Archives for September 2007

A few words can mean a whole lot

One of the great things about Twitter is how a terse exchange can lead to big thoughts. I just had this exchange with Robert Scoble:

  • <Scobleizer> I know I’m breaking the Twitter rules. But I don’t want to blog. I want to have conversations with everyone here. I wish Twitter was better.
  • <dossy> @Scobleizer, replace Twitter with IRC? 🙂
  • <Scobleizer> @dossy: Twitter has RSS, IRC does not. Twitter has permalinks. IRC, no. Twitter lets you kick out the idiots. IRC doesn’t.

It got me thinking, why is Twitter and IRC an either-or choice? Twitter is already accessible via SMS, IM and web–why not IRC, too? Suppose there was a Twitter IRC bot, which you could register with using your Twitter username and password. It would send you Twitter updates via IRC private messages and you could send it updates in return. Basically, it could work just like the current Twitter IM interface, just over IRC.

Then, I thought, why not take it one step further: an IRC network (think: on which you use your Twitter username as your IRC nickname, and it requires your Twitter password in order to connect. It would have one channel, #public, for public updates. Another channel, #friends, would appear to have all the people you’re following on Twitter in it. Direct messages would be exchanged using IRC’s private messages. You might follow/unfollow people by sending a private message to the “Twitter” nickname.

But, are these really Robert’s objections to IRC? I mean, adding a logging bot to an IRC channel which publishes logs as RSS is easy. Publishing those same logs as HTML with named anchors would provide permalinks for individual messages. IRC lets you kick and ban from channels, as well as being able to ignore them in your IRC client. Is the problem really that IRC isn’t Twitter, or is it really that IRC is IRC, and nobody cares about IRC any more?

Could IRC become relevant again if it just implemented these few simple Twitter features? I don’t think so–I think Twitter’s success owes itself to Twitter’s actual implementation:

  • It has a low cost of activation: web based, no client installation required to just get started, lightweight HTML interface vs. a fat desktop client or rich Internet application for IRC.
  • Once people become part of their self-created community, it becomes part of their routine. They habitualize their use of it.

That second point, the “self-created community,” is really powerful. Unlike IRC, it’s trivially easy to follow/unfollow someone on Twitter. If you’re not interested in someone’s updates, it’s very easy to make it impossible for them to interact with you on Twitter. Not so easy on IRC, which has always been one of its weaknesses.

So, what might come out of all this thinking and rambling? I don’t know–maybe these thoughts will spark someone else’s thought process and we can build up from there. I just wanted to capture these thoughts before they escaped my brain.

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Enough of the politics, on with the geeking!

Okay, I’m sorry I indulged myself the last few days with the spurt of political blogging. I’ve gotten it out of my system now. Time to get back to the hardcore geeking!

Here’s a short list of things that are either on my mind or somewhere in my to-do list:

  • Commit my changes to AOLserver to build easily with MinGW/MSYS on Win32. I even put together a quick NSIS script, so there’s a nice one-click installer for AOLserver 4.0.10 on Win32, now.
  • Commit my changes to Gnash to build and link correctly using MinGW/MSYS on Win32. No fancy installer, but here’s my previous blog post about it.
  • Do some more work on nsjsapi, the AOLserver module to integrate Mozilla SpiderMonkey into AOLserver for server-side JavaScript. I’d like to get it working well enough to load and use jQuery so I can show it off at jQueryCamp07 this October.
  • Work with the community to put together a list of “Top 5 Goals” for AOLserver, then assemble a real plan to get those things done. A big bonus would be if I didn’t have to do everything myself.
  • Find someone who wants to check out Gobby with me. It’s a free, open source, multi-platform, collaborative real-time file editing application with chat and syntax highlighting. Think: World of Notepad. Could be a nice way to do remote paired programming with two or more people. Or, a good way to do code reviews with a geographically distributed team.

If you’d like to hear more about any of these things–or better yet, do them together with me, let me know!

Ahmadinejad: DON’T TAZE ME, BRO!

Ahmadinejad: DON'T TAZE ME, BRO!

Dave Winer links to a transcript and video of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University.

Bollinger’s totally disrespectful introduction of President Ahmadinejad was unbelievable. Ahmadinejad even goes on to say “I know there’s time limits, but I need time. I mean, a lot of time was taken from me.” He should have just taken the time he needed and said “Don’t taze me, bro” if they continued to pressure him.

If you haven’t yet, go and read the transcript. I would love to see the sources people keep quoting where he calls for the violent destruction of Israel, where he denies the Holocaust, or any of those things. From what he said most recently at Columbia University, I’m starting to suspect that those faulty interpretations were more the fault of our crack journalists and media wankers.

