Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bit Torrent Killed My Router

Adam's VOIP Setup

I'm a long time Vonage customer and I have a very old Vonage Motorola VT1005 VOIP Router that they gave me when I signed up way back in 2003. It turns out that this box can't handle all the action that Bit Torrent sends its way; something about a limited size of the NAT table not working with the large number of connections opened by Bit Torrent. Typically it needs to be reset at least once a day when any sort of Bit Torrent activity is going on.

Airport Extreme DMZ Setting

The solution is to keep the poor VT1005 out of the way of all that traffic. Instead of using it as your main router, stick it behind something more up to the task, like an Apple Airport Extreme. Of course the VOIP functionality works best if there is no firewall between it and the network at large. The solution to this is to put the VT1005 in the DMZ of your main router. To do this you first need to make sure the VT1005 has a static IP address. You can set this on using the web interface of the VT1005. After that, go to the admin interface for your main router and set this new IP address as the DMZ IP address. On the Airport Extreme this setting is called Enable Default Host, as you can see in the image above.

There are a few other issues to be aware of when dealing with the VT1005. It has an advanced setting so you can disable NAT and put it in bridge mode. This seems like a good idea since it ought to avoid the NAT table explosion, but that solution seems to have the same daily reset issue. Also, it's a bit tricky to get back to the web interface of the VT1005 if you've put it into bridge mode. There is no way to get to the device after that! The trick is to directly connect your computer to the VT1005's PC port and set the IP address of your computer statically to with the gateway set to Then point your browser to and you'll be able to change the NAT settings again. Finally, make sure you have the VT1005 set to use the factory MAC address. I was trying to fake out my ISP and set the MAC address to the same number as my Airport Extreme. This will work if you ISP gives you more than one IP address and you're in bridge mode (NAT disabled). But it won't work if the Vonage box is setup in your DMZ. Your router and the computer in the DMZ can't have the same MAC address or things just won't work.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Desperate Housewives on Miro

I blogged about Miro a couple weeks ago. I'm impressed with Version 1.0 after using it regularly for a while. Previous versions hung regularly and were even resilient enough that Force Quit wouldn't kill them. I've had no hangs what soever with 1.0.

One trick I've learned is how to add first run TV shows to Miro. Since Miro is also a Bit Torrent client, it can download Bit Torrent files. With Bit Torrent, the problem is finding the torrent files that you're interested in. This problem is solved by using RSS feeds for the torrents. If you give Miro an RSS feed, it will download files indicated in that feed. The RSS trick works for YouTube's Top Videos as well as Bit Torrent. But the problem remains, where do I get interesting RSS feeds of torrent files? It turns out there is a site called tvRSS that has organized a large number of torrent files for TV shows.

To get this to work, you find the feed you want from tvRSS by clicking on the show you want to see. You'll see something like the above image. If you right click (or control click for single button Macs) on the link Search-based RSS Feed, you can copy the URL for the RSS feed. It will look something like this:

Next, use the Add Channel menu in Miro and add this URL to for the channel. Miro will then start downloading the newest episode from the RSS feed. You might want to rename the channel with the show name as the default channel name isn't very pretty.

By default Miro will only download the newest show and will delete it if you don't watch it after five days to save disk space. If you want the older episodes you can click on them in the channel view and Miro will download those as well. When new shows appear in the RSS feed, Miro will automatically download them. This works great for new and popular shows. However, the older a show is, the less likely you'll be able to download it. This is just an artifact of how Bit Torrent works. During and after downloading a file from Bit Torrent, your client acts as a server for other folks to download the file. This is great when a file is popular since lots of folks will be downloading it and you'll have a lot of peers that can pass on the data. However, this scheme runs out of steam pretty quickly. If a file is old, it will be difficult to find other peers that are still willing to share it. Think of the five day delete rule in Miro. If you've deleted the file after five days, you're not going to be able to share it with other Bit Torrent clients. In a way, this is a lot like broadcast television. A signal is sent out and it fades away into the distance. Similarly, these torrent files burst out onto the net but fade away over time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Tivo for the Internet

