Monday, December 03, 2007

Steve Kirsch Solves the Spam Problem Once and For All, Dammit.

Steve Kirsch, a successful hardware and software entrepreneur and pretty rich dude, is the latest to have come up with the Final Ultimate Solution to the Spam Problem. This places him in good company, including other rich dudes like Paul Graham and sadly still un-rich dudes like me. He's put up at least $5M, which sounds like a lot but is in fact a smaller portion of his net worth than my quarterly bar tab is of mine. Not that that's unimpressive; I drink a lot of beer. In honor of his entry into this elite (*cough* not *cough*) club, I offer up The Form. Original author unknown. (Disclaimer: I work for the competition.)
Your post advocates a

( ) technical ( ) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante

approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work.
(One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have
other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was

( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
( ) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
( ) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
( ) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
( ) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
( ) Users of email will not put up with it
( ) Microsoft will not put up with it
( ) The police will not put up with it
( ) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
( ) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
( ) Spammers don't care about invalid addresses in their lists
( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business

Specifically, your plan fails to account for

( ) Laws expressly prohibiting it
( ) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
( ) Open relays in foreign countries
( ) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
( ) Asshats
( ) Jurisdictional problems
( ) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
( ) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
( ) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
( ) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
( ) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
( ) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
( ) Extreme profitability of spam
( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
( ) Technically illiterate politicians
( ) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
( ) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
( ) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
( ) Outlook

and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

( ) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever been shown practical
( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
( ) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
( ) Blacklists suck
( ) Whitelists suck
( ) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
( ) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
( ) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
( ) Sending email should be free
( ) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
( ) Incompatiblity with open source or open source licenses
( ) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
( ) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
( ) I don't want the government reading my email
( ) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

( ) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
( ) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
( ) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your house down!

Firefox still a shit-show.

The well-heeled open-sourcerers over at the Firefox Corporation have been releasing ultra-minor updates at a furious pace lately. Just days on the heels of 2.0.10, they shot me 2.0.11. And just minutes after that, my MacBook CPU spiked to >=100%, fans whirring, on a total of 8 open tabs, none of them exotic, in a single window. And the icing on this particular turd-cake: I use a Flash blocker because Adobe can't clean up Macromedia's code enough for it to run properly on a Mac. Yes, I click every single little Flash animation that I actually want to see, and yes, it's a pain, but it generally saves me from force-quitting my browser. So if Firefox blows so hard lately, why do I still use it as my primary browser? One word: Firebug. It's still the best JavaScript developer's tool anywhere... possibly the best client-side web developer's tool, period. The fact that a lot of the dumber webmasters of the universe still don't support Safari is a growing annoyance now that I'm one of the many people browsing via iPhone. Using Firefox as my primary browser was generally a safer bet. And yet, lately, with every expectation that 2.0.12 and 2.0.13 will be buggy as well, But is it buggy enough to make me give up my Firebug? It might be, at least for everyday browsing. I finally got around to AppleScripting command-number shortcuts for tab selection in Safari (a thing Apple, for some reason, doesn't get), so it's really just an acclimation question. Besides, Firefox renders fonts in Ugly-Sans no matter what you do. PS, why am I being so hard on the poor Firefox crew? Because when you make 74 million bucks a year and you're the number-one browser for even semi-clueful people around the world, you can afford to spend on engineering and QA. And you have, frankly, having built that lucrative business on the goodwill and technical help of your users, an obligation to not screw it up.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Firefox goes to 11.

It's pretty well known that Firefox 2 for the Mac has some CPU and memory issues. It's also pretty well known that Adobe's Flash Player for Mac is a bloated, processor-hogging swine that wouldn't know an optimization if it were bit on the ass by one. In case you have a Mac and were wondering why everything would slow down and your browser might even lock up if you were on a page with more than one YouTube video, that's the reason. But today it got out of control. I loaded a background tab that probably had a bunch of Flash embedded in it, but I'll never know as the app locked up so fast I couldn't get to the tab. And then I saw why: Firefox was using over one hundred percent of the CPU! It was fluctuating between 102% and 104%. Before any of you heavy math types get all huffy with your talk of impossibility, let me just say that my iPhone was docked at the time, and I think its processor can probably just about handle an extra 5% of my Macbook.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

ATT needs 10 business days to execute two SQL updates.

