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March 24, 2006

Now, I need some of these....

TreeHugger links to a nicely done faux-ticket to put on SUVs. Anyone have a recent real ticket for the Bay Area, so I could Photoshop-together a restyled version that would look appropriate for the locals? I'd love to make up a stash of these, stick magnets on the back, and slap them on the SUVs stopped at stoplights when I'm out riding my cough 60mpg scooter. Too bad I so rarely lane split, imagine how many vehicles I could tag at a busy intersection!

It mentions that 1 in 15 vehicles (I presume, in the UK) are SUVs. Sure seems higher around here.

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March 23, 2006


I guess that new Red America blog was too controversial.

Now, really, should a newspaper's online services ever be hosted somewhere with a quota that can be exceeded? Yikes, folks.

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March 21, 2006

FON arrives at the Geekdom compound....

As with most things wireless and new, I jumped on FON when I first saw it. When they offered a discounted Linksys router, I signed up.

That was February 8th. On the 20th, I got the opportunity to actually order the thing. It shipped on March 9th, and finally arrived yesterday, March 20th. Alas, they're a startup, with minimal US operations.

Anyway, the out of box experience was pretty good. I plugged it in as the 1-page flier suggested to do, and registered the device using my FON account. Immediately, it started offering FON-authenticated wireless service. Not bad.

However, it didn't come with any documentation on how to make other changes or customizations. I had to figure out that you had to use the LAN ports, and that would give you a shot at tweaking the internals of the beast. FON routers, currently, are DD-WRT-based (itself based on OpenWRT). In other words, they're a customized open Linux "firmware", a replacement for the stock Linksys behaviors.

FON has the basic experience right. I can share my internet using the device. It forces anyone who's using it to have a FON account, or, I can give out local accounts. In any case, just as with most for-pay wireless in coffee shops and airports and the like, you have to offer some sort of credential to it before you can connect. In the long run, they have a plan for revenue sharing, and/or bandwidth sharing, to encourage people to deploy FON-enabled stuff more aggressively.

It does have a few rough spots. Though the shipped router works out of the box, it had no process (or documentation) for local user usage. Eventually, a user will only be able to log in a discrete number of times, meaning that just buying a FON router for home use can get complicated - do all of the other members of your household have to pay to use your connection?

Also, there are still rough edges. At the moment, there's no rate-limiting controls, so there's no way to "share" your connection but not "give up total control, and be at the mercy of the abusive downloader next store". The Linksys box can be convinced to do this, so I'm sure it will show up as a feature as the beta process roles along.

Worse, you currently seem to have to re-login each time you reconnect to the wireless. For those of us with laptops that sleep/resume quickly (cough Apple cough), this can be a hassle, since we're used to just closing the lid on our laptop for a few minutes between tasks. Having services disconnect and forcing a re-login cycle on any user, local or guest, isn't really necessary.... unless they're a paying user and just went over their time-unit rollover and have to pay again.

I'd also really like to see FON push into the mesh/overlay network space. If there's continuous FON connectivity down my block, why should my device have to be smart about roaming/reconnecting as it goes? Ideally, there'd be some approximation of a unified network across different pools of connectivity. This will become more of an issue as there are more places where there is continuous connectivity, and people start doing things like roaming around with their Wifi VoIP phones. And that day, for the Bay Area, might be coming sometime this year...

Update: here's a coverage map for the FON network in my area. Quite a few dots. Oddly, the dot for my access point is about a mile from where it should be. FON map

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March 15, 2006

S3, and the land grab in progress....

First of all, kudos to Amazon, whose new S3 looks to be an incredible product. Having tinkered a bit lately with the likes of the Nutch/Hadoop project, distributed, ultra-reliable storage has been on my mind.

Now, I can finally actually store all of my digital photos online. In a way I control. But also affordably. Alright, it's not quite as cheap as Streamload is working out to be, but the business model is clearly different (and Streamload's been having some responsiveness problems of late).

I'm eager to see what kinds of tools, both real web service and modifications to existing open source tools, come along. Finally, an uber-cheap LAMP host can provide all you really need to have all of the stuff you want at your fingertips - if you're willing to pay the monthly S3 bill that goes along with your current data usage. How many days until someone builds a version of the fine Gallery photo tool that stores your photos directly into S3?

The various "great things" S3 enables have been well covered on other blogs by now. Highlights, in my opinion, are guilt-free storage scaling, trivial https and (instant) torrent access for anyone, as well as the extremely low cost of entry. I didn't have an Amazon web service account until today, but it took literally 1 minute to add such functions to my Amazon account. I didn't even have to pull out my credit card, since Amazon already had it on file.

Finally, I have to (guiltily) comment on the land-grab in progress. S3 uses "buckets" as the top-level naming convention exposed to an account-holder. You declare that you want a bucket, and, if you're the first (or, presumably, it's currently unclaimed) you get it. The "bucket" is actually the first level of depth on the URL, ie, the "bucketname" in a url like this: http://s3.amazonaws.com/bucketname/myfile.txt. You can "only" have 100 on an account, but it costs nothing to grab one. I actually thought I'd screwed up my account credentials earlier today, because I couldn't create a bucket called "test" when I first started playing around - I guess I wasn't the first who wanted to test things out today. So, now that I figured that out, I went on a land grab - I now have the buckets "dist", "gadgetguy", "geekdom", "mirror", "source", and "torrent", among a few others. Not that there's any real reason to covet any of those buckets, but, at least for those that relate to domains I have, I won't have to fight with anyone.

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March 09, 2006

Writely, now with Google!

I first heard about Writely in late September last year... it offered a pretty nice web-based document editing interface. It allowed semi-live collaboration. And it exported to commonly used document formats. Nice!

Of course, I don't write many collaborative documents, and those I do are usually restricted to living behind a firewall, so I didn't get far beyond testing out the live-collaboration features.

Nonetheless, Google seems to have seen how good the tool was, and decided to add it to their portfolio. I expect Google Office (or the equivalent) can't be that far off - there's a Calendar in the works, Gmail's pretty solid, and Google Base seems to be up to many hosted DB tasks.

Anyway, I went back to re-evaluate Writely, and see how they were keeping up under the renewed load caused by all the press. So far, so good... this blog post is even coming strait from a Writely document. I imagine they'll re-open for general signups soon enough.