Satire by Email

Last spring, I spoke with Larry Lessig about some of my work in scalable video production for community groups (see Massive Video Production Debut) with . His interest was in using the technique, not just for Berkeley alumni (Massive Video Production (MVP), Berkeley physics, and all that ) or business and marketing video (like MinutePitch), but for mass political communications movements. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I knew it could be done.

Turns out he was quite forward thinking about this. According to the San Francisco Chronicle today, “Interest groups, outspent nearly 16-1 and aiming to defeat the corporate-backed measure, e-mailed a cartoon mocking Proposition 64 to more than 200,000 Californians on Wednesday, hoping they’ll forward it to others and create an online stir”.

Problem is – if you don’t have the infrastructure end-to-end for production / email / deployment, the support on this will kill you. And people focussed on message don’t have time to learn everything about production and Internet streaming media. No cost to email doesn’t mean no cost to make sure people get your message. It’s more than just trying to email someone an ad and hope for the best. So how do you do on budget and make sure it’s good end-to-end?

Attention WalMart Shoppers – You Can Find Linux Computers Next to the Ironing Boards

David Einstein’s review pans the WalMart Linux PC, and deservedly so. With a slow processor, small disk drive, miserly memory, and no monitor, for $300 you could get a lot more system building it yourself. Admittedly, the kind of shopper WalMart is selling a Linux PC to is probably not “top drawer” when it comes to computers, so it may seem a good enough “bargain” to them. But it is a bad bargain nonetheless.

David is correct in noting that Linux / Unix systems don’t support as much software as Windows, especially for certain apps like Quicken, and support for printers like Epson has always been difficult. This is why the stats say 80% of the aftermarket Linux PCs have bootleg windows copies placed on them over Linux in Asia. This is to be expected as legacy apps are converted. In the meantime, it’s hard to compensate with open source without expert assistance, as in a company.

But it can be done. And here’s how to do it.

Partying with Mr. BIG in SF

Last night marked the launch of BIG (the Bay Area Interactive Group) and what a party it was. Over 525 people were packed the Mezzanine in San Francisco. I haven’t seen this kind of action since, dare I say it, the first Internet bubble. Are we in for a second Internet boom?

As Scot McLernon of CBS MarketWatch announced proudly in a kind of interactive theater on a platform in the middle of the floor, “Rumors of the death of the Internet are greatly exaggerated.” Sure looked it from the bodies swirling around the floor. John Durham added “It started right here in San Francisco, and we’re bringing it back”. Lynn Ingham, Advertising Age chimed in that putting on this party was like “herding cats” but it came together, while Brian Monahan of Universal/McCann said it all hinged around the “power of the brand”. All very obvious statements, yet immensely pleasing to the crowd. After such a miserable four years since the bubble burst in April of 2000, who could not be pleased?

So why did BIG start moving “big-time”? According to Jon Raj, Visa, there are a lot of “good indicators”. Highest in everyone’s minds – the IPO of Google validates the interactive marketing mechanism for ads on the Internet (see How Google Took the Work Out of Selling Advertising). BIG thinks that the continued high cost of TV / radio ads, coupled with the fact that more households are getting high-speed connectivity means we’re at a turning point.

From the Mailbag – Buffer, Buffer Where is the Buffer?

In my current article Buffer, Buffer, Where is the Buffer? in Byte, Jim S. sent me the following:

Hi Lynne,
Nice article in Byte. It reminds me of the old days 
when you could read a good technical piece in the print Byte. 
Kind of a rare phenomenon today. 
But do you really mean to say that *all* security 
problems are buffer problems?

Thank you Jim for your kind words. Could you please tell the editor of Byte as well? That way, more articles like this come the reader’s way. 🙂

No, obviously security isn’t just buffer overflows. But these little bandaids are everywhere, and cause an amazing amount of problems for something so trivial.

