Microsoft’s New Strategy: Ray Ozzie… Everywhere!

I know he never really went away, but sometimes I think they woke Ray Ozzie up from cryogenic stasis in 2006 (June 15, to be exact). Since March 1, it has seemed like all Ozzie, all the time–like they released his new version simultaneously with Vista. Next up, Ozzie07 keynoting Mix07.

By the way, if anyone from Microsoft is listening, I’d still enjoy free tickets to Mix. This year, more than ever, you really owe it to me. Especially after sucking me in to that execrable Office 2007 launch. Did you notice that fully half the developer track walked out at the midpoint? You know what the free copy of Office 2007 did for me? Got me to download You gave me a free copy of your premier application suite and I can’t even stand to install it. So yeah, if you’re “courting developers” so hard (and you need to–we’re the last truly discretionary users of your products), you ought to court me–because right now I’m finding it a lot easier to say “LAMP” than “WISA.”

Oh, and send me one of those sweet laptops while you’re at it. My journa-blog-listic ethics won’t be offended.

Cheap Remote Power Control

web power switchThe best-kept secret in remote, web-based power control is the Digital Loggers LPC Ethernet Power Controller. Don’t let the hilarious 70s porno background music and voice-over complete with GIANT ANOUNCER VOICE put you off. This is simply the only cost-effective multi-outlet power controller for home office use. For about $100 shipped you get a web-based, eight-outlet controller that’s built like a tank: wall-mountable metal case, built-in cooling fan, “real” heavy-duty wall outlet receptacles. In a year of use I’ve never had it unexpectedly change the state of an attached device, and I’ve never had to reboot it. If you’re really hard-core, it’s even controllable via code (see PDF manual for example PERL script).

Though I have been completely happy with the unit, there are a couple of quirks. For one, I’ve sometimes been unable to log in remotely using Internet Explorer, especially over public Wi-Fi. Continued attempts will cause a temporary security lockout. The workaround is to use Firefox (before the lockout!), which has never failed. The only other complaint I’ve had is noise. The tiny, high-speed case fan makes this the loudest device in my office (always on, of course), except on the hottest days when the processor fan on my P4 maxes out.

One of the nice things about the big metal box school of design employed by Digital Loggers is you’re somewhat encouraged to crack the case. Once my warranty is up in June I’ll probably drill some holes and replace the fan with a larger, slower one. I’m also going to investigate the possibility of splitting half the outlets onto a separate power supply, thus allowing for some UPS-protected outlets and some unprotected ones. Theoretically the supply side of the relays should be independent of the switching side. I probably wouldn’t even consider this kind of mod on a more expensive or injection-molded plastic unit.

For server rooms, Digital Loggers also offers an intriguing upgrade unit, the EPCR2. This ads extra outlets (though still eight circuits), dual power supplies and power cords, metering and monitoring, front-panel override switches, and backup dial-up access via serial ports–all in a 2U rack-mount chassis. I almost bought this one, but the $300 price tag was a little much for home use.

A note on customer service: Because I was working on a deadline (leaving for vacation), I ended up ordering by phone to discuss expedited shipping. Digital Loggers is a small company, and they keep it old school–hand sending email confirmations and seemingly remembering your name between calls. I had not experience that level of customer service since having a personal sales rep at CDW in the 90s (and I was spending a lot of corporate money with them to get that). Quite refreshing.

I can’t recommend this product or company enough.

Is Blogging Anti-Linearity?

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to read blog posts sequentially without using an RSS feed? Look at any blog–, any Wired blog, even this blog. Read the entire first page. Then try to read the next posting. None of them end with a “next” link (my blog used to, before I started using blogger). They end with “archives” or nothing. And if you click “archives,” you don’t get the next item you haven’t read; you get a repeat of the posts you’ve already read. So basically if you fall behind by a few days (or in some cases a few hours) you’re screwed. What up with that?

The New Name of the Beast: Unity

at+t marketing whiteboardI just heard a radio commerical for the new AT+T “Unity plan.” Okay, first of all, “Unity plan” is a pretty creepy name. How long do you think the marketing department stared at the word “monopoly” on the whiteboard before coming up with that one? Second of all, “free calling to over 100 million numbers.” 100 million? AT+T just sucked up something like a third of the numbers in the U.S. without even really trying? Does anyone see a problem with this? Let me give you a hint. There’s exactly one computer operating system on the planet that runs on more than 100 million computers. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s called Windows. Most people agree that it’s evil.

But forget all that. I get home and Google “at+t unity” and land straight in the middle of a debate about AT+T and Verizon being in bed with the FBI with regard to warrantless searches! Because really, nothing goes with communications monopoly like cavalier abuse of police powers. Which just goes to prove, no matter how bad you think it is, it’s worse.

The Crazy Box of Parts School of Computing

vantec cb-isatau2 parts
It’s not that often that I come upon a truly wonderful device that I never knew existed and yet have always needed. The Vantec CB-ISATAU2 is such a device. It’s a universal IDE/SATA hard drive to USB 2.0 converter.

