Older blog entries for markonen (starting at number 26)

23 Nov 2003 (updated 23 Nov 2003 at 23:13 UTC) »

I just read Aaron Swartz's piece on procrastination. The subject has been in my mind a lot lately. I've always been a procrastinator, and it's been a real problem for years and years.

Aaron did a great job in luring me to think about this in a structured way, and I already came up with a great example: RSS readers. Intuitively, you'd think that an RSS reader would increase your productivity by decreasing the amount of time spent checking if a blog has been updated.

But I've noticed that's not really true. My RSS reader, NetNewsWire, has instead transformed catching up on blogs into a distinct task: getting the unread count back to zero. I've now realized that I'll always choose that task over real work. And it's the same with email. The only time I'm getting work done is when those unread counts are gone from NetNewsWire's and Mail's Dock icons.

I'm now running both my Mail and NetNewsWire primarily on my laptop, so my main development system should be free from such attractions.

Now, back to work.

haruspex: That's not really true; Office only costs about four times as much as Keynote, which I think is pretty fair since Office includes four pieces of software of comparable complexity (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Entourage). But your point is generally valid. The license is just an additional data point to use when comparing software.

Also, to bring this more on topic, it is clear to me that license management itself is so resource consuming that the promise of getting rid of it altogether is perhaps as great a selling point for free software as the zero cost for licenses. But this approach also places an emphasis on the level in which a particular free software license is "hassle-free", and I think that the various BSD licenses will fare better than the GPL in the long run because of this.

18 Nov 2003 (updated 18 Nov 2003 at 01:22 UTC) »

I got a cute new twelve-inch PowerBook last Friday, and promptly proceeded to install all my software on it. It turns out that there is some variation in commercial software licensing here: some licenses are per user, not per machine, others explicitly allow an additional copy to be installed on a laptop, and some require you to go out and buy another licensed copy. Apple's turned out to be the only commercial software I have in the latter camp; they need separate licenses for the PowerBook. This can effectively double the price of a product when compared to its competitors, so it's worth looking into when shopping around. Here's a rundown of the commercial software I looked at, and their licensing:

As you can see, Microsoft's aren't the worst software licenses out there! Apple clearly beats them here in customer hostility. Another thing you can see is that I need quite a bunch of commercial software in my work. rms says that we should be willing to sacrifice convenience and functionality for freedom, but in reality you'd also be sacrificing productivity. And that, frankly, can be too high a price to pay.

14 Nov 2003 (updated 14 Nov 2003 at 23:53 UTC) »

My home network connection has been really sluggish as of late, and I was actually going to call my ISP about it when I realized the real culprit: WPA.

I don't really need encryption on my wireless network since basically everything I do is encrypted on the application level. I do want to keep a level of privacy, however -- our mail server, for example, is an effective open relay when accessed through this network. So, I've used WEP until now, but the 128 bit shared keys are really, really cumbersome to enter manually in the hexadesimal format. So there was much rejoicing when I was able to upgrade to WPA last week because Apple added support for it in Airport v3.2 software. My Linksys WRT54G base station already supported it, so I was good to go. Say hello to human-readable passwords.

Here's a ping report to the Linksys from my Mac 10 feet away:
209 packets transmitted, 204 packets received, 2% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max = 1.391/14.665/57.615 ms

Needless to say, it's back to WEP for me as soon as I can figure how Apple mangles a human-readable password into a 128 bit shared key. I could then enter the said key to my Linksys and continue to use the password on my Macs. With a bit better performance.

Update: The Linksys just needed restarting to regain normal performance. I can't help thinking that this is the downside of basing embedded devices on desktop operating systems (Linux).

I'm a complete Airliners.net junkie, spending hours and hours of browsing the pictures, but today I got a very rare treat: a photo of a plane I was actually flying in when it was photographed. Cool :-)

jwz is of course 100% right when enumerating all the ways in which GNU Mailman sucks. He swears by SmartList, a companion to Procmail, but I'm glad I didn't have time to install it before discovering Vladimir Litovka's excellent Minimalist yesterday. Its simplicity and sheer quality is so amazing that I felt compelled to advertise it here right away.

I guess I'm not the only person for whom the task of setting up proper mailing lists has been so frightening that every list with less than dozens of members gets built as a sendmail alias instead. Minimalist is so unbelievably simple that it's real competition are these alias lists, not behemoths like Majordomo or Mailman. And that is saying something. So go get it.

No more Apples for teacher: “But the change is inevitable. A third of the district's computers are Windows-based already, and most of the business technology courses use them because they represent the market students will face in the work world. They are also the computer most of the students see in their own homes. As the computing universe changes, so must school desktops.”

Windows is also the platform most of the students will see in their own homes? Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2 Sep 2003 (updated 2 Sep 2003 at 19:36 UTC) »

The fact that I haven't really had time to contribute to OSS lately has been bugging me a lot, especially each time I've been writing a diary entry here. Luckily, a solution has presented itself. I hired my company's first employee this week, and he's now working full time on software that will be released under the BSD license. Whee!

Speaking of the license -- I'm currently using the one with the advertising clause. Anyone wanna try and convince me to drop it? For the record, I don't consider GPL compatibility a reason to do so.

sisob: I don't think your premise that users who don't have root privileges don't want to be offered administration options because "they have no way of using them" is really true. In fact, I'm sure that most such users have a resident administrator on site who can be summoned to enter the password to authorize an operation. What you don't want to do is have this relatively common operation require a login/logout cycle.

24 Aug 2003 (updated 24 Aug 2003 at 17:45 UTC) »
mikehearn: a bit of work might be a bit of an understatement. What the free operating systems are missing in comparison to Mac OS X or, say, Windows XP, is fit and finish, lots of it, and getting there is much harder you'd think. These commercial products get to their polished state because putting out a polished product is a key priority at Apple and Microsoft. In pure volunteer efforts, the priorities are often somewhere else.

It's important to note that this is not just an issue of manpower and resources. Be, for example, managed to develop an absolutely fabulous desktop OS that was usable, consistent and beatiful, and they did it with a tiny team. They invested time in polish rather than, say, unix-standard multiuser features, because you need polish to actually sell things.

Companies like Sun, Red Hat and Ximian also want to sell things, which is why it's logical to look to their desktop development efforts for the state of the art on the platform. It's not very encouraging. One only has to take a glimpse at the Mad Hatter screenshots to realize the half-bakedness that abounds; in this case, putting in a branded Mozilla throbber was a priority, everything else could be left to suck as badly as it always has.

17 Aug 2003 (updated 17 Aug 2003 at 21:36 UTC) »

I got another email scam today. This one’s more elaborate than the dime a dozen 419 scams—a trend that’s getting pretty worrying. It faithfully replicates an original Citibank html email, and asks the receiver to confirm their acceptance of new account T&Cs. Click on the link to do so, and you’re taken to a server in China, ready and willing, as I write this, to take your Citibank account details.

I’ve posted a copy of the email on the web and forwarded the link to United States Secret Service via their web form (which I doubt anyone reads). I wonder if I’m supposed to do more? With these things, you tend to figure that at least a million other people have received this, so there’s no reason for you to act. But how true is that assumption?

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