I just had an amusing phone conversation with AT&T. It turns out that in order to transfer a DSL account - with permission and cooperation from both parties -- they need ten business days. As every computer geek knows, this should be matter of two statements issued to a database. I already have an AT&T account (for my iPhone) so, if my customer_id were 12345 and the land line 123-555-1212, it would be something like:
UPDATE residential
   SET customer_id = 12345
   WHERE phone_number = '123-555-1212';
   SET customer_id = 12345, contract_start = current_time()
   WHERE phone_number = '123-555-1212';
Granted, I'm joking a little bit -- but only a little bit. Presumably there would be a few more INSERT or UPDATE statements to make note of the fact that the previous owner gave up his service, and that I'm an iPhone customer, and so on. But presumably that would all be nicely hidden away behind a pretty little web application for the customer service representatives who are now kept busy explaining that it all takes 10 business days and there is nothing, oh nothing they can do about it. Like hire competent programmers for example. The representative understood why I found it frustrating, but assured me it had gotten much better: it used to take 30 days. Even now, they turn the thing off, wait for it to be really-really off, take a break, eat a sandwich, have a beer, then turn it on again. And furthering the irony: I'm reasonably sure I'm going to end up with a second account, and they will be unable to consolidate billing onto my existing AT&T account. So why bother with all this anyway? I happen to be going on vacation exactly when the 10 days should happen. And while Speakeasy has much better service, it's probably not worth the money for my expected use of the line.

Blogger can't parse HTML entities.

I was just setting up a post about the company formerly known as Ma Bell, and Blogger informs me:

These characters are not allowed: &

Presumably they're worried about the dense jungle of HTML entities. The dense, well-documented, utterly predictable, routinely parsed jungle. Of course they can parse them in some places, just not in others. And of course the big G. makes it really really hard to file bugs, so we just have to blog about it.
To: Sergey
From: Frosty
Subject: Again with the Google problems!


You can make four billion dollars a year on text ads, you can map the
known universe, you could probably put a man on the friggin' moon;
but you can't write a regular expression.

What gives?  Is it the coke, or the bloated HR apparatus?

Get Eric on this one, it's embarrassing!

Friday, July 06, 2007

If you're a web developer, you probably get the whole idea just from the title of this post. It's not my idea; it's probably been had by a lot of other folks to, but I ran across it first on Richard Tallent's blog: In a nutshell:
"I think it’d be spiffy if Google hosted a few FOSS Javascript, CSS, and image resources, and encouraged all web designers to link to them rather than hosting the files themselves."
Things like Prototype, MochiKit, various icons and so on. The main upside for Google is that give a really big push to rich web apps, just at the moment when they're starting to really break through (witness iPhone). The big win for everyone else is that rich web apps load a whole lot faster (effectively centralizing the caching, and serving from the fastest servers anywhere). Potential downsides? Google knows more about your visitors, but do you care? Aren't you using Analytics and AdSense already? Also, your site's availability is tied to Google's. Again, do you care? At this point the Internet is down if Google is down, at least as far as normal users are concerned (and this is all about normal users). The other really cool thing I could see coming out of this is a general increase in the quality of free graphics (icons, backgrounds, etc.). It would be a very serious mark of prestige to have Google hosting your icons; and it would mean enormous exposure (assuming they're good). There are already some very good free icons out there, but this would be the incentive to bring that to the next level. And then everyone wins: talented designers get fame and lucrative contracts, developers and users get fast-loading high-quality graphics, Google helps push the Online App experience. Well, maybe Microsoft doesn't win. But hey, they have Vista, right?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Budapest Tour Guides and Apartments

