One minor rant, and one success story, sort of connected.

The rant: My internet connection is acting kind of flaky tonight. Actually, the connection is fine, but it isn’t talking to some content delivery network(s). All the small-time websites load perfectly, but a lot of the larger ones either aren’t loading at all or are taking ridiculously long. I can load the Facebook timeline, for instance, since that’s dynamically generated…but it took 20 minutes for it to load a handful of static 16×16 pixel buttons for things like sharing links. *grumble*

On the other end of things, I had a great experience with Best Buy’s mobile website earlier today. I’m not sure I’ve ordered anything from in years. The last thing I can think of was my first decent digital camera…in 2003. Usually if I’m going to buy from them I just walk into the store.

Meanwhile, despite owning my G1 for almost a year, I’ve never actually used it to buy anything that I can recall. Lots of research (ShopSavvy, plus various stores’ websites), but no actual purchases. I decided I wanted to see if I could place an order using just my phone, and it was extremely easy to:

  • Find the item
  • Add it to the cart
  • Select a store for local pickup
  • Update my billing address
  • Place the order

The only real sticking points were:

  • Store locations only listed cities. Fortunately, I could just hit a “map” button and they loaded in the phone’s Google Maps app.
  • I had to reset my password, since it had been so long. Since I have POP access to that account, that meant waiting a few minutes for the whole mailbox to download before I could open the message with the new temporary password. Then I had to write it down because K-9 doesn’t seem to support copying text from incoming mail.

Other than that, everything was not only possible using the Android browser, it was streamlined. If I hadn’t needed to update my address and reset my password, I could have been done in two minutes flat. Maybe three once you factor in typing in the credit card info.

I had a harder time posting a link on Facebook tonight — on my desktop — than ordering something on my phone!

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck full of disks on the freeway. Or a pigeon with a datacard.

[A] company in South Africa called Unlimited IT, frustrated by terribly slow Internet speeds, decided to prove their point by sending an actual homing pigeon with a “data card” strapped to its leg from one of their offices to another while at the same time uploading the same amount of data to the same destination via their ISPs data lines. The media outlet reporting this triumph said that it took the pigeon just over 1 hour to make the 80km/50mile flight, whereas it took over 2 hours to transfer just 4% of that data.

Today I noticed a spike in traffic coming from a post on Spread Firefox where I had made a comment. Not a ton of traffic, just ~15 hits from the same page on the same day, but that’s unusual for traffic from SFX posts—especially old ones. I checked to see if it had climbed into the site’s list of top posts (the usual explanation), but it wasn’t there. I just couldn’t figure out what was causing the traffic.

Then I realized the author of that post had another story show up on Slashdot today. I discovered this chain of links:

  1. Slashdot: Just what has Microsoft been doing for IE 7?
  2. Idealog: Microsoft Drops The Ball on Internet Explorer 7 Standards Compliance []
  3. SFX: Should Remain Firefox Only? []
  4. The Alternative Browser Alliance (via signature in comment)

You can see how powerful the Slashdot effect is, if it can cause a noticeable (if minor) spike in traffic to a page 3 degrees away!

Of course, it pales next to being linked from the ISC Handler’s Diary, which seems to have pulled in 10 times as many visitors in 2 days. (Thanks!)

You’d think with the number of years we’ve been sharing files across networks we’d be able to do it somewhat reliably.

Windows: Try to connect to a computer that’s down or misconfigured, and sit for at least 30 seconds, unable to use an explorer window, click on your desktop, or, if you’re really unlucky, use the taskbar or Start menu, until it realizes it can’t connect. (I don’t know if this has been fixed in Windows XP, but it’s still a problem in Windows 2000.)

Unix: On one hand processes are separated better so you don’t normally get a full system lock-up unless it’s trying to connect while starting up…but if you have a modern GNOME desktop, and you have a file in your recent documents list on an auto-mounted NFS share that isn’t available anymore (say, because you turned the computer off), it can lock up your desktop while it tries to connect to create a thumbnail. (This happened to me last night.) And don’t get me started with trying to disconnect from an NFS share that isn’t available.

Mac: Have you got a folder on a server with lots and lots of files in it? Especially images? Hope you can wait for it to transfer every single image over the network and create a thumbnail, because you aren’t going to be able to see anything in that Finder window until it does. (To be fair, I’m basing this on connecting to a Linux box via Netatalk, which implements Mac file sharing. For all I know, connecting to an actual Mac would pull thumbnails out of the images’ resource forks or something.)

Hmm, now that I think about it, generating thumbnails of files on network shares seems to be a problem in itself.

When I worked at a computer lab in college, the main security focus was preventing lab visitors from screwing around too much with the computers. We just ran Windows NT and locked it down as hard as possible. The worst network-based threat I remember facing was WinNuke, and that was just as likely to be another lab tech. Some of the early email viruses started circulating while I was there, but since it was a public lab, we didn’t provide any email programs; people would telnet into the mail server and use Pine. (This was pre-Hotmail, too.)

In my wired-for-ethernet campus housing, however, all bets were off. I watched people remotely controlling each others’ computers as pranks, or discovering hackers had gotten onto their systems from halfway across the planet, and figured it was safer to use Linux most of the time. This actually got me in trouble with the network admin at one point, who decided I must be running a server and shut off my port. It did at least teach me to disable services that were turned on by default, though I saw no indication that anything on there was actually being abused.*


Then there were firewalled environments. Still back in college, we rigged up my parents’ house for a home network. My brother put together a Linux box to dial into the Internet and act as a gateway, and effectively everything inside the network was safe from direct attacks. No point in internal firewalls, and since everyone was savvy enough to avoid the really nasty stuff (which was easier at the time), virus scanners were only a precaution, rather than a necessity.

For the past few years I’ve mainly worked with Continue reading