Miro is an open source (cross platform) media player and downloader. Their slogan is Miro turns your computer into a TV. It's a bit of a stretch, but it does give you the idea. In a lot of ways it turns your computer into a Tivo for the Internet. Now that I live in Vietnam, I'm sorely missing my Tivo, so Miro is help ing with my Tivo withdrawl. One of the best things about Miro is that it allows you to download rather than stream video, including YouTube video. This means that if you're bandwidth challenged (like on a plane or in a third world country) you can still watch videos you've already downloaded. Of course this means you need to have the forethought to download them before you get on the plane or before you head off to bed. Miro helps with this in that you can manage subscriptions that automatically download. The videos are kept for a while and eventually deleted, making room for move videos. This is how it's like a Tivo. Season passes on Tivo work in a similar way.

The major drawback to Miro is the quality of the content. I haven't really found much worth watching. Supposedly it will handle Bit Torrent, which has a better selection of content but it's more difficult to find.

The other problem with Miro is that while it links to a few video sites, it's still missing the best video search engine, Truveo. Given that Truveo has a free open API, that should be easy to fix!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Zach is Everywhere

Tesla Motors is one of my favorite companies. I like it for a number of reasons:

  1. Cool Product (all electric sports car)
  2. Cool Town (San Carlos, where I used to live)
  3. Very Green (Bought one to stick it to Big Oil)
  4. Great People (See Zach below)
Just thought it was funny that while surfing the web here in Saigon I ran across this article about Veronica Belmont (who?) and immediately recognized Zach Edson from Tesla Motors.

Recently I was lucky enough to get to test drive the Tesla Roadster. (More on that in another blog post.) Zach Edson and Joe Powers were the guys that hosted me on this ride. I'm sure it was a pain in the rear for Tesla to arrange test drives for folks that had already bought a Roadster. To be fair, the drives were about feedback, not about giving the owners something fun to do. Sure, as owners we've put a lot of (blind?) faith in the company. But Zach and Joe went above and beyond in arranging the test drives. Thanks guys!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Open Social: Cross Platform Social Apps

My man Ted Rheingold at Dogster has a great post about Open Social. Turns out this could be a big deal. I've been thinking of building a Facebook application, one of the drawbacks has been that it would only work on Facebook. Now with the Open Social API this might be more attractive. I wonder how difficult it would be to build a compatibility library between Open Social and Facebook so Open Social apps could be run on Facebook. :-)

Check out the bizarre "Campfire Chat" video on Open Social. It's a great parade of who's who in social networking. When did Marc Andreessen loose all of his hair? Notice the contrast between the NorCal geeks and the SoCal metrosexuals. I'll let you guess which is which.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why SMS?

Now that I've been living in Saigon for a few months, I've come to love the local custom of 'texting' or sending SMS messages between mobile phones. I almost never did this back in the US. Here in Vietnam it's more common to text someone than to call them. So why do folks use texting here?

Cost: It's cheaper to send an SMS message than to make a call. I checked yesterday and the cost to send an SMS from my prepaid Mobifone is 350 VND, about $0.02. Like voice calls here, text messages are charged to the sender, not the receiver.

Multi-tasking: When you get a text you don't have to respond right away. If you're busy, you can wait until you have a few moments to respond. You can also think about your response a bit more. When you get a voice call you have to immediately stop what you're doing and concentrate on the conversation. If you're driving your motorbike, smoking a cigarette, drinking a coffee, and talking on your phone all at the same time, (I've seen this) not only is it dangerous but you're probably not thinking clearly about the conversation either. Say you're trying to set up a meeting. It's a good bet that when you're asked about your schedule tomorrow morning, you may easily forget about the dentist appointment on your calendar and schedule the meeting on top of it. If you had an SMS you could take your time, check your schedule, and respond with an answer that you know is correct.

Clarity: While texting has it's own unique list of perils, it's great for getting addresses or phone numbers correct. There is an added bonus in Vietnam, where you may not be able to pronounce the address but you can show the taxi driver the SMS and he can read the address directly.