If you’re like me, you have a stack of old hard drives sitting around. And yet it’s a little nerve wracking to open up the case on a perfectly good computer and plug in one of these mystery drives–will it have a virus? will it wreck my computer? will I disturb something else while I’m in there? No more. With this insane box of parts you can take any internal hard drive (and I mean any: PATA, SATA, 2.5″, 3.5″) and run it as a USB 2.0 external drive. Just plug in the dongle and included external power supply. It’s basically an external enclosure without the enclosure.vantec cb-isatau2 connected

And the best thing is, it just works. I had an old Caviar 120GB drive that had gone questionable at some point sitting on my desk. I plugged it in–dongle, power, USB–and immediately got four new drives (four partitions on the drive).results in explorer of hooking up the vantec cb-isatau2

As you probably know if you have any interest in a device like this… You should disable Autoplay before doing this because Windows may try to find something to run on each partition if Autoplay is enabled. Also, like any external hard drive, you should stop the device before disconnecting it or powering it down.

Got a crazy box of parts? Then you need this crazy box of parts.

So That’s Where Those Orange Boxes Went

I try to avoid linking to The New Yorker for obvious reasons (I was one–shh!), but this will be worth it since it finally solves what was possibly my first (apparently formative) experience with conspiracy theories: the Halloween UNICEF boxes! (no usable anchors in the page, so scroll to item II)

SERVANT: No, sir, of course not! We just gave them the boxes and told them to collect for UNICEF. We said it was for “a good cause,” but we didn’t get any more specific than that.

UNICEF: Ha ha ha! Those fools! Soon I will have all the money in the world. For I am UNICEF, evil king of Halloween!

Time Warner Cable: Consistency Is Job One

Unfortunately, job number two for Time Warner Cable may be sucking ass. That blog post gave me the most intense sensation of real-life deja vu I’ve ever felt. Not only have I had this exact experience with Time Warner (at least three distinct times: two moves and then the transition to HDTV), but I have heard this story almost word-for-word from virtually every one of my friends and relatives who uses the service. The only commonality I can come up with is that it take anywhere from one to three years to get initial service stabilized at a given address, and then once every one to three years thereafter you will experience some kind of massive failure that starts the cycle over again. Multiple calls to support, multiple visits from technicians, and multiple equipment swap-outs inevitably ensue. Eventually you get back to some level of stability (or is it simply fatigue?).

I can confirm, as this blogger says TWC told him, that the responsiveness, at least, is significantly better on Business Class. You still have the problems, but a technician shows up in hours instead of days, and for the most part you skip tier-one support. In at least one case I was involved with, TWC rewired half a South Austin neighborhood to provision the bandwidth for 20 static IP addresses to someone’s residential garage (it’s Austin, do you even need to ask?). Still, they’re a little too quick with that “if you want better service, upgrade to Business Class” line. When you’re one person working from home it sounds a lot like “screw the average customer.”

It’s a Landing, Big Deal

Today’s ra-ra, go-team, this-is-getting-a-lot-of-coverage-because-it’s-a-nice-safe-story-we-can-all-agree-on item (I hesitate to call it “news”) is the arrival of the first Airbus A380 test aircraft on U.S. soil. But here’s my question: if they had to “upgrade” JFK and LAX to accept these oversized craft, where the hell are you going to divert to when weather shuts down JFK or you run low on fuel waiting in the landing lineup for LAX?

A Halting First Step Toward Online Privacy Transparency

A googleblog post and AP story today indicate Google’s initial foray into a heretofore undiscovered country of transparency about what our actual expectations should be regarding how companies treat our personally-identifiable aggregate data online. Current “privacy policy” and “terms of use” statements tell us very little about the hows and whys of the data that companies maintain about us.

By telling us that personalized search data, IP addresses, etc. are to be kept for no more than 18-24 months “unless we’re legally required to retain log data for longer,” what Google actually revealed today is how bad the current state of online privacy protection is. Not only are companies collecting and maintaining this data almost indefinitely, but in some cases they’re legally bound to do so. This constitutes one of the dirty not-so-little secrets of online existence: we have little idea about and almost no control over the data that is collected about us.

Imagine if everywhere you drove a record was kept of your route, speed, what stores you visited, who you talked to, etc. In the real world this kind of surveillance requires a warrant and an enormous amount of effort (digging into your credit card purchases, getting your cellular company to flip the switch that turns your phone into a GPS-enabled mobile bug, etc.). But to perform the same observations on line all you need is access to Google’s databases–between the Toolbar, Gmail, Talk, Desktop Search, AdSense, Google Analytics, Google Checkout, etc., etc., a huge percentage of what you accomplish with a computer can be tracked, analyzed, and ultimately connected back to you. And this is just one company. There are literally hundreds of major companies that have access to and maintain this data. How much? For how long?

How long does your ISP keep logs of the web sites you surf to? How long does Yahoo keep a transcript of your chats? How much information does the web-integrated Windows Live search in Vista phone home about you? These are questions we’ve ignored for the sake of utility and expedience, but I have a feeling they’re about to get asked. Google has broached the subject; now it’s up to the industry at large to respond, and hopefully, when they realize how bad it is, online citizens to get involved.

Sleep Driving? WTF?!

From the This Cannot Possibly Be Real department…

They’re calling these side effects of Lunesta and Ambien “sleep driving” and “complex sleep behaviors,” but it sounds pretty much like drug-induced insanity to me. I mean you take a sleeping pill and then wake up in the middle of the night and do things “like making phone calls, fixing and eating food, and having sex while still asleep…” “…with no memory of doing so.” Um, yeah, that might go beyond the realm of “side effects” and straight into psychotropism. Face it folks, if you’re making sandwiches and running red lights in the real world without awareness or control, you’re tripping.