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Archive for January, 2005

Cyberposium Scheduling

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

Quick rant: there are about 25+ breakouts split over 3 periods. That means that I have to miss a bunch of panels because of conflict. In some sense, that can’t be helped. But the organizers also scheduled 3 other “visionary” panels which have exclusive slots.

This is bad schedule design that assumes EVERYONE wants to see these “Visionary Panels” instead of giving us the opportunity to choose for ourselves… Why? Why? Why?


HBS Cyberposium 2005

Saturday, January 29th, 2005

This weekend is the 10th Annual Harvard Business School Cyberposium–a conference focusing on business and technology. I figured if people read blogs from the DNC…

First, let me say that I’m really impressed with the size and scope. Kudos to the student organizers: i’ve been to professionally-run conferences that were less well-done. This conference has big name keynotes, sponsorship from major industry players, and attendees from many schools, press, and industry (I’m pretty sure that tickets were available to the public).

Last night’s Keynote was given by Tom Leighton, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist of Akamai. He discussed the inherent instability and insecurity on the Internet. Sadly, the keynote turned into a sales pitch for Akamai: first, he alarmed us with the threat of network traffic jams, DOS attacks, spoofing, IP hijacking, etc. and then explained how Akamai’s distributed architecture addresses these security threats and relieved network congestion inherent in the centralized webserver model.

It left me with two thoughts. First, it IS a bit alarming that there really is NO security built into this foundation that we’re all relying on. And, beyond the security, low level protocols like BGP are “dumb” (they ignore congestion). Beyond that, the business model of the backbone hasn’t been settled yet: that’s why there are thousands of miles of dark fiber–people who own backbone (and smaller) networks can’t figure out how to get paid for the data traveling over their pipes. This is a real problem that, in my opinion, might require government regulation. Or, maybe Demand will drive businesses agreements… (not to mention that the technology is subject to human error, which apparently caused the hour-long large-scale outage last year–in spite of the rumors that a tractor hit a pipe in chicago)

Secondly, I’m unclear about how Akamai’s technology works: they make websites faster by eliminating the single server: they replicate your site on their servers all over the world so the bits are closer to the user, wherever the user is. This avoids network delays and contains DOS attacks (since there’s no central point of failure). But I’m unclear how this works: as far as I know, DNS entries point to a single IP. So how does Akamai “distribute” this site to their server that is closest to you? I suppose that there is still a single server that the DNS points to that then refers you back to your closest server. Anyone know for sure?

Off to the next panel…


When Did You Keeping Track of Me Become MY Problem?

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

Every day, without fail, I get an automated email from someone who wants me to update my contact information in their system (which is really astounding since I’m not that popular). There must be a dozen different services out there (the biggest is probably Plaxo) that hook into your addressbook and “automatically” update my contact information.

In case you’re mystified by how that works, let me tell you: they SPAM me–as often as once every 90 days for each person who has me as a contact. It’s driving me bonkers. Some of these services are even bold enough to force ME to register so that YOU can keep track of me.

To me, these automated contact services are the new ring tones of 2005–they may be entertaining and convenient for you but they’re incredibly annoying for everyone else (and this is worse because you’re annoying your friends instead of just the strangers around you).

If my friends are listening, i love you all. If I move, I’ll tell you. I promise. Next time your service spams me with an email to update my contact info, I’m going to put in the wrong address so they never reach me again. Actually, I’m going to try to go find the email address of the CEO of Plaxo…

So I hope you have my phone number in your cell phone. And, I’d appreciate a distinctive ring tone.


When Should I Start to Be Scared of Google?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

On a recruiting tour earlier this month, I visited Google for an “information session.” Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, said that the company mission was to make “all of the world’s information” accessible. He emphasized that the web was only a tiny fraction.

[Note for my safety: Google is SUPER secretive and made me sign an NDA and leave blood and hair sample, so if I stop blogging, please send the cops there]

So I poked around. They’re not kidding. Beyond the now-well-known Desktop Search, Google also has quietly launched Beta versions of Google Video (search videos from TV), Google Catalog (search print catalogs that aren’t in your mailbox), Google Scholar (search academic papers), and is in the process of scanning university libraries. Not to mention their recent acquisitions of Keyhole and Picasa (and Blogger, the software that powers THIS blog!).

I think that the rule of thumb for me is that anything that is publicly broadcast is great to archive for the public to search. The more I think about it though, the less excited I am about having Google (whose mission is to archive all of the world’s information) on my computer. I’m going to go uninstall the Desktop Search and I’m keeping Google (Picasa) away from my personal pictures…


Why Do Email Programs (like Outlook, Gmail, and Hotmail) Hide Pictures?

Monday, January 24th, 2005

Since the advent of HTML email, people who write emails, particularly those with pictures, have “saved space” in the email by NOT including the picture in the email but instead by including an HTML tag that tells the email program where to find the picture. That is, when you open the email, it just says to the email program “Go get the picture from this website and add it to this email”–the exact same way that the web works. This makes the email smaller because the image file isn’t actually included in the email, just instructions on where to go get it.

The problem is that tricky spammers use this mechanism to verify that your email address is a valid one to keep spamming. Instead of just putting a URL to a picture in the email, they alter the URL to simultaneously indicate who is asking for it. That is, instead of saying:

“Go get the picture at” they say

“Go get the picture at’'”

This way, a program on their server returns the picture file AND records that your email address is a valid one that they should continue to spam. These spammers send millions of emails arbitrarily (often just guessing at valid email addresses), so it’s important for them to verify which ones are real and which ones are not.