Ubiquity: Here everyone carries their cell phones with them. Back home most people are pretty connected to their email, especially those with a blackberry addiction. Think of the advantage of a blackberry without the cost. Sure, it's more difficult to type on a phone, but you would be surprised how quickly you adapt. Most phones have some form of autocomplete these days, so with a little practice you can whip out those witty texts in no time.

Avoidance: It's a great way to leave information for someone without having to actually talk to them. I know people that purposely try to get someone's voicemail so they can minimize their interaction with that person. Texting has the same advantages of minimal interaction. It's bad taste to break up with someone by texting them, but I'm sure it happens all the time.

What's missing, it seems to me, is a way to get more information via SMS. Google has an SMS interface in the US which is very limited. I think this idea could be pushed much further. Twitter and Jaiku (now a Google company) allow you to SMS your updates and receive updates from your buddies. That's an interesting twist. I have a feeling there is room for more innovation along these lines, particularly in countries like Vietnam where voice calls are comparatively rare.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lunch at the Googleplex

I recently had a chance to visit my buddy JJ over at the Googleplex. It really is quite an amazing place. Parking is a nightmare and there are just hordes of folks milling about. In the lobby they had this copy of Space Ship One hanging from the ceiling. I'm not sure why, maybe just because it's cool. It reminded me of a scene from Cryptonomicon where Chester has a fully reconstructed 747 hanging from his ceiling.

They also have a few cool data displays. The one you see here shows a live animation of the number of Google searches by geography. There are little blips that float up from the earth at a rate that is proportional to the number of queries per second Google is getting from a particular geography. We spun it around to Vietnam and the number of blips was pretty low compared with the firehose over the Bay Area. To be expected I suppose. Rumor has it Yahoo! is really the search leader in Vietnam. I have no hard data on this, it's just simply that most Vietnamese I meet have Yahoo email addresses and Yahoo 360 blogs.

Anyway, thanks for lunch big daddy Google. The shot of fresh wheat grass juice was particularly memorable.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

iPhone Success: Just a Little More Grief

D'oh! Looks like the phone works fine but just not with iTunes. I can make and receive calls, watch YouTube videos, surf the web from my WiFi connection. Just can't sync with iTunes so no address book, music, or video.

Grrr, it's always something.

Ok, here's the deal. Via the iNdependence program, I activated the re-virginized iPhone with my Mobifone SIM card. iTunes didn't like that at all and gave me the IMEI error message above. I'm using iTunes 7.4.2 on the Mac so I figured maybe I should downgrade to 7.4.1 to see if that made a difference. Luckily I wasn't able to find this version of iTunes since it would have been a waste of time. I put back my old AT&T SIM card and re-activated the iPhone using good old iNdependence. After that I was able to sync everything with iTunes again. This is nice, but not great. I still want things to work with Mobifone. So I swaped the Mobifone SIM back in and tried to sync, but iTunes wouldn't have it. This time it complained that the phone wasn't activated. Aha! I just need to activate the Mobifone SIM again. So back to iNdependence for another activation with the Mobifone SIM and it looks like we're golden.

So my advice is to stick with iNdependence and avoid all the AppTap/minicom drama. Follow the iNdependence readme (with the original AT&T SIM card in your phone) and this will keep things simple.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Restore iPhone without Firmware Upgrade

Through a myriad of programs and lots of mucking around with my iPhone, I ended up hosing it pretty well. I'm not sure what went wrong, but it got to the point that even the original AT&T sim card wouldn't work.

The problem is I want to restore the iPhone but I don't want to upgrade the firmware to the latest 1.1.1 version since I'm hearing that it may do bad things to a hacked iPhone. Unfortunately iTunes won't ask you if you want to restore with the current version, it wants to force you to upgrade to the latest version. I then found this great article that did the trick for me. You can use a hidden option in iTunes that allows you to select the firmware version you want to restore to. You just hold down the option key (shift key on Windows) while pressing the restore button.

I've now re-virginized my iPhone! Thank you iPhone Atlas!