Some people, when they go to Budapest, get to stay with my friends and pretty much have the time of their lives. Now you can have essentially the same experience even if you don't know me! ;-) My buddy Pál (as in Paul) has teamed up with some awesome people to offer very personal tours of Budapest as well as downtown Budapest apartments for short-term rental. Lots of people do the rental thing, and I'm sure his are as good as anybody's (I can vouch for the locations). But the thing that makes this special is that Pál knows everyone in that town. No, seriously, everyone. He knows more people in Budapest than I do, which is something. (He has the advantage of being Hungarian, but still...) When he says he'll take you to meet artists and vintners, he really means it, and they'll actually be good artists and vintners, not the Váci utca tourist crap. So there you have it. If you're going to Budapest, or for that matter anywhere in Hungary, and you want to have a great time and see the real insider's version, but you don't already have friends there -- then ditch that stupid guidebook and send Pál an e-mail (or just call him, he speaks English). They offer prearranged tours and creative as-you-like-it accompaniment in English, German and Spanish (Gina is a native speaker, which is not very common in those parts). I would especially recommend them to people who are interested in the authentic cultural and culinary delights of Budapest (yes, including bars). Here's the URL, pretty easy to remember if you can remember that Paul is Pál in Hungarian (plus he's totally a pal):

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

VernissageTV Art Video Blog

I just found a cool new art blog called VernissageTV. "Verissage" means "art opening" and that's largely what the blog is about. Or should I say vlog? No, I don't like saying vlog, it sounds dumb. VernissageTV, as its name implies, has a lot of video content available for free download. Beyond that, they also have your standard link-to-stuff blogging (you're soaking in it!) and a PDF virtual magazine, which is mostly pictures and hard to manage at a whopping 10MB for one issue. They're based out of Basel, the Swiss center of art and pharmaceuticals, but almost all the content is in English. Some of the stuff is obviously only of interest to us art geeks, but they also have virtual tours of major shows you might not otherwise get to see, as well as some pretty fascinating interviews. What they don't have much of is server capacity. Downloading the videos was sloooow. And the funny thing is that they're also selling the content on DVD, presumably in high quality. Note to VernissageTV: that's what YouTube is for. Put the low-quality version there and let Google worry about the bandwidth, then sell the high quality version (ideally on the iTunes store, but that's another topic). Likewise, their hosted PDFs feature gargantuan images poorly compressed. I get the general impression they aren't very tech-savvy, and I hope that situation improves. One of their people has a Flickr page that's much, much easier to play with than the PDFs, so you should start there if you want more "illustration" than the blog provides. I've tossed this one into my "ART" bookmarks folder, and I recommend a visit. Just don't go on dial-up.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Google, hire a copywriter already!

Google has this new tech out called Sketchup (acquired of course, they don't seem to do new tech in-house anymore). The deal: 3D modeling for non-professionals. Pretty cool, and I think the Google angle is about improving Maps/Earth through user-generated content. But OMFG the writing...
Developed for the conceptual stages of design, Google SketchUp is a powerful yet easy-to-learn 3D software. It combines a simple, yet robust tool-set with an intelligent drawing system that streamlines and simplifies 3D design.
Yet yet what? Come on, big G! I know you're a kingdom of dorks, but you're a very rich kingdom. Would it be so tragic to hire someone who cares about the English language?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Google Analytics

I have to say, I really like Google Analytics. It's a free site stats system based on Urchin, which Google bought a while back. It uses Javascript and is unobtrusive in modern browsers. You get really nice, clicky stats. There are a couple problems with it: first and most importantly, it doesn't give you any information on file downloads nor on errors. For that you still need your old-fashioned server logs. The other problem is that everything about it is geared towards sites making money with AdSense. But that's hardly surprising, and after all it's the reason Google can give the service away free: in addition to being useful for site owners, it helps them help Google help them make money. I'm trying it out on several sites for a little over a month now, and I'm very impressed. I just added it here as well - though I was a bit surprised Google hadn't already integrated that into Blogger, which they also own.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Google Maps: Awesome Europe

I'm playing around with Google Maps lately. You can mark things on their global map and put information around your "pin" and make the whole thing public. This, I like. My first attempt at a "public map" is Awesome Europe, and the first entry is of course Bileca, where I hope to vacation again this summer. Unless I get too bored with it, this map will grow. I'm not giving away all my secrets, but I will highlight some places you probably haven't been to, and should check out if you're good company. ;-) Enjoy!