My take-aways from his speech:

  • Iran has complied with IAEA. Iran refuses to be bullied into giving other countries money for nuclear power technologies that are never delivered. Legally, Iran has every right to pursue peaceful nuclear power and has been doing so.
  • Ahmadinejad believes there is still opportunity to research Holocaust-related events. This does not equate to denial of the Holocaust. Anyone who interprets his position as such is simply wrong.
  • Iran, just like the US, employs capital punishment. Iran, just like the US, has laws. Women are highly respected in Iran. Criminals aren’t, even if they’re women.
  • Ahmadinejad does not see science in conflict with religion, quite unlike our own President. He sees the human desire and ability to grow our knowledge as a gift by God. Regardless of your position on God’s existence, not holding science at odds with religion is a healthy mindset.

I hope Americans can listen to his message–I don’t think it was offensive or inciteful or provocative–and learn from it. We are all on this ball of dirt called Earth together. Perhaps we should learn to make the best of our time on it together?

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Web traffic doesn’t necessarily equal ad revenues

My little blog doesn’t get too much traffic–on average, around 150-200 unique visitors a day. I have some 140 subscribers to my RSS feed, but almost 80% of my traffic comes through search engines. I haven’t implemented item view tracking in my RSS feed yet, so I have no idea what percentage of my subscribers actually read my feed.

Two days ago, I wrote a political rant and submitted it to StumbleUpon to draw some traffic to it, hopefully to get some responses. I knew that SU was good for a bunch of drive-by viewers, but I’m surprised by how many: almost 1,400 more than usual. Check out the graph:

SiteMeter traffic for Dossy's Blog from 9/18 to 9/25

That’s a serious spike. There’s still bits and bobs of traffic dribbling in, even today. However, I noticed a few things:

  • Only 5 out of the 7 comments I actually did get were from people I didn’t already know, which I’m guessing arrived via SU. This is a remarkably low percentage of overall visitors.
  • Someone else eventually submitted a link to my entry to Digg, which brought a lot less traffic than I would have expected.
  • Although my few CPM ads might have gotten a small bump, my CPC ads CTR was zero. The extra traffic did not convert into extra revenue, at all.
  • According to FeedBurner, I may have picked up 9 new subscribers. That’s only 0.5% of the new visitors.

Now, I’m not surprised by this–it actually confirms suspicions I’ve held for a while now. But, as I’m thinking of reworking my blog layout and design, it’s always good to get real data as a baseline before I start making changes.

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Dave Winer’s embarassed to be an American, too

I wrote about my feelings towards the American reaction to Ahmadinejad’s trip to New York City this week. Dave Winer wrote about the 60 Minutes interview by Scott Pelley and unless I’m misreading Dave, I think he and I might be in agreement about it.

One thing is clear from the interview: Ahmadinejad is far smarter than Pelley. After seeing this interview, I wouldn’t be surprised if nobody accepts another interview request from him. His questions were just fishing for sound-bites. Where was the journalism?

The best part of Dave’s reaction was captured in this Twitter update of his, though:

Dave, I totally feel you on this one.

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Just when you thought Americans couldn’t get any dumber

I read this article and cringed. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to come to New York and speak. Americans are pissed off that he’s coming. Right now, I’m actually embarassed to be an American–I don’t want to be lumped in with those fools.

Fortunately, Scott Adams cleverly expresses why I feel this way–anything I could have come up with would have probably been labeled anti-Semitic ranting. Whatever I would have written about the irony of the situation wouldn’t have been as effective as how Scott expressed it.

My kids, who are 7 and 4, stick their fingers in their ears and go “la la la” when they don’t want to listen to someone. America, can we grow up, please? President Amadinejad wants to come and tell us his side of the story, first-hand, instead of all that rubbish that the pop media spoonfeeds you through the idiot box. I have no proof, but my hunch is that Iranians aren’t the puppy-murdering evil people that they’ve been made out to be.

Our own President has waged a war against a small group of people who he can’t clearly identify and locate. He controls a known arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Americans are terrified to travel–not because of “the terrorists”–but because we stand a good chance of losing our rights and being detained at the airport because of what we look like, how we dress, what we have in our suitcases, or where we’re going. Our children bring guns to school and shoot each other. We don’t feel safe leaving our kids playing in our own backyard any more.

As ego-centric Americans, we act as self-appointed stewards of freedom (doesn’t that just make you laugh out loud?). Therefore, we have an obligation to recognize that President Ahmadinejad represents his people and by sharing his story–that of the people he is responsible for–we might have a chance to learn that they are not so very different from us. Perhaps we can even help each other, somehow. But, as long as we keep believing the rhetoric of our own government and media and act like immature children and refuse to listen to what we don’t like to hear, how will we learn? And if we don’t learn, how will we ever improve?

I beg you all to show the world why America truly is the greatest nation in the world–stop being fools and start being part of the larger world as one nation out of many. Let us listen to what President Ahmadinejad is trying to tell us about the conditions of his people–their fears, their angers, their hatred–and try to understand how what we are doing here, affects them, half-way around the world. It is time to see past the end of your cable television from your little trailer park and know that the reason why Americans can’t locate America on a world map isn’t just because “we don’t have maps.”

