For a while there I was wondering what I was thinking...

This story grabbed my attention because it had my name on it (literally):
'Just Say No: David Harrison wants to replace your Internet' is not about me but my UK-based clone who believes it is about time to say no to ICANN and start a new Internet called Inet. Personally I think what is proposed is a bit of romantic idealism based on the idea that if more power is entrusted to a single, honorable source everything will be better.

I am of the opinion the power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So the idea of entrusting all domain name management to a single entity and giving them the right to cancel domain names on the slightest whim seems a lot worse than the purely commercial focused, 'we'll let just about anyone sell any name at any price' attitude of ICANN. Sure it may not be pretty but at least I can go on holiday for a week safe in the knowledge that the Internet mafia that David is proposing we create do not cancel my domain name simply because I could not be contacted within 24 hours...

CAD Collaboration

(or how I learned to stop worrying and love ambiguity)

This post covers the issues surrounding CAD collaboration and past approaches to resolving it. It then concludes with a concept of how decentralised digital model development could be undertaken in a manner that reflects the ambiguous environment in which collaborative design is experienced.

The Problem of Digital Model Orientated Collaboration

Modelling an architectural design in CAD almost never occurs in an isolated environment. Typically work is undertaken with at least one other person simultaneously in order to meet development deadlines. Unfortunately issues arise when participants wish to simultaneously change the same design element, or a set of design changes inadvertently effect another aspect of the digital model.

Recently I was asked to comment on a debate that was raging in the Vectorworks forums related to its minimal set of collaboration functionality. Whilst the forum thread initially begun as a feature request it soon evolved into rather heated debate over how collaboration functionality in CAD should function (if at all). Central to this online debate was the role internal offices processes and politics held in the success of a collaborative digital model. Whilst this is typically the most visible factor we must also keep in mind the mere introduction of digital models has significantly altered our collaboration psyche.

Two happy months with Media Temple

It has been just over two months since I signed up for a Media Temple Grid Server Web hosting account. All in all this time has been almost painless and (touch wood) all is going really well. So far I have consolidated three independent servers worth of websites and data around the hosted account. This has significantly reduced my administration worries and freed up hardware for other duties (or the scrap heap). Currently the grid server is hosting 14 different websites ranging from static html right through to complex Web applications, the StressFree email and Subversion repositories. Currently this amounts to 43GB of data and about 10GB of bandwidth per month so I feel like I am getting my money's worth out of the service.

Performance-wise the Grid Server could be a little faster but it is pretty stable and the troubles they are experiencing are well publicised. Worth every penny is the SSH access which makes site management so much faster and trouble-free for someone like myself who is used to having the server at arms reach. The Media Temple blog is also a good read even if you are not a customer. It provides insight into the difficulties and frustrations of running a truly massive hosting operation with the 'Anatomy of MySQL on the Grid' post being a particularly interesting and honest read.

So the short of it is I highly recommend Media Temple's Grid Server plan to anyone looking for a stable and feature-packed hosting solution. If you only have one website you need hosting then they probably aren't for you. However if you can get a few friends together who also need hosting Media Temple's plan suddenly becomes very attractive when compared to more conventional, single site hosting.

Google Reader is now my primary RSS experience

I have been using NewsGator's NetNewsWire for Mac RSS reader for years but yesterday I moved all my RSS feeds over to Google Reader and closed NetNewsWire for good. There are lots of things to like about NetNewsWire like its tabbed windows, responsiveness and polished look and feel, but even with these things in mind it struggles to compete with the best online RSS readers out there today.

I played around with Google Reader in its first carnation last year but its interface went over my head. It seemed to me they were trying to be clever with news rather than give users an interface they were used to and actually wanted. Recently Google re-released Reader in a far more conventional guise making the overall experience very similar to traditional RSS readers with a few added bonuses.

So how does Google Reader, a Web-based application overcome NetNewsWire's OSX savvy advantages?

OpenID gains support from Microsoft and AOL

On the 6th February Bill Gates announced that Microsoft was going to support OpenID within its CardSpace set of technologies. Given this massive vote of confidence from the world's leading desktop supplier it would seem there is very little in the way of OpenID becoming a highly influential, Web-based identity system. After this announcement it also comes as no surprise that other large, Web-centric companies like have announced their intention to support OpenID as well.

OpenID became a successful identity solution because it is not centralised around a single, all powerful source and at its heart is relatively straightforward when compared to many of its contempories. Like other influential technologies such as RSS and podcasting it was created by a small team (Brad Fitzpartrick) and was released to the world as an open standard. These factors have made it relatively easy for large companies like Microsoft and AOL to adopt whilst other more complex, 'big business' alternatives have failed to gain momentum.

OpenID's limited scope means it is not going to solve all the world's identity problems but in the near future we should find maintaining our identity on the Web becomes just a little easier. What still remains to be seen is whether Google and Yahoo will support OpenID in their product lines. Given their operating models I do not believe either will support OpenID directly in their services but they both will provide their users with OpenID-enabled accounts. Nick Manley provides a good case for this in his post 'Why Google will support OpenID'. The bottom line is anything that makes people use their Google/Yahoo accounts more frequently is good for business, especially now that will be supported within Windows.

