Free Security to Novice Users

02-Sep-17 11:59 pm EDT Leave a comment
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GP encryption is not new – quite the opposite.  But it’s always had one big advantage over its leading competitor: S/MIME.  S/MIME is used to encrypt email using certificate-based, 3rd-party authentication whereas PGP relies on dual, private/public key encryption.  And thanks both to S/MIME gaining commercial vendor support relatively early, coupled with being easier than the open-source-supported PGP (with relatively primitive tools that required some degree of technical competency to master); those wanting to encrypt email easily had to deal with investing in 3rd party certificates that could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars before the feature was available.

KeybaseThanks to Edward Snowden, we’re all now pretty-well acquainted with the notion we’ve lost privacy and will likely never get it back.  But even so, that doesn’t mean the government (or God-knows-who nowadays) ought to have carte blanche to read chats, emails or become privy to what you’re downloading via bitTorrent or what cash you’re exchanging with parties online.  (At least not until tax time.)  And a tool that works on all platforms big and small, like Keybase, is now available to assist with all of the above!

To begin, it’s best to start on a Mac or Windows environment – somewhere where the configuration utility can operate.  The system does a pretty decent job of talking one through the process of setting up one’s first PGP (security) keys and getting the app installed.  However, one improvement for the future might be getting this utility (also called a “CLI” or “command-line interface”) to work within a web browser so one can perform the entire process using a hand-held device.  Once the software is installed, one finds installed an icon in their system tray (on Windows) which will present the list of users and some very heavily shaded icons (despite) which are used to access other parts of the Keybase app.  The CLI also has its own icon deployed to the Windows ‘Start’ menu and this is where you can quickly access many of the features associated with setup.  In my case, I already had PGP keys and so using the CLI was a necessary part of the setup.  Regardless, to get acquainted with the CLI and how it works with setup, I’d begin by loading up a copy of the “new user” docs in a web browser.  Then in the CLI utility, run two commands:

First, run “keybase help” to see what commands are instantly available to you as a new, unregistered user (there are a few), and

Second,, run “keybase signup”.

Finally, I’d quickly read through the “basic docs” you have open in your browser and drill down into any areas where you have questions.  Still more questions about Keybase and maybe PGP?  I strongly advise you get a Reddit account if you’ve not already got one and access the group called r/Keybase.  You’ll find this well-trafficked!

Although the Keybase app (accessed from the system tray) links to several choice apps, PGP is extremely versatile and plug-ins exist for Microsoft Outlook 2016 (and earlier) and is used with numerous other applications.

If there is a down-side to the app, there is a concern that — since a Keybase account can be used with several keys — it could be possible for someone to associate 2 keys (which typically involve two email addresses being known) together and thereby create an identity profile on a Keybase user.  This is a security concern, although an obvious workaround would be to register PGP keys to separate Keybase accounts and thereby never expose oneself.  Keybase itself claims it never advertises personal details, but if one connects to another user (say, for secure chat) and exchanges their public key; in such a case the potential would exist for that 3rd party to disclose your email at their discretion.  (This itself isn’t a security flaw, but it is something to be mindful of when exchanging data security regardless of the means used.)

Yelp E-Mails Rooking in Small Business!

18-Dec-16 10:47 am EST Leave a comment
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perating as a small business owner, on a couple of occasions in the past I’ve encountered people that are something less than honest.  This is not the norm by any means — and yet one realizes early on to keep a wary eye for those few wolves who fashion themselves guardians of the hen house, so to speak….

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A bit of research can be an eye-opener too, which is why I’m kind of kicking myself for not seeing these folks coming from a mile off: Yelp.com

 

 

I recently received a $300 advertising coupon, alike the sort I’ve received from advertisers like Google.com in the mail.  You enter a coupon code somewhere and get to try out the service.  I took advantage of such an offer from Yelp in late October of this year — only to start getting transactions mysteriously showing up on my credit card earlier this month, contrary to expectations.

I had taken advantage of the coupon at the time, which did not explicitly advertise there would be debits automatically starting once the $300 had been used up.  Nor was I able to readily determine at any point how much of the credit was used.

Finally, when a December bill appeared, I immediately contacted Yelp to cancel any advertising services that might have been procured.  I was concerned that it wasn’t generating any business for me and that they were keeping records of user credit card numbers (a practice with which I have issues for both reasons of personal security and privacy).

Contact with Staff was Terse and Unhelpful

The amount of the bill wasn’t too substantial – less than $100 in Canadian funds.  However, despite taking this as an opportunity to build a positive customer experience, they responded to my concerns as “threatening” them (when I mentioned I would be describing my interactions with customer service here on my blog) and trying to get out of paying the bill, stopping short of calling me a thief outright.  This attitude was evident despite my attempts to voice my concerns to two different parties by phone – the only emails I could receive from them seemed to be automated messages aimed at billing.

After encountering two highly confrontational staff I thought it incumbent to characterize my experience as objectively as I could for the benefit of others seeking a review of the Yelp service.

 Doesn’t Follow its Own Advice on Handling Complaints

Yelp’s own advice on the subject of end-user reviews is as follows¹:

Either way, when responding to reviews it is important to have good practices established to make sure your organization and your [customer]’s privacy are protected. In both scenarios, the goal should be to take the conversation offline and to a private channel.

It’s my considered opinion Yelp did not follow it’s own advice in my particular case, nor does it do so when it comes to the privacy of others; whether they are customers or simply users of its service(s):

  • retaining credit card information can be a license for the unscrupulous to simply debit amounts indefinitely regardless of customer intent; such as when a company doesn’t bother to take the spending intentions of customers into account and charges for services they don’t want; effectively taking a nickel-and-dime approach to earning profit rather than promoting & selling services on the strength of their own merit, and
  • allowing customer service staff to become confrontational with customers is both unnecessary and inexcusable.  Worse still, Yelp made virtually no effort to “take the conversation offline”, instead calling my intention to review my interactions with them a “threat” and insisting they’d continue with the charges.

It’s certainly accurate to say I can’t describe my own experience with Yelp as necessarily representative of those one would have with the company and it does appear many have had positive experiences with them.  However, I can equally accurately say that my experience was anything but positive from the perspective of a customer and there are many on Facebook and other alternate online sources who report difficulties as well.  I can also state with certainty that given my concerns, treated as they were, will result in my never considering business with them again in the future.

Epilogue

My experience also left me with the impression that Yelp is a company governed less by technology innovation and more by a very single-minded focus on earnings from its advertising business.  (Although it was not necessarily my intention at the outset to demand no-cost settlement of the bill they sent me, this became an issue when they declined to discuss my concerns in good faith.)  In the future, I’m likely to seek out Microsoft, Google or WordPress when considering online advertising.  Even should this prove to be more expensive, both companies seem to be paying a lot greater attention to their advertising clientele.

Follow-ups to this story may appear here, should any occur.

¹ See https://www.yelpblog.com/2016/12/experts-guide-patient-privacy-online-reviews near the subheading “Example 1” for source.

Police Requests for New Internet Powers Could Cost You Big

19-Nov-16 07:29 pm EST Leave a comment

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anada’s CBC (a leading media and news organization in the country) promoted a story this past week concerning a very public request to the senior politicians for greater investigative powers.  This was followed by a poll that showed a degree of support for the police requests – seemingly predicated on a desire to curb child pornography among other crimes.  While civil libertarians and technology professionals raised the alarm on hearing this request, there was only limited consideration given to the cost of granting powers of this sort to police – tied largely to the cost of potentially onerous data warehousing by ISPs.  (As a footnote here, I want to cite the case of the UK which, this past week, saw Parliament enact legislation that would be largely in-line with the kinds of legislative change the RCMP would like to see enacted here in Canada.)

“Two parliamentary committees examined this issue.  Then there was the unanimous Supreme Court [of Canada] decision.  What part of ‘unconstitutional’ doesn’t [RCMP] Commissioner Paulson understand?”

Michael Harris, iPolitics.ca, November 25, 2016

Privacy and Internet Commerce

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anadians (and people generally) can still be very reluctant to share their personal information online.  A recent website delivered by The AppRefactory — the Edgewater Tenants’ Community Website — has been off to something of a slow start with the administration fielding questions about why an end-user’s address is needed as part of the signup process.  This is done with the awareness and limited support from the property management company that acts as the landlord which has data about every tenant’s address, yet that same information is not so readily volunteered when it takes digital form.  The information in this case is used to simply verify that an end-user signup request is for a tenant as opposed to some random user from the Internet; in order to ensure that any information a tenant elects to access or share on the site is kept within the tenant community only.  As such it is a measure intended to protect tenant privacy, but there can still be reluctance about sharing it.

This is just an example of how users have adapted over the years to safeguard their privacy.  Yet now the police want measures taken by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to circumvent privacy to such a degree that they will never again be aware of who exactly has access to their information.  (We saw in another article posted this past week how police could access computer records without appropriate authorization or authority.)  And should police officers once again demonstrate how human they can be and make a mistake, suddenly the information they’ve been entrusted with is available to parties unknown.

Such cases, once known to the public (as they will tend to be, thanks to our free press), could easily put end-users further on the defensive about their information.  And, despite poll results suggesting some support for increased police powers, there remains the likelihood the average person in Canada (which, historically, tends to be a person that trusts police authority) hasn’t thought the issue through very thoroughly and certainly not technically.  The regime Canadians will be confronted with, whatever their decision about the powers police should have online, could easily be one business is less well-able to thrive in and would find it harder to operate in without being less able to solicit end-user consent and confidence meaningfully.

And they wouldn’t know it until it really was too late.