If, on the other hand, your email program does NOT get the picture from the webserver, then the spammer never hears from you and assumes that you don’t exist.

Of course, this is all very sloppy on both sides. Bring on email authentication!


Great Customer Service:

Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

You know, everyone screws up. I have a real pet peeve about people who won’t admit it and, conversely, a soft spot for those who fess up and fix it.

Today, I experienced the latter and I think that they deserve a shout-out. is a website that helps you manage ladders: that is, if a dozen of you have a ping-pong group and you want to keep rankings, allow people to challenge each other, etc, they help. Actually, I haven’t used the service yet, but that’s what I expect it will do. 🙂

Five minutes after I registered, they confirmed my registration via email. In that email, they sent me my username and password. Cleartext (for those of you who don’t know, there is nothing secure about email: don’t ever send any info in an email that is private). I don’t actally care if anyone sees my RopeyLadder password, but what if I has used the same password that I use for my bank account? Many people use the same password for everything…

So I wrote them to complain. 15 minutes later Dave Fletcher (from RopeyLadder) responded to me, from the UK, to tell me that they had changed (not WOULD change, but HAD changed) the code and no longer be sent passwords via email. Wow. Kudos to them. I went from having no faith in the competence of their company to being a real fan in 15 minutes. People who listen to feedback and respond only get better with time. Brilliant.

Now to challenge my friends for that #1 spot on the ping-pong ladder…


A Brain Teaser: 100 lockers

Friday, January 21st, 2005

I have an affinity for these. And since it’s starting to be recruiting season for me, I think back to the interviews I had when I was a wee little undergrad. Trilogy Software in Austin asked me this one:

You have 100 people lined up in a row next to 100 closed lockers. The row of people will walk by all of the lockers. When they do, they behave like this:

Person 1 will toggle every locker (“toggle” means that if it is closed, she opens it, but if it is open, she closes it).

Person two will toggle every other locker.

Person three will toggle every third locker.

Person four will toggle every fourth locker.


Question: when all 100 people have finished walking by all 100 lockers, how many lockers are open? Which ones are they?


My Favorite MSN Direct Feature

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

I worked on the SPOT watch for a year and half. I worked on the team that designed and coded the Sports, Movies, Daily Diversions, Horoscopes, and Lottery Channels. The technology was interesting and the possibilities were endless.

My favorite feature? Downloadable watch faces. Maybe I’m nuts, but it was the feature that was really personal, relevant, and fun. Watch Faces was the ring tones of watches. It was pretty easy to implment new ones and the results always made people smile. I think I’d probably buy a watch that just offered me the opportunity to change the face every month to one I selected from a set (the personalization and choice are really key–which is why we changed the model). Imagine the possiblities if the watch ever goes color or if Microsoft opens up the platform…

Sure, I liked the other channels. Hey, I’m a huge Sports fan (and when I was in Seattle, I was an out-of-towner sports fan). And the rumored traffic channel would be a killer app (you won’t find this guy leaking any inside info). But the beauty of the Downloadable Watch Faces are the simplicity and relevance that you just can’t argue with.

Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, i want to give a shoutout to Mick (SplaTT) Stanic, since he showed some love many months ago in his blog for our efforts.


"Intermission" at the George Clinton Concert

Thursday, January 20th, 2005

I’m not feeling great, so you get a moaner:

Last night I want to the George Clinton and the P-Funk concert in Providence. Great show, great venue (Lupos). I wouldn’t claim to be a huge fan, but that band just makes you want to move. I hear that George Clinton is 63. Amen to him. Also, love the guy in the diaper.

Highlight: For one song, they brought out George Clinton’s granddaughter, Sativa (look up that word on Google), to rap. She was certainly entertaining and quick lipped. I actually prefer the classic fun, but this was a welcome surprise for me.

Lowlight: Those two guys tearing up their electric guitars on stage for a 20+ minute “intermission.” I’ve been to one other George Clinton concert before and they did the same thing, so I guess that’s the schtick. I hate it. It drains me and kills what little funk I had.

The Most Annoying Bug in Windows XP: The Picture and Fax Viewer

Tuesday, January 18th, 2005

Tonight, a friend sent me a few bmp screenshots of a project that she was working on and Windows XP dutifully opened them up in the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer. I checked out the first picture and clicked the Next button to see…


A pal riding the mechanical bull at a Boston bar from October. Next Again…

Me, dressed as a woman (costume ball, I swear). Next Again…

The second screenshoot my friend sent (finally)

To get to the final screenshot, I had to hit Next seven more times.

This is exactly the kind of annoying bug that Microsoft drops on the floor because of a surprising lack of organization and because attention to detail like this isn’t in the air. There is nobody responible for a large portion of the code in Windows. I was there during the “security stand down”, during which we went through security training and went back and examined every feature. It was shocking how many features had had no owners.

But this post isn’t about security. It’s about attention to detail and the ethos of just getting things right. I can imagine Steve Jobs going bonkers if Apple shipped a bug like that. I can’t see Bill Gates caring. Yet it’s the little things, the subtleties, that really make for a beautiful final product that delights the users. Or drives them mad. In its defense, the Windows Shell team is really trying. There isn’t the ethos, though, of the attention to detail that you see in other operating systems and so I’m betting that I’ll have to continue to deal with this one through Longhorn and beyond.

How do you create that ethos? Is it nature, or nurture?