Now I can retry this again with the minimal number of steps. The best guide I've found is this one from MacApper.

I got down to the 'minicom' step and somehow the minicom session got screwed and I ended up with a totally non-responsive phone. iTunes wouldn't even recoginize it. It seemed like the phone was in some sort of slow motion. It would reboot after maybe 5 minutes and the home screen would show up with my custom picture of the family and everything. The phone seemed to be about as useful as a brick at this point. I then read this tip. You can restore the phone by holding down the sleep and home buttons and then release the sleep button at exactly 10 seconds (keeping the home button held down). This actually worked for me and I was able to restore my phone one more time using iTunes and the option key hack mentioned above.

Ok, this time I'm going to skip the minicom step and just use INdependence to get SSH onto the phone instead of the AppTAP method described on MacApper. Turns out this works!

Using INdependence I activated the phone, did the jailbreak, and installed ssh. I then copied over anySIM to my phone's /Applications directory like this:

$ scp -r root@

I also did a chmod +x on the directory by ssh-ing to the phone.

$ chmod +x /Applications/

I then restarted the phone and ran the anySIM program from the Springboard (home screen of the iPhone) and it finally worked. Whew!

The odd thing is that with this method, you don't have all the normal Unix commands on the iPhone when you ssh over to it. Even commands like ls, passwd, and rm are missing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tesla Ups Range: 245 Miles per Charge

I just received an email from Michael Marks, the new CEO of Tesla Motors, indicating that they have confirmed the range of 245 miles per charge for the 2008 (first model year) of the Tesla Roadster.

This is great news. They had previously indicated that the range would be closer to 200 miles, so I'm very happy with this news. The disappointing news is that the cars won't start shipping in earnest until Q1 2008. Mine is number 97 so I probably won't be cruising around in my Tesla until next summer. I'm not really too disappointed. I would rather they take their time and make a great (and safe) car.

Check out the official Tesla blog for the details.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Personal VPN Protection for WiFi Hotspots

Now that I'm spending a lot of time on open WiFi networks so I decided to spring for a personal VPN. The crew at WiTopia has been providing this service for a few years. Why do you need this? If you're using a WiFi hotspot at the airport or the coffee shop, all those network packets are out there for anyone to snoop. (Sure the ones to your bank are encrypted with SSL, but whose to say the SSL connection is really going to your bank...)

Last week I was chatting with my wife who was having problems with our home computer. Before I thought better of it, I had IM'd her the password for our home computer. I actually woke up in the middle of the night when I realized what I had done. Anyone snooping packets at the cafe could have used the password to log onto our computer and snoop around. I got up in the middle of the night and changed the password (and checked to make sure there were no strange logins to the computer earlier that day.)

The folks at Witopia offer the service for only $39.95 per year. If you work for a big company, you probably already have a company VPN and don't need a personal one. (Unless you don't want the mother ship snooping in on your traffic either.)

Another benefit of using this service is that your traffic is tunneled to the US before going out into the internet at large. This means that if you're in a country that blocks certain sites or services, you can get around those restrictions. I recently met a pilot who travels to Dubai where Skype is blocked. He uses Witopia so he can call his wife back home while on lay overs in Dubai. Very cool.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Typing Vietnamese on Mac OS X

Tôi học tiéng Viẹt. (I'm learning Vietnamese.)

I'm learning Vietnamese and recently decided I need to start writing up some of my vocabulary so I will remember it. Back 1994 when I first started learning Vietnamese you had to run these totally hokey add ons so you could type the accents and the special characters.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mac OS has support for Vietnamese (and most other languages) built right in. Here's a one page summary of how to do this. Basically you just select Vietnamese in the system preferences and then you can type Vietnamese and easily switch back and forth between English and Vietnamese keyboard mappings.

(This doesn't seem to be the case for Windows. Everyone I've met here seems to use some sort of add on to make this work in Windows.)