UPDATE: (21/2/2007) Kevin Rose has recently announced that will be supporting OpenID sometime next year.

Using OSX's automounter for transparent access to remote media

The one thing that really annoys me about OSX is its network share tool-set. With Windows you can map a network share to a drive letter, check a box that says 'Reconnect at login' and you are done. In OSX the process of reconnecting to a network share is not nearly as smooth as it should be.

The easy option: using Favourites

The simpliest way of achieving this task is to add the network share as a favourite. To do so go to Finder's menu and select Go -> Connect to Server. In the window enter the type and name of the network share (i.e. cifs://server/share) and press the + button to save it as a favourite. With the favourite saved open your account preferences from the Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Accounts and go to the Login Items tab. Now open a Finder window and browse to your user directory -> Library -> Favorites and drag the relevant share icon onto the list of login items to have it mounted every time you login.

The problem of lost connections

There is one significant drawback with this technique in that if the connection to the share is lost for some reason (e.g. through sleep mode, server or network failure) OSX will not automatically reconnect to it. This becomes a real pain when trying to use a remote share as your primary iTunes music folder because when iTunes cannot find the share it restores your music directory to its default location. This leads to confusion, missing files and if you are not careful a destroyed music library.

The good news is the automount tool can come to your aid but the bad news is it is not straightforward to setup. Automount is common among the *NIX's (i.e. Linux, BSD, etc.) and works in the background to ensure your network shares are always available after restarts and network failures.

Yahoo Pipes brings mashups to the masses

Yahoo Pipes is aiming to be to Web mash-ups what Microsoft Access was to relational databases. Prior to Access, relational databases were primarily the domain of the highly trained database administrator and software programmer. Microsoft Access significantly changed the game by providing a relatively powerful database experience in a manner that the mainstream audience could comprehend and be productive with. As a consequence the business world is now saturated with mission critical Access databases put together internally by the employees themselves to meet a set of data challenges unique to that particular company or department. With Pipes, Yahoo is attempting to become the Microsoft Access of the Web 2.0 market space.

A great podcast on Amazon's new Web Services

IT Conversations is running a great podcast entitled 'Technometria: Amazon Web Services'. It features Jeff Barr from Amazon and Doug Kaye of Gigovox Media who discuss three of Amazon's most interesting and powerful Web Services: Simple Storage Service, Simple Message Queue Service and the Elastic Compute Cloud.

Doug Kaye has put together a really interesting application based entirely on these Amazon services which will enable Gigovox Media to scale out their podcasting services. As you can see from the diagram below the architecture is not simple and is highly distributed to enable extreme scalability. This scalability is enabled through Amazon's messaging service which manages the flow of messaging data within the different elastic compute cloud (essentially Web Service enabled Xen instances).

Gigovox Architecture
GigaVox’s new GigaVox Audio Lite architecture

The podcast also alludes to some of the current shortcomings of Amazon's service such as its inability to run SQL style databases and the fact there is essentially no quality of service guarantees from Amazon. From the tone of the conversation I would not be surprised if with we see these issues get cleared up as the services mature during the year.

The other interesting issue raised was the question of service provider interoperability or portability. Currently Amazon is the only major player offering such services but undoubtedly Google and Microsoft will one day offer the same. When this becomes a reality how easy will it to move your application from one service provider to another or mix service providers for the best deal? Arguably we could see a time where we interact with applications running on Amazon servers, storing files on Microsoft disk and persisting data to a Google database but whether these parties let this sort of thing happen is another question altogether.

Forget about fetchmail thanks to Gmail

Gmail's highly anticipated mail fetcher service went fully operational over the weekend. It is a nice addition for existing Gmail users but an even better option for those currently using fetchmail, getmail or some other pop3 checking tool for multiple email accounts. Traditionally you would have to run one of these applications or pay for a service such as Runbox to consolidate your email around a single account, but with Gmail this process has become significantly easier and cheaper.

Simply sign up for a free Gmail account (or log onto your existing one) and set Gmail to forward all incoming email to your primary account (assuming it isn't Gmail). Once the forwarder is in place configure the mail fetcher to retrieve mail from the accounts you want to check. Before you know it you have in place a free, spam filtered and highly redundant fetchmail/getmail replacement all without the cost and stress of maintaining your own server or application on your desktop for this task.

Google to replace Microsoft Exchange & Office at Pixar?

This Business Week article 'Google Steps Into Microsoft's Office' is interesting because it is the first time I have seen a rather large corporate entity (Pixar/Disney) express an interest in moving to a non-Microsoft, Web-based platform like Google Apps for your Domain. The other interesting point to note is published user-base of Microsoft Office Live which is sitting at 250,000 businesses, quite a respectable number for a new, non-free service.

I have been a user of Google Apps for your Domain for a while now on a number of domains and have got a few other well entrenched in-house email fans to sign up as well. By far and away the best things about it has been the spam protection and the fact that within an evening you can have a fully functioning email and calendar service up and running with no fuss at all. It has been slightly disappointing that the applications list has not grown to cover the Docs and Spreadsheets products already and many of the new GMail features such as the very handy retrieve mail service or increased storage sizes have not become available to Apps users sooner.