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64-bit AOLserver on Debian 4.0 (etch) Linux works

John Buckman pointed out in this thread that AOLserver wasn’t working right on his 64-bit Linux box that he wants to upgrade BookMooch to. I offered to help, but pointed out that I don’t have a machine to test on–so, he graciously provided me temporary access to one of his machines to diagnose the problem.

After some poking and prodding, I believe the correct change to get AOLserver to build is to edit include/ns.mak on line 79, after running configure which generates it from Change the line from:

LDLIB           = ${CC} -shared ${CFLAGS} ${LDFLAGS}


LDLIB           = ${CC} -nostartfiles -shared ${CFLAGS} ${LDFLAGS}

Simply add the “-nostartfiles” after “${CC}” in the LDLIB variable. I reported this to the AOLserver mailing list as well.

John confirms that he’s now able to run AOLserver on his luscious new 64-bit 2-CPU Xeon E5335 Clovertown quad-core box.

In return, I asked John to do me a favor and perform a simple benchmark, fetching a 4K static file from AOLserver using ApacheBench, and here’s what you might be able to expect:

# ab -c 50 -n 50000 http://.../x.txt
Server Software:        AOLserver/4.5.0
Server Hostname:        ...
Server Port:            80

Document Path:          /x.txt
Document Length:        4070 bytes

Concurrency Level:      50
Time taken for tests:   3.281485 seconds
Complete requests:      50000
Failed requests:        0
Write errors:           0
Total transferred:      217654353 bytes
HTML transferred:       203504070 bytes
Requests per second:    15237.00 [#/sec] (mean)
Time per request:       3.281 [ms] (mean)
Time per request:       0.066 [ms] (mean, across all concurrent requests)
Transfer rate:          64773.42 [Kbytes/sec] received

No, that’s not a typo: 15,237 requests per second. This is without any tuning or tweaking of the IP stack or anything. Of course, 15K req/sec at 4K per request is ~218MB–over a span of 3.2 seconds is effectively 544 Mbps, so you’re more likely to run out of upstream network bandwidth than run out of horsepower serving static assets out of AOLserver on this kind of hardware.

Naturally, you shouldn’t epxect this kind of throughput on dynamic requests and benchmarking those isn’t really meaningful since the nature of your application code will greatly affect the request execution time. However, it’d be fun to do a “web server shootout” where each implements a trivial piece of dynamic functionality in their best environment–Apache with mod_perl, mod_python, FastCGI/PHP, etc. vs. AOLserver with Tcl–and see which one has the least amount of overhead.

Still, it’s great news that John’s BookMooch service is going to be able to move to a beefy 64-bit box, and I’m very glad to know that 64-bit AOLserver does run just fine for at least one application on Debian Linux.

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Too many thoughts swimming around in my head

I’ve been very depressed again and I just can’t seem to get my head in order. I’m going to try to get them all out here before the zombies eat my brain. In other words, I’m going to reduce my intellectual essence into a meaningless trail of bullet points:

  • Can my life–my thoughts, my feelings–be reduced to a list of bullet points?
  • I think I’m burned out on AOLserver. There’s so much I want to see happen but it’s more than I can do on my own.
  • I want to visit northern VA to hang out with my ex-coworker friends from AOL, but I just can’t motivate to make the 5 hour drive.
  • I hate fighting with my wife. I wish we could be happy together … happy with each other.
  • I’m glad my oldest daughter seems to have adjusted to public school okay.
  • I “know” a lot of people online, but I still feel incredibly lonely.
  • I’m really disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, that TWX stock is still tanking.
  • I hate being ugly.
  • I wish I weren’t so damn lazy.
  • Maybe I really do belong in California–my inability to find ubergeek friends in New Jersey is really making me sad.
  • I really don’t want to move to California. I don’t want to have to live in California.
  • How does some 6th grader raise $6.5M of funding for a ridiculous business (marketplace for buying/selling MMOG crap), while the company I currently work for, TrustELI, can’t seem to get any?
  • I wish I could figure out what would make me happy.
  • Someone recently bought some $300+ worth of stuff via one of my links–whoever you are, THANK YOU.
  • I wish I could just write my thoughts down like other people can. Why is this so hard for me? They race around my head but as soon as I try to type them out, they disappear.

I give up … I can’t just sit here and stare at the screen any longer. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

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Arrr! Blymy, I’m a Pirate … err, Puppet!

Ahoy, me hearties! In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day today, I wanted to point out the great work of my friend David, who has gotten into puppeteering.

Here is his Rocky Horror Puppet Show, performing to the tune of Blymy the Pirate A Halo Called Fred - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Blymy the Pirate by A Halo Called Fred:

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