Vietnamese is a rare Asian language that uses a westernized script. Like Chinese, Vietnamese is a tonal language. This means that words have a different meaning depending on how you say them. In English we use tones very differently. For instance, we use an up tone to indicate questions. When you say "Are you sure?" your voice goes up. In Vietnamese there are 5 tones that are written as accents. The accents are always on the vowels. Here is an example with the letter e: è, ẻ, ẽ, é, and ẹ. The first 4 go above the letter, the last goes under it. There are other accent marks but these are not tonal but indicate different sounds. For instance the letter 'd' makes the 'y' sound so the Vietnamese word 'de' sounds like 'yea'. However, the letter đ sounds like the English letter d as in dog. The Vietnamese word đi (dee) means to go. Vietnamese is missing some letters that we have. They don't have J or Z. There are a few special versions of certain vowels: ă, â, ê, ô, ư, and ơ. I won't even try to explain in text how to pronounce these, right now this is the hardest part for me. The tones are much easier than trying to figure out the difference between the sound of a versus ê. Oh well, practice makes perfect, if you practice perfect. And therein lies the rub.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Is that a Bluetooth in your Jawbone (or are you just happy to see me?)

I was visiting NYC recently and had a long conference call in my future. I decided it was time to get a headset for my lame RAZR phone. (Yes, I have iPhone envy.) Since I refuse to be bound to AT&T for two years in order to have a iPhone, I decided that at the very least, I deserve a sweet bluetooth headset. The Aliph Jawbone headset is in fact very cool and works like a charm.

In the old days I would spend an hour walking back and forth between the Caltrain and the Truveo offices in San Francisco. Once I got the Jawbone, with its superior noise reduction technology, I could then use that hour to annoy my friends and family with useless chit chat. Turns out this works most of the time. Wind noise is the one big downfall of the Jawbone noise reduction algorithm. As long as it's not windy, you can make yourself heard. If the wind is kicking up. Forget the phone call and just listen to that iPod. (You know, the one that doesn't make phone calls.)

Now that I don't take the Caltrain but live in a developing country, I find that the Jawbone is mainly connected to my MacBook and used for Skype or Gizmo calls. Yes, these bluetooth babies aren't just for your phone. Pair them with a modern laptop and you can wonder around the apartment while Skyping with the homeland for hours on end.

Truveo's Back!

Last week we re-launched Truveo. Our parent company, AOL, has decided to let us focus on our own brand with the site. We're still powering the big boys, but now we can show off our stuff directly and not have to wait for other folks to get around to integrating cool features we add. (Yes, there's more in the pipeline...)

The press was pretty sweet. Mossberg's crew at the Wall Street Journal had good things to say. Over at NewTeeVee we've trounced our competitors. According to Bits, the New York Times blog, we make Google and Yahoo appear somewhat lackluster. At we're awesome.

One of the things I'm most proud of is the team we've built. The Truveo mother ship is loaded with hard working brainiacs. Thanks gang!

Gizmo Project Beats Skype for Out Calls

Now that we're living in Vietnam, the who IP Phone thing is a lot more interesting. At first I thought I would just use my Cingular phone; gee it just works here, being GSM and all. Then I found out that it cost me $4.99 per minute for roaming in Vietnam. Ok, that's crazy expensive, but in Vietnam, it's crazy expensive. For $5 I can get a really good tennis pro for an hour or a decent meal. A taxi ride normally costs me less than a dollar. The really expensive coffee shop sells large lattes for less than $2 and the locals think we're nuts for pay that.

So the cheap solution seems to be to use Skype Out to call my friends on their phones back home. I've used Skype Out before and been pretty happy with it. I still have 6 € on my account from when we were visiting France back in February. So I download Skype onto my shiny new MacBook Pro and give it a try. No luck. I kept getting error #9407, whatever that means. Sure, I heard that Skype had a recent meltdown, but hey, that was supposed to be over.

Lucky for me, there is another option called Gizmo Project. It seems to be a Skype knock off but it has the distinct advantage of working from Vietnam, when Skype just gives out error #9407. Besides just working, Gizmo has some fun features. You can easily record your calls with Gizmo. Plus you can add your own sound effects during the calls. If you want to pretend to be an annoying radio DJ when calling your friends, Gizmo makes it easy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Segway Anniversary

Wow, it's been six years since the Segway arrived. Remeber life before the Segway? How did we get along with out it?