TypePad as CMS: Maybe the next time.

As I mentioned earlier, I thought I could use TypePad Pro from Six Apart as a general-purpose content-management system (CMS) for a magazine-like web site. Short answer: no dice. There were a couple problems around the difference between blogging and content management; a couple issues of usability; and one show-stopping oversight I can't understand. Blogging is not CMS. I knew that, but I thought it was close enough. After all, the difference between an "online magazine" and a "multi-author blog" is very, very thin. And I don't doubt you could just change you notion of a magazine and be fine... or perhaps you shouldn't even be thinking of a magazine, you should be thinking of a blog. But I care a lot about how this thing will look, and I also care about easily playing around with monetizing options like Amazon Affiliates and Google Adsense. I don't expect to make money, but I do want to play with technologies that at least in theory could make me money. All of this, unfortunately, is really hard with TypePad. The default templates are gorgeous, but customization is a nightmare -- I'd really expected them to have radically improved that end of their business since my experience with Movable Type a couple years ago. But it's still about pulling teeth. There is of course a plug-in architecture, as befits a popular web service. But that too is difficult to install and administer. I know Six Apart knows their current ad offering is a joke; they're looking for a good programmer to make them a new one. And yes, they do have some minimal Amazon integration. What I missed, surprisingly, was tight integration with Google services and with other content (Flickr/Yahoo) and commercial (Adsense/Amazon) offerings. I do realize these are in some way Six Apart's competitors, but we've reached the point where not working with Google is like not working with e-mail. Incestuous Usability. Wow, what a phrase. It's not what you think! Seriously, TypePad has some very cool features, but it's overwhelmingly obvious that their UI team is stuck in a rut. It's natural enough: things are added, the large customer base gets used to them and gives feedback, things are refactored, and so on -- with the end result that you can do a whole lot, but unless you're a veteran user of the system it's shockingly non-obvious how to get your work done. That's what's incestuous about it: I'm sure it's the best thing ever for the people who've been there for years, but its objective quality is not very high. What it really needs is a complete UI overhaul, ideally with some usability experts from a good Mac house like Omni Group or Panic. Or even get Zeldman's team, they're smart enough to get you 95% there. I also had some general nits but they're more likely about personal preference than anything else. I'd mostly like a more application-like posting experience; Blogger is actually better in that, despite the asinine link layout. The show-stopper: stupid mod_redirect tricks. Still and all, I was really tempted to give it a go for a couple months and see if the zero-administration angle could make up for the lack of easy customization. But I found one thing I just couldn't accept: their domain hosting is broken. Quoth Six Apart:
The mapping sets up your address. To enable the address (without the www) to work with your site, you would use a redirect from to How this is set exactly depends on your registrar. Some registrars will allow you to use the forwarding option to redirect your non-www address.
For non-technical readers: that means you have to fiddle with the technical hosting bullshit anyway, even if you just want to use your domain name for your blog, because you need people to be able to type "" into the browser and get to you. I've thought about this quite a bit, and I can't figure out what Six Apart's mental block is. I can only guess it's a tricky scalability problem, since I know they have some really smart people working there, so they've probably already tried the five or six solutions I thought up in an afternoon. But at the end of the day, I'm sorry, there's no excuse. For that matter, I think Six Apart should lower the burden on their nontechnical users and just provide DNS and a decent webmail system (or use Gmail, see above). Imagine this: to make your domain your blog, just set the name servers to NS1.TYPEPAD.COM and so on; then connect the domain to your blog in your TypePad control panel, and optionally add some e-mail addresses which you can then access via Most hosting providers offer something similar if less well engineered. Hot San Francisco startup can't do better? Nope. Wrong answer. Why does this bug me so much? For me personally, it crosses a line: if I have to worry about any administrative thing outside of TypePad, I might as well host it myself. But I'm a big techie; the other thing that bugs me is the thought of all the people who are TypePad's more natural customers, who don't know much about computers or the Internet, and will waste hours of their time trying to set things up right, and most likely end up with a half-broken solution anyway. Are you listening, Barak? You guys should be the industry leaders on this point! OK, so I got all worked up about the technical part, now I might as well also note that the help text is technically incorrect; it may or may not have to do with your registrar. Nyah. Plan and Recommendation. I'd like to try WordPress next, but only if I find a very good hosted solution. I know half the point is that you don't need hosting, but I still like the idea of minimizing my administrative overhead. The other thing is that WordPress, for all its glory and following, requires two technologies I consider scourges of the Internet: PHP and MySQL. I'm a Perl guy, so I know what it is to take abuse; but I'll go out on a limb and say that anyone who likes MySQL doesn't understand the intrinsic beauty of databases; and don't even get me started on PHP. These technologies are no longer welcome anywhere I have sudo. So I may just roll my own, or I may fall back to that venerable technology known as "HTML." It would probably be more fun to write a TextMate publishing bundle than a blogging system anyway. However, for all my complaints I would still recommend TypePad to a broad class of users. If you need a blog, and you're not necessarily trying to do some super crazy geeky tricks, and you only kinda-sorta need it on your own domain name (or don't at all), I think the low administrative overhead and pretty good reliability and very friendly, helpful community of TypePad add up to a deal that's easily worth the small fees they charge. Some really influential people use it, including Seth Godin, though you'll notice he's not bothering with the domain mapping. I think the folks at Six Apart genuinely have their customer's best interests in mind, even if they occasionally fail to deliver. If "roll my own" isn't something you could or would consider anyway, and you don't want a big setup hassle, you should give TypePad a 30-day trial and you may find it suits your needs. My needs, it turns out, were more complicated.