New Powers Add Onerous Burdens on All Business (Not Just ISPs)

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he legislation in the UK does not specifically distinguish nor give license to ISPs to operate or grant any special legal distinction to them apart from providers of Internet-facing services generally.  As such it would seem to stand as a matter of law that anyone providing Internet-facing services could be compelled to maintain logs concerning end-user activity.  From a technical perspective, the law wouldn’t be all that meaningful if it couldn’t extend, for example, to providers of Virtual Private Network (VPN) services which are frequently used to both secure corporate communications online as well as anonymize network access to  BitTorrent media sharing sites or “Deep Web” network traffic.

msazurelogoSo the law must apply to businesses using the Internet equally (or at least be seen to apply as such).  And how will the small business be impacted when they’re suddenly required to maintain a database documenting (as the RCMP want) up to two years of end-user activity?  One approach we could use would be to use Microsoft Azure’s service calculator to take a service that uses a very modest 5GB of data monthly to track data transfer activity for a service, numbering just 10,000 transactions.  Without any service connections, charging just for the storage of table-based data only, we get an added cost of $409.00 per month, including a $364.00 Standard Support feature on local redundancy only.  (Nothing could immediately be found on legislative requirements for backing up this data, but a vendor support feature seemed logical to imagine in this scenario.)  That’s a not-so-inconsiderable $4,900 per year and is getting pricey for the average small business.

Now if you run a big business, things get interesting: scaled up to 5TB of data and 1 million transactions, the costs at the same level of support (with local redundancy only) balloon out to $5,223.68 per month or a whopping $62,684.16 per year.

These costs are certainly something to consider when it comes to determining who is paying for all this extra monitoring.  One thing is clear, it won’t be coming out of the RCMP’s budget!

And although this is the costs according to one vendor, it is an industry leader in a space oft-credited with reducing the costs associated with maintaining large warehouses of data (a main selling point behind “the cloud” movement).  One shudders to think how much more onerous these costs could become if one is required by law to maintain hardware and software of their own, in a facility that is solely under their own control.

Final Analysis: Restrain Police Powers Online

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ith passage of the UK legislation this past week, the Government of Canada may be best-advised to stay the course for now and weigh its options again at a later date if it chooses.  While I suspect both in the wake of Brexit and their now police powers law (called the “Investigatory Powers Bill”) will lead the UK (and England in particular) into a self-made socio-economic crisis, there remains the question as to what exactly the impact of their measures will have.  The opportunity here isn’t to regulate early and hopefully stop child sexual abuse — a cause I’m very sympathetic to and have even had occasion to assist police with.  Rather, it’s to gain the wisdom about whether the impacts of these measures will simply drive it further underground or make a meaningful difference (as opposed to being an issue cited simply as a political red herring to grant powers that will be used for other purposes).  To discover whether the economic impact is too burdensome.  And to learn comprehensively if there will be the promised ‘greater good’ worthy of the limits a free and democratic society — a just society — places on itself and its citizens.

Project “ARTeRMis” Site Published

15-Nov-16 12:25 am EST Leave a comment

spedgewaterico1024

Link to “Edgewater” Tenant Site Prototype

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roperty Management Application(currently code-named Project “ARTeRMis”) moved a step closer to delivery of a much larger property management tool based on Microsoft SharePoint today with publication of one of the trial components: “Edgewater“. This component is simply an amalgamation of a number of different elements native to SharePoint, but hosted in the Office 365 environment and is setup to product test the suitability of them for inclusion in the TRM (Tenant Relationship Manager) application delivery going forward.

Artermis will ultimately be heavily dependent on Office 365, SharePoint and ASP.NET MVC when it ships; currently forecast for initial delivery sometime in 2017.

Facebook Move May Cause Greater Secrecy About Data (Ab)Use

08-Nov-16 04:04 pm EST Leave a comment
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ata use in violation of Facebook’s licensing agreement for developers has prompted the company to intervene to halt distribution of an insurance industry app that would have used end-user data (shared by consent) to track social media behaviour and qualify some for discounts on insurance rates.  Facebook claims it has a policy to prohibit such use — but the move raises questions around privacy and whether or not Facebook acted in its own interests; possibly masking a hidden intent to mentize similar apps later itself.  Regardless, one consequence is likely: nothing stops an app developer from not disclosing the true intent behind acquiring user data nor even offering a misleading or untrue rationale for data capture.  This could simply mean England’s “Admiral Insurance” is last case of this kind we hear about.

For more information, see the attached segment from Canada’s CBC News:

Fresh New Look for The AppRefactory Inc.

03-Nov-16 09:23 am EDT Leave a comment
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fter 3+ years hosted at Weebly.com, it was time to finally take The AppRefactory Inc. company website into a modern hosting environment with features and integration potential that would allow us to demonstrate, albeit in brief, what ASP.NET MVC could offer.  Dynamic product listings with breadcrumb sub-navigation, upload sections for partner contracts and résumés; and database-driven contact forms that make it easier than ever (and convenient) to stay in touch are all just the beginning.  In the days ahead we still expect to add:

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The AppRefactory Inc. website redeployment announcement graphic: http://apprefactory.ca

  • Links to customer features site (requiring login) via Office365, Visual Studio (online ed.) and SharePoint,
  • Highlights and links to ongoing software development currently being undertaken by the company,
  • Book time online with a consultant to review your software service needs or setup an in-depth remote service session online through HackHands.com,
  • Subscription for partner companies and contacts looking for email updates consultant availability and/or major site & service offering revisions, and
  • Links to WindowsStore.com and related sites for specific product integrations (Windows desktop, server and phone all to be included).

So stay tuned!  There’s much more yet to come….and you won’t want to miss any of it.

(Additional graphics related to the new website can be found on our Yelp.ca listing.)

We’re Baaaaaack……

23-Aug-16 04:47 pm EDT Leave a comment
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ue to certain issues with the “free” WordPress/IIS host I’d previously been using on and off for the past couple of years, I’ve ended my experimental hosting experience and returned here after all.  A couple of minor articles were deleted — but nothing too critical.

So I’ll resume in the weeks ahead posting here on articles of interest mostly to me, but perhaps to some of you out there as well. 😉  Hope the summer is going well for all!

BLOG RELOCATION ANNOUNCEMENT

02-Oct-14 11:15 pm EDT Leave a comment
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ust a quick advisory to everyone concerning this blog — WE’VE MOVED!!! That’s right; as of today (October 2, 2014), The Ross Report is relocating to its new home at a new hosting provider. So don’t think for a second I’m disappearing anywhere…on the contrary. The new address is a migration off of the old wordpress.com site address because a new environment that is more in-line with the growing in-house architecture of The AppRefactory Inc. (the business I’m running) has become available. The new server also offers all the advantages that go with running one’s own WordPress.org application (PHP) server….which is to say absent all the limitations imposed on users of WordPress.com‘s space. More detailed analytics and the option to tie-into a whole bunch more apps and plug-ins are also now available and will facilitate some forthcoming development exercises in the weeks and (more accurately) months ahead.

So update your bookmarks now! The new permanent address is:

http://ross613.wp.apprefactory.ca

Look forward to seeing you there!

Why cloud computing is still a hard sell, but doesn’t have to be (Re-Blogged)

27-Sep-14 10:43 pm EDT Leave a comment
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ery candid exchange between two enterprise-tech pundits on the current state of affairs in the cloud space. Can the cloud save you money? As is so often the case, success is typically found in the execution as much as being duly responsive to customers. Commentators from Ericsson and Apcera offer perspectives on their own experience which might well be mirrored elsewhere…

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The definitions of cloud computing have shifted a lot in the past several years, but a few things never change. Whether it’s located in an Amazon data center or a company’s own, whether it’s virtual servers or an entire platform for deploying applications, the cloud is supposed to serve many users, it’s supposed to improve flexibility and it’s supposed to save money. It all sounds great, but these guiding lights don’t always jibe with existing attitudes toward security and compliances and the systems put in place to enforce them.

On this week’s Structure Show podcast, we interviewed Derek Collision (above, left) — founder of a company called Apcera that’s all about making it easy to enforce policies while gaining the benefits of cloud computing — and Jason Hoffman (above, right) — the head of cloud computing at Ericsson (and former founder and CTO of Joyent), which just invested millions of…

View original post 588 more words

AR CamFeeder 1.0.1 (beta) Released to UI Testing

16-Sep-14 06:07 pm EDT Leave a comment
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amFeeder, reflecting my latest work, has been deployed to the AppRefactory website.  It’s not in an ideal state just yet, but does offer the main UI to serve as the platform for future refinements of a tool that effectively replaces a much older utility that once existed for Yahoo’s application platform (which I forget the name of).  It features a simple XML file that contains data about web query strings and URLs needed to display and, eventually, capture imagery from traffic cameras anywhere in the world!  Because I live in the city of Ottawa (Canada), I’ve added a selection of cameras from this city’s own traffic monitoring service – but any camera with a web-based feed should be compatible.

AR CamFeeder screenshot (taken September 16, 2014); illustrating the auto-tiling camera feed feature.

AR CamFeeder screenshot (taken September 16, 2014); illustrating the auto-tiling camera feed feature.

Indeed, it would be particularly helpful to receive feedback from persons editing the XML file (called camopts.xml) in the application’s folder in other cities.  Currently AR CamFeeder is available only for Windows; but I expect to have a different version readied for Android smartphones in early 2015.

This was also an opportunity for a trial run using InstallShield as a package and deployment technology in concert with Microsoft Visual Studio 2013.  The Limited Edition package isn’t bad at all; offering a time-unlimited means to archive an entire windows application within a setup.exe and tailor all of the settings one used to need the Windows SDK and Orca to tweak properly (at least some of the time).  It is this setup.exe made available for download from The AppRefactory Inc. website you’ll be using to do the installation if you’d like to review the package or play around with adding your own cameras.