For example, on Cnet today another buffer overrun afflicting Windows was announced. “Secunia issued an advisory saying a buffer overrun flaw has been found in Office 2000, and potentially also in Office XP, that could allow hackers to take over a user’s system. The company rated the flaw as ‘highly critical.'” Alas, these bulletins are all too common.

I used the essay to illustrate that a one size fits all solution like a buffer can have larger implications than my “engineer” in the introduction realized, and that his solution may not be a solution at all. There’s a lot of sloppy thinking nowadays, and that doesn’t help in a more competitive global economy. I’d like to see fewer unemployed obsolete engineers and scientists, and more innovation and critical thinking. So I write these essays. I hope it helps. And I hope you continue to enjoy them.

Where’s the Simplicity in Web Services?

Martin LaMonica wrote an interesting piece in Cnet lamenting the lack of “simplicity” in web services today. According to the article “Tim Bray, co-inventor of XML and director of Web technologies at Sun Microsystems, said recently that Web services standards have become ‘bloated, opaque and insanely complex.'”. I think Bray is being far too kind.

One the the criticisms we had with the Unix operating system kernel (BSD or System V – it didn’t matter which) while creating was the continual problem of managing a “bloated kernel” into which everyone wanted to throw their special cool thing whether it belonged there or not. When we introduced modularity in 386BSD Release 1.0 however, the reduction in complexity was not easily visualized by traditional kernel programmers used to a monolithic design, and also relegating them to a piece of the pie instead of the entire pie seemed to a few more vocal critics as “demeaning”. Web services is facing the same bias, only this time from companies anxious to have their particular widget inscribed in the annals of orthodoxy even if they are so odd that they actually belong as a special case module.

So where’s the simplicity in web services? We’ll get it when we get out of low-level design and understand the architecture better (see William F. Jolitz’s article Web Services and DataCenter Environments in the April 2003 edition of Dr. Dobbs Journal article for more information). The key is architecture in design first. This is the only way you get reliability, scalability, and security from the get-go.

Unlike kernel design, web services don’t even have an established user base yet, while people have made use of ad hoc Internet solutions using databases, scripts, and HTML / XML successfully. So perhaps, like OSI could not displace TCP/IP, web services will also “eat themselves into the grave” before they ever achieve acceptance.

Digerati Watch the Guy with the Glasses, Women Entrepreneurs Listen to the Voice of Experience

Well, last Friday was the “invite-only” conversation with Bill Gates of Microsoft and John Hennessy, President of Stanford University, at the Computer History Museum. I must admit, even if it was invitation-only it sure seemed everyone was invited – even me!

Matt Marshall in the San Jose Mercury News notes today that even Frank Quattrone joined the crowd to hear Gates speak. I didn’t notice him myself – there were just too many people with multiply colored labels and press tags everywhere. But since I got the invite to that event myself, does that mean I’m a “friend of Frank” too?

I’m sure many others will cover the discussion, so I’ll mention the other stuff. Did anyone there notice how “non-networking” the crowd was? I spoke briefly to a few people, but really – no one was talking to anyone else. Instead of a “happening” event, it was more like going to a funeral. Not really fun or upbeat. And I had my cool purple jacket on and everything.

Second, we weren’t allowed to wander about the museum before the talk. Now, wandering about among the old computers is actually my favorite part of visiting the Computer History Museum, especially when people are not very sociable, because the computers give everyone something to talk about. But alas, no wandering. Guess I’ll have to wait until the Vintage Computer Faire.

On the other hand, I had a lot more fun hearing Margaret Heffernan talk up her new book The Naked Truth last Weds night at Golden Gate University’s San Jose campus. Margaret is a very enjoyable many-time CEO and Fast Company columnist who has a lot of very interesting things to say about the experiences of women in business. But don’t just take my word for it – watch her for yourself as she discusses women, networking, and business.

I know everyone will be talking around the water cooler today about the guy with the glasses, and that’s OK. But it’s just too bad only the guys get the mainstream press coverage, while an experienced businesswoman and columnist gets all but ignored – but I guess that’s what Margaret’s talking about.