Villa Teresa Prosecco Veneto

This is a yummy, light, organic Italian prosecco that's perfect for breakfast, or a light lunch, or the hell of it. It's from the Veneto of course, a great place for white wines and Hemingway. It has exactly the "strohgelb" color advertised to its Germanic consumers, which is to say the crisp airy yellow of straw. And in another rare example of wine advertising being spot-on, it does indeed smell of unripe apples. (By the way, Germans are crazy about prosecco so it's normal that the German blurb is better-written than the English.) I had half a bottle with my huevos con chorizo today, and am finishing it off whilst surfing the net. Highly recommended. Cost: $10 at the corner store. The bottle has a nice shape to it, though oddly enough I had to use a screw to remove the cork: the top bit was insufficient to get a good grip. If you're buying a bottle late at night to drink on the street, or some sunny morning on your way to the park, factor that in. I'm sure it could be opened without a corkscrew, but it wouldn't be easy. Apparently the same folks make a Pinot Grigio, which is no surprise considering the region. I'll keep an eye out for it. Unfortunately I only have phone-cam pics as my proper camera is at the office. And here, in "fair use" mode, is a bottle shot I snagged online.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Python Blogging

My fried Toby has switched from Ruby to Python, and he's blogging about it: His first Ruby vs. Python post got picked up by Reddit and attracted a lot of attention. Toby's a serious programmer and a pretty funny writer, so if you're curious about Python I suggest you bookmark the blog, or put it in your feed reader. And of course you can't not read something with the word "drizzdown" in the title. (For the non-geeky: Ruby and Python are computer programming languages.)

The vomitorium is not for vomiting.

Who knew?

TypePad Pro as CMS

I'm starting to wonder whether TypePad Pro from SixApart is the sweet-spot solution for a multi-author content management system (CMS) on the cheap.