If you’d like to add your name to a usability testers list, get in touch with me via info@apprefactory.ca and I’ll add your name to the group list; with thanks for your assistance in advance.

To the rest: enjoy AR CamFeeder during this trial phase at no cost.  (Fear not: more features will be in the full release which, it is still hoped, will be a free download.)

AR HelpOuts Launched!

10-Sep-14 08:07 pm EDT Leave a comment
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he AppRefactory Inc. launches its first service offering today with the debut of a partnership with Google Inc. through Google Helpouts.  This further enhances the company’s service offerings in the application maintenance and support space; but also extends its services to more generalized support of the tools and technologies it uses throughout its service delivery process.  Support is being offered through Google Helpouts for technologies and platforms like:

  • G HelpoutsLogoMicrosoft Visual Studio (all ediitions, 2005-2013)
  • Programming Language Support / Tutorials:
    • Visual C#
    • Visual Basic / VB.NET
    • Java
    • JavaScript
    • HTML
    • XML
    • SQL
    • VBScript
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • Microsoft Team Foundation Server
  • Microsoft Windows / Microsoft Windows Server
  • Microsoft Office / MS Office VBA
  • Linux (Ubuntu)
  • Apache WebServer
  • Microsoft Internet Information Server
  • Microsoft Windows Communication Foundation (WCF)
  • Microsoft Windows Workflow (WF)
  • Microsoft .NET Framework
  • Web Services

…and much, much more!

Google Helpouts also offers payment features that allows either the business or individual user to use services on a demand basis easily.  And with this launch, the service is being offered, for a limited time, with a free support instance — giving potential customers an opportunity to “try-and-buy” for a fixed 20-minute session, without charges or fees applied.  (See Google Helpouts terms & conditions for more info.)

AppRefactory Inc. Website v1.0 Complete!

03-Sep-14 04:30 am EDT Leave a comment

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ebsites don’t ordinarily get version numbers; but in the case of The AppRefactory Inc. website, there may well be an exception.  Although the website was technically delivered on August 21st, some last minute technical details (including a DNS issue that needed resolving) delayed the declaration of “mission accomplished” until today.  However, we can now safely state — and unequivocally — The AppRefactory Inc. website has been officially launched.

Thunderous applause, please!

Just to quote the official announcement:

The AppRefactory Inc. has launched its website, bringing with it information about a number of its service offerings and other basic information about the company.  In addition to acting as a tool for making the general public aware about its services, the weeks and months ahead also promise the excitement of new title product launches plus its integration into other projects (already being developed) as a platform for a host of Internet-based services growing an ever-larger, steady stream of new users of every type.

Please review the content and watch for what’s coming soon or learn more about what we offer today.  And check back soon – because even more is on the way!

Next, my attention turns to uploaded the final release of AR CamFeeder which has been sitting on the backburner for the past few weeks while I got distracted by another project.  But it won’t be long before I’ll follow-up about that and the next project behind that – already all queued up.  Like the announcement says: stay tuned!

Google Earth Serves as News Platform for the NASA/JPL Curiosity Rover

29-Aug-14 11:53 pm EDT Leave a comment

MSL on Google Earth

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SL, or (simply) the “Curiosity Rover” is being watched differently today than yesterday thanks to a new tool: Google Earth.  The premiere GIS technology offering from Google is now helping NASA’s JPL answer questions about what the latest rover on the red planet is up to by displaying information about the path the rover has taken, its projected path, where it has stopped, when, for how long and it has been up to while otherwise seemingly halted.  Thus the tool is serving not only as a tracking tool, but a news platform about curiosity.

There needs to be (for now) user-led updates to a file hosted on “The Ross Report”; the personal blog of The AppRefactory Inc. President, but there’s always room for improvement.

To find out more, visit the dedicated blog page for the project here and keep checking back for updates, every Martian Sol!

The Birds Strike Back….

11-Dec-13 08:41 pm EST Leave a comment
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r perhaps “The Pork Strikes Back” would be a better title.  But whatever you call it, what self-(dis)respecting parody to Star Wars could you have without a sequel even more hilarious than the one before it?  In that spirit, here’s hoping the following brings a bit of Christmas cheer thanks to folks at Rovio:

 

Source: Angry Birds: Star Wars II–Boba’s Delivery trailer; Copyright © Rovio Entertainment Ltd., all rights reserved.

On Joining the “Pork Side”…

01-Dec-13 04:31 pm EST Leave a comment
Source: Angry Birds: Star Wars II–Join the Pork Side trailer; Copyright © Rovio Entertainment Ltd., all rights reserved.
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n celebration of the Christmas shopping season, might I share with you fine folks something I found especially entertaining this year under the heading of “game software” for the Android, iPhone and PC (which still seems to have some of the gaming audience despite devices taking over everything last year): Angry Birds.

Reminds one of the forthcoming epic movies finishing off the 9-movie Star Wars saga, now projected to open in last 2015.  But next year promises to be another blockbuster for the Star Wars franchise leading up to this next watershed event (simply titled “Episode VII” at the moment.  Stay tuned for more info about all that and more here!

More Planets Anyone?

27-Nov-13 12:34 pm EST Leave a comment

Infographic showing how the Kepler space telescope could continue searching for planets despite two busted reaction wheels. Credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel (Read more…)

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epler may be getting set for a resurrection of its planet-finding mission in other star systems, according to Universe Today. The space telescope whose primary mission to was catalogue planets around stars in our galaxy, visible in a particular part of the night sky was abruptly cut short this past summer when two of the wheels responsible for orienting the satellite failed, leaving its attitude control system crippled along with its primary mission.  These technical issues have also left Kepler vulnerable to budget cuts in the forthcoming 2014 budget debate which has already been the subject of a high-stakes game of political brinksmanship between U.S. lawmakers who decide how much money NASA and, ultimately, Kepler get.

A view of Kepler's search area as seen from Earth. Credit: Carter Roberts / Eastbay Astronomical Society

A view of Kepler’s search area as seen from Earth. Credit: Carter Roberts / Eastbay Astronomical Society

Of course, while Kepler and other planet-finding missions continue with their discoveries (even if hobbled by issues of one kind or another), one question often asked about them is “where are they?”  I use a program called “Celestia” to get my answer to that question and over the past couple of years have acquired quite a bit of data pertaining to these “exoplanets” (as they’re called) and other astronomical phenomena whose coordinates and other data can be input into the application to generate a celestial map.

If you’re interested in using the data I’ve got , you can download the library from one of two sources:

Microsoft Buys Nokia

03-Sep-13 12:24 pm EDT 1 comment

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ust last week, following a discussion with a potential business partner, I’d found myself doing something I’ve done a few times over the course of my career — wondering whether I was making the right choice sticking with being “a Microsoft technology expert”.  Typically, such ennui occurs during downtimes for the software giant….and there have definitely been downs with the ups in the 30-year-long Microsoft saga.  But with the announcement late yesterday about the Nokia buyout, I think I may have learned to recognize such feelings as moments the really herald the coming of a big announcement or some influential development; as once more, my momentary doubts about sticking with Microsoft were immediately laid to rest.

Nokia, for its part, hasn’t been doing well in the smartphone market — not even as well as Microsoft’s own Windows Phone operating system — in an industry dominated by Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.  During its now outgoing CEO’s (Stephen Elop) reign, Nokia shares dropped an extremely disappointing 85% giving pause to any notions one might have toward thinking of him a replacement for Steve Ballmer (who’s also in the midst of his own departure from Microsoft).  Nokia was already licensing Windows Phone from Microsoft so some have said not much else is likely to change at the former Finnish cellphone giant.

In the end, Elop (a Canadian) may have been partly behind an engineering of optics in league with Ballmer to succeed the latter at Microsoft.  But along with those optics will be those of a renewed momentum for the Windows Phone OS, which can only be a good thing for those of us believers in the Microsoft brand.


Story supporting links:

Ontario Government Introduces Legislation to Protect Consumers from High Cellphone Bills

29-Apr-13 05:49 pm EDT Leave a comment
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rotecting consumers from outrageously high cancellation fees (to now be limited to a maximum of $50) and compulsorily requiring customer consent to change cell phone contracts are just two of the measures drafted into long-awaited legislation aimed tabled in the Ontario Legislature today.  While consumers and the industry still await a code of conduct for vendors to be brought forward by the CRTC, the minority governing Liberals argue these measures are already overdue.

More details are available here.

Dr. Dobbs: Software Development Trending to be More Complex, Not Less

28-Apr-13 01:14 pm EDT Leave a comment
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here aren’t many advantages to being on disability for the past several months – but as I’ve recovered, looking for work and taking on the challenges with possibly getting my own software projects closer to completion has caused me to reflect on how software development has changed over the course of my career.  Imagine my shock at finding out I wasn’t alone in this realization this weekend, when I ran into a Dr. Dobbs article that articulated more clearly than I ever could (available free time notwithstanding) exactly what this revolution in app development is all about.

Chart above: “Fraction of programmers (y-axis) who spend x amount of time coding in a given language in 2012.  Note the big spike on the left and the mostly sub-2% numbers for programmers coding more than 50% of the time in one language.” (Source: Dr. Dobbs Journal, 03-Apr-2013)

My lead project is actually an upgraded version of a strategy game that’s been in the public domain for quite a while; but has the simplicity necessary to effectively permit interfaces to a number of different platforms – and with them, the necessity of leveraging a number of different technologies to make building and maintenance practical.  What will this mean software development as we close on 2015 or even 2020?  Likely what’s happened before – amalgamation to facilitate the creation of single-vendor solutions so that the process is re-simplified.

