Monday, October 23, 2006

Wicked Ridonkulous

In my previous incarnation as a developer for Parasoft, I designed a program affectionately known as WebKing (It's good to be the King!). Sometimes when you are working on a project for 5+ years, you get a little close to it, and fail to realize just how cool it is.

The new website we rolled out today for MusicIP gave me a chance to get reacquainted with some of the power of WebKing to help ferret out deployment issues with a website. In short, it's wicked ridonkulously cool. I can't imagine the effort we would have had to do to manually track down all the details WebKing popped out effortlessly. Very good stuff indeed.

I'm looking forward to trying out some of the updated versions of the other Parasoft tools as well - it looks like they've been doing some excellent work on Enterprise level testing tools.

Still Stumbling...

A little while ago, I mentioned the StumbleUpon plugin for Firefox. Well, it's still one of my top timewasters (when I have time to waste) - if I want to cruise around the web with nothing particular in mind, I just whack the ol' StumbleUpon button a few times until something interesting pops up. I've found all sorts of weird oddities.

But the real clincher: I just updated to the newest version, and now there's a hotkey to toggle the toolbar visibility (my only pet peeve with the previous version). This sucker's definitely here to stay now! (As long as it works with Firefox 2.0, coming out tomorrow...)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Patently absurb

This one looks like an Onion headline, or perhaps a well propagated hoax. Sadly, it appears not to be. (Somebody please tell me it is...) It appears the fallout from a 1998 decision to allow business patents (like the infamous 1 click patent), is starting to come home.

From Herald Tribune: Lawyers have come up with one more way to make life difficult for taxpayers: Now you may face a patent infringement suit if you use a tax strategy that someone else thought of first. ... At one conference where tax strategies were discussed, participants later got a letter warning that using one idea mentioned would be in violation of a patent.

This will almost certainly be an issue for the courts to decide - my hunch is rather than realizing that business patents were probably a bad idea in the first place, they'll just create some convoluted loopholes exempting patents which may violate consitutional rights, creating an even more complex legal system.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Click, Click, Click, Click, Click

I stopped by a local Coinstar machine today, to turn a big pile of coins into an Amazon gift certificate (so there's no "counting fee").

As I recall from last time I used this machine, it's a pretty simple affair - dump in the coins, listen to the rattles, and out comes a coupon for cash. Piece of cake right? Apparently not anymore. Someone decided there weren't enough options, confirmations steps, verifications, or explanations. For my little trip, I had to make 10 (yep, counted em!) selections before I could start dumping coins into the machine. Ten!

And when I was done, two more confirmation screens before waiting for the little screeching modem sounds indicating the Amazon certificate was being set up. That's a sad, sad piece of user interface design.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Targeting your customers

Surprisingly enough, more silly nonsense coming from Target:

Discount retailer Target Corp has sent a letter to major movie studios urging them to recognize that movies offered through electronic downloading services could hurt Target's sales of DVD's

(See the full text)

Heaven forbid, someone should sell something for less than Target, or that the entertainment industry should experiment with new ways to reach their customers than Target. I'm not opposed to the middle man, but it seems to me that when the middle man becomes the customer, the customer is getting lost.

There's a shift coming as things go digital, and the brick and mortar stores will inevitably need to change in response (assuming they want to stay in business). Wishing the problem away won't work.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Stumbling around the web

I just recently finished setting up Google Analytics on a bunch of web pages I wanted to track info on. Although a bunch of this info is also available from server log files, the Google interface is pretty slick (and free). I'm told there are even better options out there, we'll see.

One of the interesting things I found, was a fair amount of traffic coming from a site called StumbleUpon. This is a social networking site I wasn't previously familiar with (I've used Digg in the past). When you install it (I'm using the Firefox plugin), you get a little toolbar with the usual search widgets at ratings controls. There's about 1.3 million people plugged in to this system according to the StumbleUpon website.

Surprisingly enough, I'm actually enjoying this toolbar so far. If I'm in an exploratory mood, I just type the keywords into the search bar, and start "stumbling" around the web. (Click the stumble button to find a new site related to the search.) Giving even a little bit of feedback with the thumbs up and thumbs down provides more data for the StumbleUpon engine.

It'll be interesting to see how long this toolbar survives for me - I really hate giving up the screen real estate, so I'll need to find an easy way to hide/show the toolbar.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

International Day Against DRM

Make sure you keep up with all the technology holidays - we follow up on GIF Independence Day with the International Day Against DRM.

Please give a moment of silence to all the technological innovations throttled in the name of security.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Adding my 2 cents

I recently receive this bill from Amazon for my S3 locker.

This e-mail confirms that your latest billing statement is available on the AWS web site. Your account will be charged the following: Subtotal: $0.02 (plus applicable taxes)
For those of you who haven't taken notice yet - you can basically buy disk space "in the sky" as it were very cheaply from Amazon. Pay only for what you use (as you can see, I haven't used much yet).

I'm still figuring out what I might want to use this for - I was thinking about possibly an off-site backup for digital photos. With a bit of effort, you can access them from anywhere with net access and never need to track down those files again.

For music, though, it's cheaper to use the Oboe Locker from MP3Tunes... for $40 per year, you get unlimited disk space, as long as you're only storing music files.

If you've never played with virtual disks that are always available, you are in for a treat. Of course, it's really geared more towards technical people at the moment, but this is the future we're looking at...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

October Trick or Treat

As of today (October 1, 2006), apparently the GIF format is completely free of patent restrictions. (Check out today's UserFriendly for a humorous take on the issue.) The interesting thing about this is crusing around the web, I found much along the lines of this Wikipedia quote:
On June 20, 2003, the United States patent on the LZW algorithm expired, which meant that Unisys could no longer collect royalties for use of the GIF format in that country. Those bothered by the patent enforcement dubbed this day GIF Liberation Day. The equivalent patents in Europe and Japan expired on June 18 and June 20, 2004 respectively, with the Canadian patent following on July 7.
With patents expiring over the last three years around the world, it's only today that the Software Freedom Law Center feels the issue is finally and truly resolved. Maybe.