Wait, you say -- isn't that just blogging?

Sort of. But I'm thinking of a project that's less like blogging and more like writing. As I mentioned in my little write-up Why Frostopolis is not a blog, I don't think the blogging paradigm works for all kinds of content sites. And TypePad Pro has a bunch of features that at least sound like as good a fit for that as for blogging: unlimited blogs, your own domains, full template control, multiple authors, and a decent amount of storage (1GB).

Full template control -- why not just design it from scratch?

Good question! I once did a complete custom Movable Type template set, and it was a godawful nightmare. I could have written a blogging system in less time. And since I was doing it in the context of the aesthetically challenged blogosphere, nobody cared about the design effort. But that's not really the point of hosted CMS. The point is that you have access to perfectly good templates to use for a while, and if you decide it's worth the effort later you can indeed customize them to a very great extent. Of course that's a giant pain in the ass; but you only have to do it if your project is working out. In other words, you postpone the real design work. My latest thinking is that the opportunity cost of your content waiting on the good design is in fact higher than the added cost of designing (maybe) around somebody's template system. The obvious problem with that, at least in the CMS context, is that your site will probably look exactly like a blog until you make time to do some real design. But again I think the agility advantage is worth it.

What about lock-in?

Sure, there's that. You build up the site and then your needs change, and you need to move your stuff, but your design is specific to their system and your content is stuck inside it. As a programmer, I am confident saying to myself: tough luck, self, be happy it's worth the effort and spend a weekend moving it. Exchange "some money" for "a weekend" and you have the non-technical answer. The point here is that the service is dirt cheap and if it lives up to its hype then the only reasons you'd have for moving are that you give up the project or that it grows into something very custom. In the first case, suck it up and just mirror the site onto your nearly-free shared server. In the second case, you find yourself either enjoying Success or practicing Stupidity, and both require a little capital outlay from time to time.

Cheap?!?! (WordPress|TextDrive|Blogger) is free!

True enough, and here I am using a free service for my trivial-rambling blog. And I have tons of server capacity sitting idle. But if you want more control, you have to either make it yourself or pay someone for it. Sure, as a software professional specializing in Perl and databases and web stuff I ought to just write my own. But I'm busy. I have a job. I have parties to go to. TypePad Pro costs fifteen bucks a month. Sometimes I pay more than that for a single drink. So as long as it doesn't cost me more time than setting up any other system on my own host then the $15 is basically as good as free. (Though I do think it's a good business model: offer a decent service for so little money that the cost is no barrier, but build it so it's super easy to administer, and make your money in aggregate. Basically the same model as web hosting.)

And now?

Now, we dance! Well, check out the free trial anyway. I'm particularly curious whether SixApart has anything to compete with Google Analytics (hint: doubt it), and in how their templating concept has evolved since I last worked with it. I'll post the link as soon as I have it set up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Ezt szeretem nagyon. Nem tom miert.


That's Bullet at Kafana.

Long time gone, nyócker

They tore this down years ago. Alberto took a picture then with the little Minox. I wonder if he still has it. I wonder if they'll ever finish.

Igor Obrovski by Francis Bacon

If Francis Bacon had been a cheap camera in an unsteady hand.

Various and sundry things...

I have a bunch of projects I never seem to have time to finish. But they're all pretty cool. There's ProCork dot EU, which is a cork importing operation run by some friends in Europe. Then there's my new super secret project which is alllmost done and has something to do with lists. And it will be funny (we all hope). And then there's my portfolio which I swear I'll get to some day, and the Secret Wine Society and the idea to do something more interesting than blogification on Frostopolis, and what else? Lots of things of course. But I have a day job and a social life and a bunch of other excuses. Oh yeah, and this is one of my favorite websites these days: Ironic Sans. But I suppose my fave is Fake Steve Jobs.

Another one from the studio...

Actually this looks great in person... gotta getta betta camera...