But until that happens, coders like me are gonna be left to absorb multiple platforms and become jacks-of-all-trades (and hopefully not lose the mastery of some in the process).

CNN Embeds Overly-Harsh Critique in Unfortunate Image Caption

24-Aug-11 11:08 am EDT Leave a comment

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bviously, nobody’s perfect — and perhaps nobody is better aware of this than the editorial team with CNN.com, as an article concerning an off-course ISS resupply freighter illustrates this morning:

FunnyTypeO-NASAResupplyShipAnnotated

Naturally, comments subsequently have been less than flattering to CNN, which well into an hour following the article’s initial publication still has failed to correct the apparent mis-print…

Guess that tells us not only how carefully CNN edits its content — but how much they bother to consult their readers’ comments on the articles they publish!

“Google-“?

18-Jul-11 11:57 am EDT Leave a comment

Warning: Low Patience

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t seems even starship captains are having difficulty with the freshly-minted “Google+” these days.  And I hope Bill forgives my schadenfreude here in saying that it reassures me to know I’m not alone at least.  (I call him “Bill” ‘cuz we’re “friends” on You Tube.)

Of course, his problem is a little different from mine; whereas he was having trouble staying on Google+, despite invitation I can’t even get access in the first place.  There are two reasons for this:

  • during the “beta” phase (which with Google, as we all know, can last anywhere from 1 to 5 years as it did with GMail), there are a fixed number of users being allowed — regardless of whether you were invited, and
  • my primary account (the one that got the invite) is actually registered with Google Apps; a service for businesses which only have access to a fraction of Google’s full service offerings.

In my view, things are starting to slip a bit at Google.  It was never huge on customer service (and why should it be since the vast majority of its services are free, after all), but I can only bet the farm that the company is shooting itself in the foot handling things this way.  I keep reading reports in tech journals about how cool Google+ is, but I can’t really find out — a turn off not only for me, but the tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of others sharing my experience.

And, as for Google Apps, I actually upgraded to one of the paid business accounts and decided to terminate within the 30-day full refund period because the number of restrictions and silly rules in the service that made integration with anyone but Google virtually impossible left me wondering if their intent was to hand over the whole notion of Internet-based profit to Facebook on a gold platter.  And, again, even as a paid subscriber to Google services under Google Apps, you still don’t have full access to everything.

And now you can add Google+ to that list.

Not to say “a pox on your house”, but the rest of you who have access to Google+ can revel in your Circles, Hangouts, etc. and Spark away until your whole life’s a big, blazing inferno of Google innovation while those of us concerned with getting stuff done continue to be awestruck for a different reason watching it all on the sidelines…wondering how on Google Earth anyone could believe this company will ever be anything more than Internet ads.

In my view, Google+ isn’t a real threat to Facebook — not by a long shot.

C# or VB.NET?

14-Jul-11 08:24 pm EDT 4 comments
Poll hosting courtesy: Polldaddy.com.
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o matter how much time passes it seems, the question is always being asked on one project or another: is Java better than Visual Basic?  Is C# better than VB.NET?

Linked-In has been playing host to a lengthy, but at times interesting discussion on this question which seems to have an obvious, short answer.  Yet in the discussion are useful lessons for less experienced programmers that should be taken to heart…

Some highlight replies I selected from the whole thread:

Read more…

They’re at it again: Canadian Government Bending to Calls for More Expensive Internet

12-Jul-11 02:53 pm EDT Leave a comment
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in Volk!  Ein Internet!  Ein Bill: Expensive!”

A “live blog” of the hearings is displayed below:
CRTCLiveBlogSample_110712

Yes, CRTC hearings prompted by a public outcry over proposed rate hikes are being held here in Ottawa today, but it remains to be seen whether the effort will prove to be anything more than a valve to vent angst in the electorate over making Internet in Canada far more expensive than it already is. (Canada already is host to some of the highest charges for access and bandwidth anywhere in the G7!)

More to follow on this story in the days ahead….stay tuned!

Anti-Microsoft Bigotry Finds New Ammunition in Search Results Scandal

02-Feb-11 10:03 pm EST Leave a comment
At left, Google searched for the correct spelling of "tarsorrhaphy" even though "torsoraphy" was entered. Bing manages to list the same Wikipedia entry at the top of its results.
Google searched for the correct spelling of "tarsorrhaphy" even though "torsoraphy" was entered. Bing manages to list the same Wikipedia entry at the top of its results.” (Source: FoxNews.com; associated article here.)
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oogle and other players in the information technology (IT) industry say Microsoft is guilty of “industrial espionage” in the wake of catching the software giant displaying results originating from Google itself on the Bing search engine’s results page (which is operated by Microsoft).  The charge itself is surprising; but perhaps almost as surprising is that a company with the name-brand recognition, market share and raw success of Google would float charges as ridiculous as “espionage” is in this case – in public.

It’s all a product of an ongoing and, really, tired theme in the IT sector: techno-bigotry.  It’s existed for years between the two mainstream, competing platforms for Internet-based application delivery: on one side you have Microsoft Corporation which used to be criticized (rightfully) for offering a heavily proprietary solution architecture; and on the other, what I term “the Java alliance” – which is really an architecture that at key points conforms with a loose agreement on industry standards and technologies that are based upon “open-source” development principles (though there are many elements which can be proprietary in nature).

There are those who’d dismiss the Google announcement concerning the alleged Bing results replication as merely the product of the fiercely competitive web search sub-industry – that it’s all about optics and trying to make Google appear more innovative than Microsoft (yet again).  But this is a hugely simplistic view of Google’s real motives.  After all, the information being contested in this complaint is either “out there” – visible to the public; or at least any member of the public equipped with an application capable of reading the web protocol "HTTP” (a web browser), or voluntarily shared with Microsoft by individual users (i.e. data shared though the Bing toolbar or other available “clickstream” data, acquired by legitimate means.  Normally when one conducts espionage, one is surreptitiously (and unlawfully) getting information which has value both as intellectual property and as information that offers competitive advantage (which, in the IT sector would typically be technology that nobody else has).  Typically, such technology is the product of innovation by the company holding it.  So did Microsoft – which admits it did present results in a fashion very similar to Google – commit espionage or, as one analyst claimed, “cheat” doing what it did?  The answer is yes, certainly; if your definition of espionage and cheating includes using information that was broadcast without encryptions or other protections of any kind into the public domain.

JavaDissDotNet
Technology bigotry is so ingrained in the IT industry’s culture; there are very real parallels with college sports, complete with slogans, mascots and meaningless, ad hominem arguments as to which team is better.

My definition of both espionage and cheating differs from that conclusion (as does virtually every published lexical reference I could find online).

Beyond all of this, were Microsoft really guilty of espionage, Google would not be making claims so publicly about their “sting”, as they call it.  Microsoft would be dragged up on criminal charges and Google would be very tight-lipped about what claims it was making in public, notwithstanding the usual statement in such circumstances, “We cannot comment because the matter is before the courts.”  (Particularly in the litigation-prone United States of America.)  So why is Google trying its would-be espionage case in the court of public opinion? In fact, there are many reasons.  For one thing, Google wants to highlight its position as the leader of search technology, because Bing (Microsoft’s search product) has been gaining ground.  And, lets face it, search is Google’s “crown jewels” – just as Microsoft Office products are its “crown jewels” (alongside the Windows operating system).  Google will do anything and everything (within the scope of lawful conduct) to defend its web search property.  In charging Microsoft with “cheating” like this, particularly to the largely non-technical advertising and marketing business audience, Google is attempting to make Microsoft out to be a company that just can’t figure out how to beat Google by innovating on its own.  The trouble is, everyone already recognizes Google as the undisputed leader of web search.  So is there something else Google gains in all this?  You bet!  There’s another audience of note: software developers (like me!).

Web developers and software developers are often overlooked as a relevant crowd in such stories by the mainstream media; but don’t think for a second both Google and Microsoft  don’t spend a lot of time, effort and cold, hard cash wooing developers to use their products.  Why?  Because when software-based solutions are created, the size of the pool of resources available to maintain and upgrade the resulting products are a key consideration for IT managers – which translates into determining how much those solutions end up costing in the end.  In general, the more developers there are whose expertise gravitate to one particular toolset, the less costly that toolset is.  And at the moment, Microsoft is winning the battle for the hearts and minds of software developers (mostly due to the de facto capitulation of Java through IBM’s acquisition of it, via the Sun Microsystems transaction, back in 2009).  In this developer’s opinion, Java has lost much of its momentum throughout the industry as a direct result of IBM taking control of the technology.  And software professionals are aligning their careers accordingly.  But Java’s legacy can’t be underestimated – it is still to be found in many spaces and the Java language will remain a relevant, sought-after skill for several years into the future at least.  And Google can be thanked for this, in part.  As a third-party company, Google is at liberty to offer integration to any partners it prefers…and it is obvious that while it is possible to integrate with many Google service offerings with Microsoft technology – it is not rolling out the red carpet to Microsoft’s .NET platform, nor the Windows operating system by any means.  Indeed there are service offerings which are exclusively available only to the Linux operating system, which is one of the top three competitors to Microsoft Windows.

From a business perspective, this lukewarm reception to Microsoft integration makes some sense, since increasingly Google and Microsoft contest the same service paradigms.  Search is only one example.  Google Docs is a direct competitor to Microsoft Office, Google Desktop is a direct assault on both Microsoft Live Essentials and Microsoft Search technologies.  If Google is to gain mind-share amongst the developer population and someday be able to threaten Microsoft’s dominance in the server room (which is its ultimate goal, I believe, since that’s where the big money is), it really needs to do what it can to discourage adoption of the .NET Framework.

