November 7, 2008

Technology highlights of the 2008 US Presidential campaign

I’ve been writing quite a bit over on A World of Bytes about the technology used in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Subjects included:

I’m also writing over there about what I think the Obama Administration should do with respect to technology policy. First up is a ringing recommendation of Charles Rossotti for CIO/CTO. More to follow.

February 6, 2008

I retract any recommendation of domain registrar NameCheap

In the past, I have recommended domain registrar But after last weekend’s server move, I retract any such recommendation.

I have 20-some odd domains registered, all with NameCheap. When moving servers, it was necessary to change the DNS listings for all of them. There are three ways to do this in the NameCheap interface. For some domains, an option comes up to type or paste DNS entries directly. For some, there’s a different sidebar, but that sidebar gives a “Make Like Another Domain” option. (I have no idea why NameCheap’s UI is inconsistent in that regard.) And there’s also a mass update capability, for a page of results (about 9) on the Manage Domains listing.

I started by changing a single domain ( Then I noticed the mass change option, and tried it. However, I was told it might take the changes up to an hour go through. (9 freaking transactional updates? An hour?? What are you thinking, NameCheap?) I also found that when I tried the DNS management option, on the sidebars that showed it, I frequently got busy server error messages. (C’mon, NameCheap — just how busy can your core servers be on the weekend? Or do you have such terrible backup practices that they are fatally slowed when being backed up?) Read more

February 3, 2008

We’re having a bit of a rocky server transition

I’m moving servers this morning. The result, I am told by my web host Dimension Servers, should be better response times and more stability. But my domain registrar NameCheap got weird when I retargeted the DNS, which may have contributed to difficulties. Anyhow, various of our sites have been briefly down in whole or part. email — which is what most of you use — is down at the moment. email, which is hosted by Google, seems just fine.

I’ll get this all sorted out soon. And then I’ll catch up on some access I owe.

January 4, 2008

Early thoughts on outsourcing to Google Mail

Google doesn’t just offer free email of the form You can also outsource your own domain to them (free if you accept incoming ads, $50/year/mailbox if you don’t). I’ve chosen to do this, because:

  1. I need a mail host that can stand up under the kind of mailbomb/DDOS attacks that shut me down twice in the past year.
  2. Similarly, I want to diversify my email addresses among two providers, rather than leaving them all with my general web hosting company.
  3. David Ferris first wrote up Google Mail outsourcing, with a favorable view, last July. And some of his criticisms (e.g., lack of IMAP support) have already been rectified.
  4. What’s more — as I remarked last night, David and his associate Richi Jennings have been voting with their feet, and moving their own email to Google. That’s an impressive endorsement. Ferris Research is a serious rival to Gartner as an analyst firm covering email, and Richi — who evidently LOVES Gmail — has also carved out a non-trivial identity as an expert in his own right.
  5. Free sounds good, compared with the alternatives. Read more
December 19, 2007

Dimension Servers – when smaller is better in a web host

This post is no longer operative, and I am no longer a customer of Dimension Servers.

Anne Truitt Zelenka writes of her need for a web hosting service that cares about its customers. Well, I have one to recommend: Dimension Servers.

Web hosting companies typically go through the following stages:

1. Early days, when the tech-knowledgeable CEO personally takes care of customers’ problems.

2. Healthy growth, in which a small staff watches over customers with almost the same care as the CEO would.

3. Growing pains, when the tech-knowledgeable CEO takes care of a few customers’ problems after the too-new staff botches them.

4. Impersonal success.

Dimension Servers is still very much in Stage 1. So far as I can tell, they only manage two servers (possibly at two different data centers). And the only reliable support comes from CEO Jon McAllister, who also has a day job. But that’s enough. He’s available long hours by IM or cell phone. And when he isn’t, a cell phone page usually snags him.

Best of all, “they” — i.e., Jon — go way above and beyond the call of duty in service. Moving files? Installing software? Repairing a database? It doesn’t matter whose fault the problem is — if I’m in need, he takes care of me. And no doubt he’d do the same for anybody else. Writing this review — without even a paid referral program (sigh) — is really the first favor I’ve ever done him.