I actually saw a guy on a Segway today at the corner of Howard and Third Street in San Francisco. Kind of embarrassing really.

In The Know: Do You Remember Life Before The Segway?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Jungle Disk Rules

I've decided I need to get better about backing up my computers. My buddy Cuong was telling me how much he loves his new personal NAS. (50 mbs with afp over wifi, wow!)

I've been trying to minimize my lifestyle by getting rid of physical things. I was getting all excited about buying one of these filers, and then I realized that buying another compute device goes against the zen minimalist philosophy that I've been striving for lately.

I remembered that Amazon has a cool storage service called S3. But it's a storage service, not a distributed file system or a backup solution. I figured someone must have written a utility that makes it possible treat S3 as a file system. I also thought there might be a nice Ruby mapping to S3. Turns out I was right on both counts.

There is a Ruby interface for S3 called AWS::S3. It's a nice wrapper on the S3 APIs. This is cool but not exactly what I'm looking for. I may want to use it for other projects down the road, so I'll keep it in mind. I just don't have time to write my own backup program on top of these APIs and the S3 service.

Luckily someone has already built an open source program called Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk will allow you to mount a network disk that is backed by the S3 service. After you configure it with your S3 credentials you're good to go. You can treat it like a normal network disk and copy files back and forth to it. It also has a built in backup feature. The backup feature is pretty basic, you can specify which files and folders to backup. You can set a schedule or simply run it manually. It's not as flexible as ChronoSync, but it's not bad. For instance, you can't setup different backup sets and schedule them at different intervals. If you really want this feature, you could use ChronoSync on top of Jungle Disk. I tried this at first, but it didn't seem to work well. Jungle Disk seemed to get wedged and I had to Force Quit the application.

I've been trying the built-in backup feature and that seems to work better. It handles my flaky Comcast internet connection gracefully. One problem I've seen is trying to backup my email folders while using email. This seems to cause problems for both Jungle Disk and Of course, this is a place where it would be nice to have separate backup sets. One that does my documents folder and another that does email. I could then run the email backup when I don't have mail running, but I could leave the document backup on autopilot.

Surprisingly this runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The code is open source so you can even check out their coding style. I'm using it on a Mac but I'll probably install it on my Windows boxes as well. Time to push all my storage into the cloud!

BTW, Jungle Disk is free for 30 days and then $20 to buy afterwards. I liked it enough to buy it. For your $20 you get lifetime upgrades and you can use it on as many computers as you like, as long as it's with the same S3 account. They also only accept Amazon Payments for the purchase. This makes me suspect that these guys are in a very close relationship with Amazon, and maybe even a part of Amazon. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) It's just odd that you can't find out anything about the Jungle Tools LLC from their web site.

BTW, the Amazon Payments thing is very new too. (Read Scoble's take here.) I found it simple to use when paying for my Jungle Disk license. It seems the online payment space is getting interesting. Google Checkout and Amazon Payments seem to be going after Pay Pal with a vengeance. Gotta love competition!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Scan Your Mail, Save the Earth

Let's say you travel a lot or you've sold your house and you haven't yet found a permanent address. Wouldn't it be cool if you could somehow get your mail on the internet? At first this seems like a crazy idea. It doesn't really make sense to have that book from Amazon shipped to a virtual address. But for a lot of mail it makes sense.

There is a service called Earth Class Mail that allows you forward your snail mail to a post office box at one of their locations. When the mail arrives, they scan the outside of the envelope and send you an email. You can then log into their secure web site and deal with your mail. You basically have 4 options:

  1. Recycle it
  2. Shred it
  3. Open it
  4. Forward it
If it you choose option 3 they will open it and scan in the contents so you can come back later and read what was inside the envelope. If it's a note from your Aunt Sandy, you may just want to file it away at ECM while you ponder your reply. If it's a check from your utility company, then you'll probably want them to forward it to you, since you can't print out a PDF of a check and deposit it into your bank account.