So expect more spectacles of one sort or another with this core theme exhibited as part of a long-term strategy to beat Microsoft.  And I say long-term in the full sense of the word.  Not only is Google not yet directly challenging Microsoft in the operating systems space (which it needs to do in order to get through the server room doorway), but Microsoft has played this game before…and always won.  It beat Java with .NET.  It beat Netscape with IE.  It even beat Sony and its PlayStation with the XBox.  But Microsoft’s never taken on a company quite like Google before…a company as innovative and fast-paced as Google.  Google won an early battle stifling Microsoft’s foray into online services with its Microsoft Live web properties; but Microsoft countered by making a huge consent-based investment in Facebook and continues to increase that investment while partnering more and more closely with the near-monopoly it holds on social networking.  The game is too close to call at this point.

And expect the techno-bigotry to continue….with all is parallels to college sports; slogans, cheers, mascots and meaningless ad hominem arguments as to which team is better.

Canada’s net.Gestapo: The CRTC?

01-Feb-11 07:23 pm EST Leave a comment
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The Canadian Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC) has recently been criticized for making rulings which overtly favour the larger Internet service providers and owners of service infrastructure (which in Canada are one and the same); leaving smaller Internet companies at a competitive disadvantage.
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ow did Canada’s Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC) get the job of regulating virtually every aspect of Internet connectivity in the country?  It’s a question a growing number of people are finding themselves asking in light of a recent CRTC ruling concerning mandatory bandwidth caps being imposed on consumers.  The plan would also impose a billing system of usage-based billing where the amount of network bandwidth used — or the amount of data downloaded within a fixed period of time — would become the lone basis for which Internet access could be sold. (Meaning no more “unlimited bandwidth” accounts.)

Proponents argue that other services, such as conventional utilities, offer such metered service in the same way and that Internet access should be no different since the amount of network traffic is really what drives infrastructure costs for service carriers.  But consumer advocates and smaller Internet companies, including smaller Internet access providers who are already forced to pay larger carriers like Bell Canada and Rogers Communications for the bandwidth they effectively resell to their customers argue that mandating metered or usage-based access inevitably makes access more expensive, and thus limiting their options in terms of the service bundles smaller service providers can offer.  The small Internet companies say that this is actually the real aim of of the new rules being advocated by the larger carriers: to eliminate them from the market altogether creating a near-monopoly.

But it does seem to fit the pattern of decision-making exhibited by the CRTC.  I can’t think of a single ruling in the past 10 years that has favoured either the consumer or the ideal of improved competition.  To answer the lead question of my article superficially; the CRTC regulates not only radio-frequency and wireless technology (who can transmit on what frequency), but also who can have access to property to install infrastructure such as cable or phone lines and under what terms.  And it’s precisely because they regulate the infrastructure, they also get to regulate the rates consumers pay for those services.  But small Internet companies are distantly removed from any of this, yet their business models are directly impacted when the CRTC and extends its mandate into the world of how much data transmitted over the infrastructure should cost.

But it’s been decades since that infrastructure was laid down and while it is still maintained today and rights of access and other practical concerns need regulation, it’s really hard to see what business the CRTC has in dictating what pricing model a small Internet service can offer its customers.

Yet that’s precisely what it’s doing today.

And so the time has come perhaps to review the CRTC’s role and, in fact, limit its ability to regulate in the area of data and Internet.  These newer technologies simply don’t need a regulatory body to involve itself the way the CRTC does and it should be explicitly prohibited from having any say in how the industry is run.  It should enforce the right of access to subsidiary carriers to all services which are part of its mandate – for those services exist by virtue of government regulation.  But beyond that, there’s simply no need that I can see for them to be involved.

Here’s hoping the upcoming review uncovers this obvious truth and that the Conservative government decides to take a common-sense approach to ensuring consumers are protected and the market remains healthy and competitive.

AddThis Chrome Extension Displays Empty Service List: Solution Found!

25-Jan-11 08:12 pm EST 4 comments
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make it a point to try and share solutions I find to any computer issues that are particularly disruptive – or those which prompt me to post to support forums seeking assistance.  This is partly to ensure others who experience the same trouble as I can find the solution themselves somewhere at the very least (particularly if I encounter a problem that seems to have no solutions posted since I make it a point to do research before asking questions — RTFM, right?), and to expose my approach to public scrutiny in case there’s a more efficient method I’ve overlooked.  And, by all means, please add your comment(s) in this blog if you’ve got something to contribute.  More comments on a given topic increases the likelihood of matching searches on that problem topic.

AddThisServicesDisplayed

There should be a list of services which would allow the user to select their favourite sharing mechanism for any web page displayed, as in the view above.

Synopsis

And so, what problem got solved?  Well a rather mysterious behaviour was being reported by several using the latest update of Google Chrome: the extension installs successfully, the orange “plus-sign” that serves as the AddThis icon appears in the Chrome toolbar – you click it, and the bubble containing the list of services you could link the currently displayed web page to appears….containing no services whatsoever.  Puzzled, you then right-click the toolbar AddThis button which yields the typical pop-up with “Options” menu item only to find a similarly empty service list customization screen.  Where’d all the services go?

Well after theorizing that it was a problem with Microsoft Windows 7 or Vista (since the XP machines I’d tested it on seemed to have no trouble loading it properly), but then discovering this wasn’t the issue, I finally tracked down where Google Chrome stores all the extensions logic on client workstations and started examining the JavaScript.  Eventually I realized one of the key JavaScript files which was not stored locally on the client workstations wasn’t being loaded…thus causing the locally-stored JavaScript to fail at exactly the point where the service lists are displayed.

Was it a networking problem?  Sort of.  In Windows it’s possible to store a text file in a key Windows system subfolder to override the network (IP) address of a given URL or web address  (or to be more technically accurate to override the IP address of any specific DNS entry).  It’s called a “HOSTS” file – and it’s typically stored in a folder matching the path “C:\Windows\system32\drivers\etc\”.  Now, by default, this file contains only some commented-out information when Windows is first installed.  It’s expected that if you choose to edit the HOSTS file, you are aware that entries made therein will override network addresses for websites as far as your machine is concerned.  (Obviously changing a file on your own system isn’t going to alter network addresses for everyone else on the Internet.)

One popular use of the HOSTS file is to take a phishing site or perhaps sites featuring adult content or other spamming web sites and assign their URLs to a special IP network address which refers to the machine the HOSTS file itself is on: 127.0.0.1.  (This address referred to as “localhost” or “loopback”.)  Why would anyone want to do that?  Well if the hostile website you’ve been forwarded to by accidentally opening a link in an email that appeared legitimate or perhaps a virus wants to send sensitive info from your machine to a known hostile URL – adding the address to the HOSTS file and overriding its destination back to your own machine nicely prevents the harmful or undesirable network access from occurring.

Beyond this, there are a lot of advertisements online which can slow down performance and you might not want to have to deal with pop-ups and display ads all the time.  (I’m in that group!)  So I periodically obtain updates to my HOSTS file from a Microsoft MVPs website at http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2000.  There are a number of helpful tools offered at this site; but I am interested in the HOSTS file because it eliminates a lot of the annoying and threatening content online.  Unfortunately, despite its utility, there are some URLs which are actually useful but which, for whatever reason (they vary), the HOSTS file author(s) have determined are a threat or otherwise undesirable.  Among these addresses were:

# 127.0.0.1  s3.addthis.com
# 127.0.0.1  s7.addthis.com
# 127.0.0.1  s9.addthis.com

Conclusion

So what this article discussed was the cause and solution for one possible scenario that could cause the absence of services being displayed from all elements of the AddThis interface in the Google Chrome web browser platform (all versions which support extensions so far).  It was discovered that specific network settings (located in a text file with a default Windows 7 pathname of “C:\Windows\system32\drivers\etc\HOSTS”) blocked a network address upon which the AddThis application is entirely dependent was blocked, causing the aforementioned absent services behaviour.  While the HOSTS file was the cause of this particular issue, it stands to reason that any network management tools or software (eg. anti-virus/spam, Windows firewall or other firewall management hardware/software, etc.) could potentially cause the same behaviour.  If you are experiencing the behaviour described above, your troubleshooting efforts should include checking your network settings – especially those which could block IP network addresses.

As always; comments and questions are welcome.

We’ve Moved!!!

19-Jan-11 09:38 am EST Leave a comment
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icrosoft shut down its Live Spaces social networking site as of January 1, 2011 — resulting in all the blogs being hosted there (including that of yours truly) to be migrated to WordPress.com per a deal inked back in 2010.  Consequently, you’ll notice a number of changes to the presentation; though I’m inclined to try to preserve the original layout to a certain extent….because I don’t want to confuse those who visit regularly any more than is going to be necessary.  Watch for refinements and customizations to this effect in the days ahead.

So why did Microsoft dump Live Spaces? Simply put: Spaces was totally eclipsed by other facilities that did it better.  And Microsoft isn’t shy about asking for help from 3rd parties when it can’t go it alone.  That’s exactly the story behind the partnership with Gatineau-based Cactus Commerce for the development of Microsoft Commerce Server (a project I had the rare privilege to participate on for the better part of two years).  And it isn’t without precedent for such agreements to evolve into takeovers; though any suggestion that such a development is imminent where either Cactus or WordPress are concerned would be premature.

So welcome to my blog’s new home!  And here’s hoping we’ll see you return again and again in the months and years to come.