June 9, 2007

The technology of Guild Wars (overview)

Being an analyst has its perks, the main one being that you get to have some really interesting conversations. And so I recently had the chance to interview Mike O’Brien and Pat Wyatt, two of the founders and lead programmers for ArenaNet, makers of the Guild Wars MMORPG (Massively MultiPlayer Online Role-Playing Game).

If you play games of this sort, it’s surely obvious to you why you should care. But if you don’t, maybe you should be interested anyway. After all, Guild Wars is a graphics-intensive SaaS offering that easily supports 100,000 simultaneous users, while managing a gig or so of fat client even over dial-up speeds. Every user is a potential hacker, whether for fun or actual real-world cash profit, although we didn’t actually talk about security very much. And ArenaNet provides all this on a relatively shoestring budget; in particular, Guild Wars subscription fees are precisely $0.

Read more

January 23, 2007

NoFollow does matter — a lot

Matthew Mullenweg, of WordPress fame, has posted the wistful thought that adding NoFollow tag support to WordPress didn’t really help with the problem of web spam. I emphatically disagree. Yes, it’s true that comment spam and the like is still a huge problem.* But while crude spam isn’t visibly affected, the NoFollow tag probably does a great deal to discourage something that would be even worse.

*Uh, Matt, can you do anything about increasing the 150 capacity limit of the Akismet spam quarantine? I run over it all the time, often in less than 24 hours.

Suppose it were still the case that spammers could get search engine ranking boosts from blog comment spam. Don’t you think they would be motivated to craft subject-specific comments that are very hard to distinguish from the real things? Search engine ranking algorithms are taking ever more accounting of the topics of pages that link to sites, the topics of the pages that link to THOSE pages, the topic of the text around the link, and so on. Few forms of search engine optimization are more valuable than “good” links. A comment that stayed up on a popular and topic-relevant blog would be of high SEO value — think $25-$250 in perceived value as a super-rough estimate — and great efforts would be devoted to getting them. The whole blogosphere might be corrupted in the process.

Blog software’s adoption of the NoFollow tag is a VERY good thing.

January 22, 2007

Nick Carr pushes the back of the envelope

Nick Carr, who seems not to like computers very much, did a back-of-the-envelope calculation to show that the server load for a Second Life avatar consumes more electric power than the average Brazilian human. But I think he made one little error in his calculation. He used, for the total population of Second Life, the average number of avatars concurrently online.

Now, maybe Second Life has a very small number of active members, almost all of whom average many hours online per day. In that case, Carr’s comparison may have some validity, especially when we also consider the power expended by client PCs.

Then again, maybe he’s off by, say, an order of magnitude. Given that he cited 10-15,000 concurrent users half a year after Linden Labs was reported to have 250,000 or so registered users, I’d make that more than a “maybe.” What’s more, while his point is cute, even if accurate it wouldn’t prove much, since Second Life is a notorious processing power hog anyway.

July 29, 2006

AOL’s IM content privacy policy

AOL’s privacy policy isn’t as bad as Microsoft’s, but it’s no joy either. “Rights” can be a slippery word, as partisans all over the political spectrum are apt to point out.

The contents of your online communications, as well as other information about you as an AOL Network user, may be accessed and disclosed in response to legal process (for example, a court order, search warrant or subpoena); in other circumstances in which AOL believes the AOL Network is being used in the commission of a crime; when we have a good faith belief that there is an emergency that poses a threat to the safety of you or another person; or when necessary either to protect the rights or property of AOL, the AOL Network or its affiliated providers, or for us to render the service you have requested.

July 29, 2006

Microsoft’s non-privacy policy

I just went to download Microsoft Messenger, and reviewed the terms and conditions. The following is excerpted, emphasis mine.

We consider your use of the Service, including the content of your communications, to be private. We do not routinely monitor your communications or disclose information about your communications to anyone. However, we may monitor your communications and disclose information about you, including the content of your communications, if we consider it necessary to: (1) comply with the law or to respond to legal process; (2) ensure your compliance with this contract; or (3) protect the rights, property, or interests of Microsoft, its employees, its customers, or the public.

EDIT: I can’t find anything at all about content privacy on the Yahoo! Messenger privacy page.

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