Prince Calls Internet a “Fad”

10-Jul-10 04:33 pm EDT Leave a comment

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ell, it seems the artist formerly known as Prince can add "formerly taken seriously" or "formerly not routinely the butt of jokes" to his shrinking list of titles.  It was widely reported last week that the — and I use the term loosely at this point — celebrity musician declared "the Internet is dead" during an interview last week.  (See video below or linked here at MSNBC.)

CNBC: Musicisn Prince has declared the Internet “dead,” and plans to release his next project on CD. A CNBC panel discusses whether digitial distribution has a viable future.

Of course late night TV hosts are each taking their turn at Prince’s expense; punishing him for his bold prediction.  I might even be willing to succumb to my underdog complex and defend Prince, were it not for his further prediction concerning what might cause Internet obsolescence: paper media?  It just sounds, well, too dumb for someone in Prince’s position to say…unless of course he’s only making these public comments to stir up controversy of some sort.  And it’s been done before, though usually be making a statement less totally lacking in supporting evidence.

Once would expect this story to die a quick, merciful death but — it’s Prince, so who knows?

Microsoft Munges Mesh

09-Jul-10 01:57 am EDT Leave a comment

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icrosoft released the latest update to its Live Essentials suite of software (which includes, among other titles, the very popular Live Messenger instant messaging tool and Live Writer, which I use to write this blog) a few weeks ago, advertising a number of new features, tighter integration with Office and much, much more. I’ve been using the new tools since shortly after their release and have really only one serious complaint: they’re sort of screwing you as they retire their old Live Mesh prototype technology to centralize data synchronization services with the new Windows Live Sync technology.  How?  Well with Mesh, you got 5.0 GB of online storage.  For some reason, Microsoft decided it was being too generous and dialled that back to only 2.0 GB — which in itself would be annoying.  Now imagine, on top of that, you had used, say, 2.6 GB worth of storage during the 2-year long Mesh trials (as did yours truly).  Yes it now seems I’ve already filled my entire storage allotment with my crazy desire to transfer files from one service to another.

And, unfortunately, that’s not the end of the frustrations one faces with the new Live Sync service.  One has to uninstall Mesh completely from any devices used with the service prior to switching over to Live Sync — the two aren’t compatible.  Of course, unless you’re willing/able to find the appropriate link offering forewarning (and it’s at the bottom of the page, hidden under a JavaScript link you need to click for the warning to become visible), you don’t find out about this rather serious restriction until the end of the Live Sync install process when a pleasant little dialogue appears informing you that you’re effectively shafted by new online storage restrictions.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking — relax, it’s a free service!  True that; although that won’t stop a whole bunch of us freeloaders from whining about our being inconvenienced and it further embeds that nasty little feeling of being screwed (again) by the software giant that seems to never quite get the hint such things are a really, really bad idea.  It’s kind of an unwritten law of dong upgrades that you need to support what came before, and the Live Mesh/Sync migration path has way to many landmines to garner anything but user apathy.  In my own life, synching with devices is a “nice to have” at the moment because Mesh failed miserably in its attempts to synch with my cell phone (despite it running the Windows Mobile OS – Live Sync is untested on that score).  But its exactly in this space Microsoft wants to add appeal and, perhaps that fact coupled with hand-helds requiring less storage in general is what led to the 2.0 GB storage limit decision.  Yet it’s patently obvious that if you have “Sync”, you need to be able to “Sync” with something — like a PC.  So keeping storage at the 5.0 GB level seems a no-brainer, particularly given how little storage space costs in general these days.

A footnote here under the subheading “minor annoyances”.  What happened to the great emoticons that were offered with Live Messenger?  These have been downgraded to a terribly-rendered joke in and of themselves!   To illustrate the point a little further, let me do a quick “before-and-after” comparison:

Emoticon series in Live Messenger 14.x:
Emoticon series in Live Messenger 15.3.2804.607:

 

And one ongoing (and to my mind rather lame) issue with Live Writer: support for tables.  Not exactly a big feature to integrate; I myself must have written routines to create HTML tables myself about 1000 times in my career already.  Yet somehow, adding a “merge cells” feature is apparently beyond the coding skills of the folks at Microsoft Live.   (Okay, well maybe not — having worked for Microsoft, I can vouch for the company employing pretty competent devs, but seriously: what gives with the tables?)

Of course, this is a beta release…not super early, mind you.  But unlike certain competitors of the software giant, Microsoft actually has products that leave the beta phase at some point and finalizes its releases (service packs and updates by the score afterward, notwithstanding).  It’s not clear how close Live Essentials is to that final release point, but there’s still hope that a few of the issues raised in this article can and will be addressed.

So keep your fingers crossed!

Apple Hoisted by Own Petard?

06-Jul-10 12:55 am EDT Leave a comment
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f there was ever a horse that needed to not be beaten further, it would surely have to be the debate that’s been raging for the past week amongst Apple tech enthusiasts.  Yes, I am actually devoting time to speaking of that great question of our time: did Steve Jobs really exchange emails with Jason Burford.

The correct answer was, and you probably got it right: “Who cares?”  But that immovable 5-8% of IT enthusiasts who covet all things Apple sure do.  So much so, in fact, that there are actually online journals out there even willing to pay for rumours associated with Steve Jobs, who is known to “get in the trenches” with his support staff from time to time (though Apple’s PR folks vigorously deny Jobs was involved in the aforementioned exchange).  And some might think that’s to his credit; perhaps even part of the secret to Apple’s unlikely success in the modern IT marketplace overrun by Google and Microsoft.  Only there’s the question of just how great Jobs is at handling customers personally.  And, if the rumours are true this time (and there is some supporting evidence, though far from conclusive), it would mean that Apple’s PR folks are lying, that Steve Jobs is lying — all to save themselves the embarrassment of an unhandled support ticket regarding a possible design flaw in the iPhone 4.  (The denial of which also makes Apple seem reluctant to admit mistakes….doubly embarrassing!)

But for the rest of us who are intrigued by though unfanatical about Apple technology, the real story is how this got to be a story in the first place.  As popular as the iPhone is, it’s not monopolized the cell phone market.  Apple computers are still only a fraction of the total on the Internet / in the marketplace.  And Apple’s price tag still puts most of its technology out of reach of the ordinary human being.  So it’s not the biggest player…it’s just the “fancier” name brand with that core group of loyal Apple customers who will buy anything invented by Steve Jobs or made by Apple; even if the thing disintegrated on contact with light.  It’s a story of how technological bigotry run amok can descend into tabloid-esque online journals forming around a single name brand, and feed on itself.

And drive the rest of the marketplace into the waiting arms of Apple’s competitors maybe?  Perhaps I’ve stumbled into the answer of why Apple sever seems to crest above that elusive 10% market share in any industry vertical….why it may forever find itself woefully hoisted by its own petard.

isoHunt Defeat in California Court Signals Wrong Strategy

28-Jun-10 02:23 am EDT Leave a comment
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hat a mess. Fung’s been at this a while, though thanks to a personal encounter with him a number of years back I was left with the distinct impression the BitTorrent movement could use a better advocate.  (He came off as arrogant kid drunk on the attention his website garners rather than the responsible business advocate this article casts him as.)

Regardless, and however much I disagree with the court’s ruling, the fact remains that the legality of torrent advertising will continue to lose to the long-standing precedents set by earlier findings in favour of copyright.  The existence of Torrents won’t change that — albeit true that what we’re seeing is the first application of law against the effect of a technology over the technology itself.  And I don’t think this legal angle has been tested; partly because it’s a harder argument to make (however valid) and because legal professionals tend not to understand how computers work.

Get over that hurdle, and I think courts in the US (and soon in Canada thanks to a new anti-Torrent law about to be passed here) will start to rule in favour of Torrent host operators.

Tech History Marked Today: Pac-Man & NNTP

22-May-10 01:10 am EDT Leave a comment
Google Inc. celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Pac-Man arcade game (on May 21, 2010) by converting the company logo at its search engine web site into a fully-functional Google-shaped Pac-Man game.
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nce upon a time, before there was a world wide web; before cell phones were common; before everyone had an email address; the Internet consisted of but a handful of text-based services, linked not by cable networks to every home — nor by dial-up modems run across conventional phone lines — but through specialized dry copper lines wired into UNIX workstations and servers.  I can recall myself being among the lucky few not in a 3rd-year or later undergrad Computer Science programme at the University of Manitoba who was allowed to have a UNIX network account because I thought it cool I could dial in using my 1200 bps modem from home and simply communicate using the “talk” service with friends I knew at the university who lived elsewhere in the city.  Of course, I quickly discovered I could communicate with a much wider audience than that!

Hosted on the UNIX network were a number of interesting services; e-mail, certainly; but also Gopher (a text-based, menu-driven service to host documents online) and something called “Usenet News” or NNTP.  Usenet had it all….there were networked games (my primary interest) discussed, among thousands of other topics.  At this point in history, playing multiple opponents online was unheard of.  There was NetTrek, VGA Planets, Midgaard MMORPG (text-based also), and my favourite – UNIX Empire.  And all had their own NNTP newsgroups.

As time passed, Usenet newsgroups multiplied in number.  It wasn’t long before NNTP became the favourite place to publish pornographic material it seemed.  Indeed, in a very real way, NNTP ultimately led to the initial media characterizations of the Internet as a smut-infested free-for-all.  NNTP offered a degree of anonymity that the web couldn’t too, so NNTP survived its introduction whereas Gopher disappeared completely.

As the first service to really allow broadcast-style communications on the Internet, Usenet has finally started to disappear as Web-based applications have become both stable and sophisticated enough to take over the job of “content engine”.  This past week, two big announcements in the world of NNTP made it clear it’s on its way out: Microsoft and Duke University are shutting down their public Usernet services.  Make no mistake — it’s the end of an era.

On a happier note, Pac-Man seems to be alive and well (relatively speaking) after 30 years, celebrating its anniversary yesterday.  Google marked the occasion by replacing the company logo on its main search page with a fully-functional Pac-Man game!  The maze was in the shape of the Google logo; and features included a two-player mode accessed by pressing an “Insert coin” button that replaced the usual “I’m lucky” button, which normally takes a user to the 1st search result matched to the keywords entered in the search textbox.

Happy birthday Pac-Man!

WS-HTTP-Based Windows Service: Last Choice of WCF Devs?

19-Jun-09 11:12 am EDT Leave a comment
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hile looking for a configuration utility to assist with some WCF development I was doing earlier today, I realized that I’d written an article about that same utility in my blog a while back.  And upon clicking the link to where the tool should have been located, got a “not found” error.  Further research revealed the location where the author apparently moved it to and I’ve updated the article in question (below) accordingly.

If you find broken links — especially to downloadable media that might be of interest to others — please don’t hesitate to let me know using blog feedback at the bottom of the “About me” page.


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ou might not think that WSHTTP isn’t the last choice of WCF developers when developing a Windows Service.  Despite the protocol overhead of HTTP, often developers will default to this protocol in setting up a WCF application because of network rules, compatibility with other applications based on HTTP or just out of raw familiarity.  Whatever the reason, HTTP still ends up being the first choice – as it was for me recently (albeit at another’s urging) and, being a veteran of net.tcp, I ran into trouble pretty quick:

HTTP could not register URL http://+:8083/FoaeaService/ApplicationListSystem.svc/. Your process does not have access rights to this namespace (see http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=70353 for details).
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.SharedHttpTransportManager.OnOpen()
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.TransportManager.Open(TransportChannelListener channelListener)
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.TransportManagerContainer.Open(SelectTransportManagersCallback selectTransportManagerCallback)
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.TransportChannelListener.OnOpen(TimeSpan timeout)
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.HttpChannelListener.OnOpen(TimeSpan timeout)
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.CommunicationObject.Open(TimeSpan timeout)
at System.ServiceModel.Dispatcher.ChannelDispatcher.OnOpen(TimeSpan timeout)
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.CommunicationObject.Open(TimeSpan timeout)
at System.ServiceModel.ServiceHostBase.OnOpen(TimeSpan timeout)
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.CommunicationObject.Open(TimeSpan timeout)
at System.ServiceModel.Channels.CommunicationObject.Open()
at Justice.FOAEA.MidTier.Services.FoaeaHostService.OnStart(String[] args) in C:\Projects\WCF\ServiceHost\FoaeaHostService.vb:line 77

For more information, see Help and Support Center at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/events.asp.

Strangely, I didn’t visit the Help and Support Center, as directed at the bottom of the stack trace above.  Instead I tinkered with my .config file for about an hour before it dawned on me that the settings were actually correct and I should follow the instructions.

To summarize my visit to the Help and Support Center, there is an extremely obscure tool called HttpCfg.exe which is used on that platform I’m currently developing for – Windows Server 2003 (it’s netsh on Vista/Windows Server 2008, and less obscure).  It demands that you divine an arcane string to pass as parameters for your application, security context, etc.  Certainly, one could achieve the desired settings to make their HTTP-hosted service work…eventually.  But I was fortunate enough to spare myself another indefinite period of maddening trial-and-error by stumbling upon an extremely helpful blog article by one Paul Wheeler, a former Microsoft SDE who apparently did some WCF development for the company’s Connected Systems division.  In the article, Wheeler provides a tool for configuring local system HTTP settings with source code under Creative Commons (public license).  The tool offers other advantages over HttpCfg for this purpose and was a lucky find indeed!

I am still debating whether or not to push a lot harder to move my app to net.tcp.  The decision rests with the project’s technical architect; and I wasn’t he on this project at the time (but, in fact, ended up assuming the Technical Architect role about mid-way through the first phase of the project).  But if you, like me, are in a situation requiring HTTP – Wheeler’s HttpNamespaceManager is for you!

Updated: July 26, 2011

MSN QnA Beta is closing on May 21st

11-May-09 09:00 pm EDT Leave a comment
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don’t know about the rest of you, but I get irked when Microsoft does stuff like this:

QnA.live.com was Microsoft’s answer to Yahoo’s Answers service – a sort of generic questions-and-answers forum site where users could get answers on questions on any topic that comes to mind, although in cases where other forums were more devoted to the purpose of answering questions on specific issues (e.g.. technology questions) the asker would be referred to those specific forums by topic moderators.

In any event, Microsoft has decided the beta is over.  And, in this case, has decided to simply shut down the service without apparent cause.  Several possibilities occur:

  • Microsoft is worried about QnA distracting focus on support issues from the aforementioned devoted technical forums (e.g.. MSDN and TechNet forums)
  • Another as-yet unannounced product release will address demand for this type of service (unlikely)
  • Microsoft’s talks with Yahoo may be bearing additional fruit in the near future – perhaps procurement of certain web properties, like Yahoo! Answers

There may be other scenarios which didn’t occur to me, of course.  But I could scarcely imagine one that would make QnA’s closure a sensible act.  At minimum, QnA didn’t seem to be drawing fewer visitors than say, I dunno, the msn.com homepage.  Maybe this is one of the reasons Microsoft’s Internet division has consistently underperformed all the others year after year.

Whatever views Microsoft’s most ardent critics espouse, most will concede the company is results-oriented.  And, sooner or later, MSN and the Internet division need to join the rest of the company posting results in the black.  At the very least, it doesn’t seem likely there’d be too much damage disclosing any intention to continue the QnA service in another form notwithstanding the absence of such a plan.  Left with taking the QnA closure notice at face value, one can only draw the conclusion that MSN is some ways away from figuring out how to convert red ink to black.  That’s unfortunate; both for QnA and its growing user base.

Google Celebrates Inventor of Morse Code

27-Apr-09 08:14 am EDT Leave a comment

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otta love Google’s daily commemorative graphic.  The Google logo ends up being decorated on days the company has chosen to celebrate certain special occasions.  Today’s theme: the birthday of Samuel Morse – inventor of the Morse code, which of course was responsible for the popularization of electronically-transmitted information.

“Morse code uses a standardized sequence of short and long elements to represent the letters, numerals, punctuation and special characters of a given message…The speed of Morse code is measured in words per minute (WPM) or characters per minute, while fixed-length data forms of telecommunication transmission are usually measured in baud or bps. Originally created for Samuel F. B. Morse’s electric telegraph in the early 1840s, Morse code was also extensively used for early radio communication beginning in the 1890s. For the first half of the twentieth century, the majority of high-speed international communication was conducted in Morse code, using telegraph lines, undersea cables, and radio circuits. However, the variable length of the Morse characters made it hard to adapt to automated circuits, so for most electronic communication it has been replaced by machine readable formats, such as Baudot code and ASCII. “

          — Source: Wikipedia.org

Lotsa familiar terms in that article, for those of us who work in the information technology field.  Baudot and ASCII, in particular.  Although the article doesn’t explicitly say so, I’ve long-suspected the term “baud”, used to refer to a modem’s speed (i.e. “baud rate”) was a direct reference to Baudot code.

So maybe Google has it right – and there should be a special day set aside for a man who influenced the world so radically.

MPAA & RIAA Score Major Victory Against .torrent Files!

17-Apr-09 08:55 am EDT Leave a comment

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ell, the outcome was expected – not that it makes swallowing this bitter pill any easier.  The Swedish court capitulated entirely to pressure from special interests and found in favour of the cabal of media gangsters, bolstering its quest to erode privacy rights and ignore even the pretence that people on the Internet have a right to exchange data using whatever protocol they choose.

Of course, the ruling has not had the impact of shutting down thepiratebay.org – not yet.  And its operators who are all away from Sweden at the moment claim they will appeal and eventually prevail in their litigations.  Of course, it remains to be seen what strategy they have in mind that will achieve this seemingly daunting goal.  The number of avenues available to these so-called pirates are fewer every day as the RIAA and MPAA continue to press their well-funded lobbying and litigation advantage.

Stay tuned – more to come on this story today, I’m sure….

Microsoft Presents: Facebook!

16-Apr-09 11:24 pm EDT Leave a comment

“…the most sophisticated, comprehensive solution for Facebook API development that exists…– Visual Studio blows it and anything else that anyone would develop under the heading of freeware out of the water!”

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’ve known about the express editions of both VB.NET and C# for a while now, but I hadn’t realized Microsoft was using them to advance the cause of its software development product line by partnering them with Facebook (FB).  No longer are these junior versions of Visual Studio 2008 Team System merely the try-and-buy freebies aimed at acquainting otherwise reluctant but professional programmers to adopt Microsoft or lures for student developers.  Microsoft is trying to create a solution that lets programmers of any stripe use their tools for free to develop Facebook tools.  And make no mistake – this is likely the most sophisticated, comprehensive solution for Facebook API development that exists.  And forget downloading that dinky editor you heard about on CNet Downloads – Visual Studio blows it and anything else that anyone would develop under the heading of freeware out of the water!

But why?

Well, obviously hooking students and youth in general on Microsoft products would be one obvious angle.  When these folks grow up and get jobs and need to consider or make decisions about technology, Microsoft will be familiar territory.  And then there’s that other reason – Microsoft could be feeling out Facebook for eventual partnership and alliance; boosting its overall inventory of web properties considerably by having the largest and most successful social networking site in existence in their pocket (and pocketbook too, whenever FB starts making money).

But as a programmer myself, I’m intrigued with the tools Microsoft’s created.  Almost as interesting; Visual Studio Express isn’t all you need – there’s an extra download you need to get from Microsoft’s open source software (OSS) website, called CodePlex.  Because it’s OSS, you, competitors and anyone else who can download Facebook.NET (as it’s called) can look “under the hood” to see how it all works.  Oh, and naturally, Facebook.NET will work with the full, commercial versions of Visual Studio 2008.

Can Sweden make the charges stick against The Pirate Bay?

13-Apr-09 12:52 am EDT Leave a comment

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oticed a decent article posted on the CBC News website this past weekend concerning the ongoing litigation in Sweden between the MPAA and The Pirate Bay torrent file sharing service.  After reading the article, I decided to write the following comment and cross-post it here:

“Although I’ve written prolifically on this subject – both on my personal blog (http://ross613.spaces.live.com) and elsewhere, I’ve never said what I believe lies at the root of the ‘ethical pirate’s’ motives for downloading stuff online: it’s simply that movie & record companies have stubbornly refused to make content available to us the way we want it; which is online.

And what do I mean by ‘ethical pirate’? That’s the name I give someone who copies copyrighted material, principally for their own use but patently not for profit or material gain, for themselves or any other entity be it personal or corporate. Such an individual is concerned and even supports the principal behind copyright, but takes issue when the same laws that are supposed to protect owners of intellectual property (because it injects value into ideas and ensures credit is given where it’s due) are instead twisted into a hammer to beat down college students living on a shoestring budget so media aristocracy can preserve the outdated business model that made them stinking rich.

It’s not that copyright isn’t being infringed upon (although to say by whom will certainly start a lively debate of its own), and that this isn’t wrong at some level. But only a fool would try to argue that there’s some greater justice being realized by the MPAA, RIAA et al pursing these lawsuits when they could have avoided digging themselves into this mess by choosing just one among the many alternatives which existed to leverage new technology in bringing music and movies to a public clamoring for entertainment in the 1990s. And why should the public pay for a mistake THEY made (as the historical record accounts)?

Is the ‘ethical pirate’ really to blame? The case can & is being made to the contrary!”

     — Article comments, CBC News “In-Depth”

April Fool’s: A Geek Holiday?

05-Apr-09 08:21 pm EDT Leave a comment

I gotta say that I’ve found it hard to get all hyped about April Fool’s Day as it has turned into a day celebrated more by the tech industry than perhaps any other.  Maybe I’m just ill-humoured, but some of the gags have come across as a little obvious or just plain weak.  But this year, the harvest included one “prank” that was particularly clever, I thought.

To this, I can only say “wow”.  I mean – finding an obscure compiler from a language itself built as a joke more than 30 years ago?  Of course – post it on the Internet (and draw enough attention to it), and someone will figure it out….

EU Adopts Big Brother to Fight Piracy

02-Apr-09 06:26 pm EDT Leave a comment

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) membership, which includes the leading movie production houses in Hollywood, has won a key victory in its battle to erode Internet privacy in the name of reducing media piracy online.  The new law, adopted and now in effect throughout the EU, allows copyright holders (like movie producers) to demand and get access to the network addresses (known as IP addresses) of those determined by a court to have downloaded copyright material.

Of course, this has lead to an outcry from technology experts and civil liberties advocates – both of whom argue that leaving it up to a court to decide whether the online activities of users can be disclosed to a third party (particularly a corporate entity) without notice or due process beyond an arbitrary finding of suspicious activity gives far too much power to authorities to monitor Internet activity.  Beyond this, the law also requires that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) monitor and characterize traffic, which most in the EU do not currently.

It’s hard to guage what, if any, impact this new law will have outside of the EU – whether it will influence lawmakers in the United States or Canada to take similar measures under pressure from their own entertainment industries.  But it is conceivable that traffic logged in the EU could be invoked in legal precedings in Canada and the U.S. – possibly even to the extent of using such logs as the basis for new lawsuits.

Even so, there are those who actually favour such measures and buy into the arguments forwarded by the MPAA and its membership; that defending copyright is worth sacrificing privacy – particularly when it’s likely to be only the guilty who will be affected.

“I have always suspected extreme exposure to digitization reduced literacy.
Ross613, what part of, "sufficient evidence of illegal activity," is beyond you?
No one, anywhere in this piece, is suggesting torrent modes are banned, or illegal, or even immoral.
Pay for the property of others you wish to use in some way – you’ll be fine.”

dijit44, story comments (responding to my remarks – the first story comment added)

My response:

“Clearly some have difficulty distinguishing suspicion from proof – since I’m both a software developer and prolific writer, this might be among your shortcomings.  And it’s exactly that same confusion those making the decision about what constitutes "sufficient evidence" that I’m concerned about.

You see, there’s this concept called "due process" which protects people’s civil rights and, normally, those accused of a crime get a chance to defend themselves.  What this law apparently does is give the membership of the MPAA the right to demand IP addresses as soon as they present a court with "evidence" of illegal activity.  There no indication what constitutes evidence or any specific detail, but I don’t have an opportunity to fight the action to prevent disclosure.  My guilt (i.e. involvement in illegal activity) is assumed without my being able to raise a peep in protest.

The part that’s "beyond me" is how a rational person could conceive of this being justified in a free and democratic society.  Are we saying a company’s right to defend its intellectual property trumps the privacy rights of the individual?

I for one say it should not!”

Of perhaps even greater concern is a key decision being handed down in a Sweedish court on Friday.  This concerns “The Pirate Bay” torrent sharing website, which is facing legal action from the MPAA concerning whether the site facilitates the theft of movies.  The ruling is expected to favour the MPAA, but the question remains how far the court will go in assigning either damages and/or whether information exchange with the MPAA (disclosing visitor network traffic) will be included in the ruling.

Facebook & MySpace.com: Monuments to Bad Web Design (“Under Construction” Again)

25-Mar-09 07:32 pm EDT Leave a comment

“After more than a million Facebook users expressed their dislike of a recent Facebook redesign, the social networking site said today that it [again] plans to make some changes…

  — ZDNet, 03/24/2009

For a number of years, I’ve been of the suspicion that the emergence of the "killer app" on the Internet was less the product of good design or sound technological innovation and more the product of luck coupled with skillful cross-linking and business (social) networking. And, in my view, MySpace and (to a lesser extent) Facebook are realizaitons of this theory. Certainly it would make sense that the folks behind each site are competnet at the art of social networking online independent of their own technologies.

But what could have, and still can blow Facebook and its like out of the water is a social networking site that gains the same viral momentum of its predecessors – and is designed really well. If I had the investment capital at hand, I might even be inclined to take a crack at it myself – spending some time integrating SharePoint Server or other portal technology to let the users tailor their own interface.
In any case, there’s plenty of room for improvement and if history is any teacher, Facebook’s not likely to get it right with these latest "upcoming changes".

Has Windows Live Heard of “Users”?

07-Jan-09 11:53 pm EST Leave a comment

Live Messenger 14.0: Click to enlarge…

 

MSN Web Messenger: Click to enlarge…

Sometimes I wonder; do the folks at Windows Live know they’re creating two kinds of applications?  The way they’ve written Live Messenger, it occurs to me they treat it like they do the majority of their applications: like they’re web projects.  But Live Messenger is obviously not a web page (although you can certainly use a webified version of it – mostly to get around those pesky firewall rules or perhaps on a handheld device).  It’s desktop software, which means there are a few expectations that one ought to keep in mind.

Now I’m not opposed to improving on software, obviously.  And making the next version of your killer app even more perfect will very often involve changes to the user interface (UI).  But ever-searching for a feature to synchronize my favourites list with browsers on whatever machine I’m working on (because I’m unsatisfied with the favourites synchronizer that comes with Google’s toolbar), I saw a promotion on one of the thousand or so Live websites that promised I could do just that with Live toolbar.  All excited I opened up Messenger, as instructed, and clicked on what – at first- appeared to be the “Favorites” tab.  Only the “Favorites” tab has been retired from the UI (there is no longer a “Favourites tab”) and what I was clicking on was the new Favorites tree node in Live Messenger 14.0.  The node is now used to house Messenger favourites which are links to other Messenger users on your contact list instead of links to web pages.

Indeed, this propensity of Microsoft to radically alter the UI of software packages I think holds the software giant back from being more successful.  How often have you heard someone complain about the new Microsoft Office ribbons?  I know I, for one, am forever trying to find features that I’d learned to access readily in Word 2003, but feel that the ribbon may simply be a modernization of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs copied from the wall of some great Gizan pyramid when using Word 2008.

One oversight whose rationale has also eluded me with Live Favourites is the dreaded limit of 500 links which, over the years, I’ve readily exceeded.  What I wouldn’t give for a Favourites service that would integrate with either Google Bookmarks or Live Toolbar, have no limits on the number of links and perform automated checking of the links in my repository so that they’re marked stale, prompted for or automatically queued for periodic deletion.  It can’t be that hard to do, can it?

I could go on ranting here about other deficiencies I’ve observed in Messenger 14.0 (especially those I’ve observed with managing background and colour styles), but I’ve made my largely philosophical point.  The condensed version?  To Microsoft Live: Just remember you’re serving users and not simply imposing functional change for change’s sake.  One ought to be extremely critical of radical changes to the UI and ask whether there’s really a net benefit to the UX – the user experience.

A continually-run D&D campaign, since 1982.

A continually-run D&D campaign, since 1982.

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