I'm giving it a try. I'll report back after a few weeks and let you know how it goes. I'm thinking that the level of junk mail I get will be greatly reduced. We'll see if that actually happens.

I'm a big fan of a similar service called Paytrust, a part of Intuit, the folks that brought you Quicken. Paytrust is like Earth Class Mail except it's only for bills. With Paytrust you have all your billers send their bills to you at the Paytrust address in South Dakota. They scan in the bill and then send you email when the bill arrives. Paytrust has additional functionality in that they can pay the bills for you. For a lot of the bigger guys like American Express and Cingular they can retrieve and pay your bill electronically. For the little guys they can simply send a physical check. I do this with my local exterminator who sprays our house for bugs every few months.

One of the great things about Paytrust is that you can setup automatic payment rules. If the electric bill is less than $100 (I wish) then pay it automatically. You can also setup multiple checking accounts and have them pay certain bills from a predefined checking account. Finally, Paytrust will also send you a CD at the end of the year with all your scanned in bills and records of your payments. I always file this away with my yearly taxes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Call Me: 636-590-3578

Ok, so I just signed up for a free phone line from AOL. This is a pretty cool service, I have to admit. (Disclaimer: I get my paycheck from AOL.) They will configure a local phone number for you instantly. The number can only be used to receive calls in the AIM client or go directly to voicemail. You can, of course, setup your own greeting.

Like Skype and Vonage, the voicemail can be sent directly to your email so you can listen to it in your email reader. Unlike Skype and Vonage, the real phone number with voicemail is free. With Skype you have to pay for SkypeIn to get a real phone number ($60 per year). AIM Phonline also allows you to set up SMS alerts and, of course, AIM alerts when you get a voicemail.

As with Skype, you can pay and get outgoing phone calls. Unlike Skype's pay as you go approach, with AIM Phoneline you pay a hefty $14.95 per month for unlimited calls. If you talk a lot internationally then it could be worth it. Skype has an unlimited plan but it's only unlimited to the US and Canada. Make sure to check the country list, Skype's list is more comprehensive. For instance, I can't call Vietnam with AIM Phoneline but it's coverted with Skype.

So give it a try, my new phone number is 636-590-3578. Leave me a message, a joke would be nice.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Richard Florida on The Colbert Report

What do you know, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class
made it onto Comedy Central.

His book gave me the idea for the name of the blog you're reading.

Actually I was interviewed by Florida back at CMU during the Inktomi days as he worked on his research for the book.

Seems from the Colbert interview that he's not at CMU anymore. He mentions selling his house. I wonder if it was after moving from Pittsburgh.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Ruby API for Truveo

Time for a work related post...

At Truveo we're getting a lot of traction with our video search APIs. A few months ago we were working on a new release and I wanted to write a bunch of tests for it before we let it out the door. I decided that a good way to do this would be to write Ruby programs that would compare the new version to the old version. Since we have a public API, I just needed a Ruby mapping for that API. Thus, the Truveo Ruby API was born. Of course, building it for internal testing is a lot different than actually releasing it for others to use. I actually had do do documentation and figure out how to make a Rakefiles and create Gems. Well I've finished all that and it's up on RubyForge.

The nice thing about having the gem on RubyForge is that anyone with Ruby Gems can easily install it like this:

% gem install truveo

The Ruby API is open source (under the Ruby license). So if you want to take a look at the code or contribute to it, head over to the RubyForge Truveo Project page.

If you just want to try it out, take a look a the RDoc documentation.

This should also go up on the Truveo Developer site soon.

I'm happy about this for a couple of reasons. First it was fun to do and it's done well I think. It has been very useful for internal purposes and now more folks can get access to Truveo in yet another language. (We already support an XML HTTP interface, JavaScript, and Flash.) The second reason is that it's my first open source effort. I've always wanted to do a some open source contribution, and now I have.

So check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Don't Forget the Bookmarks

I've switched operating systems three times over the last six months. (See this post for the whole story.) When you switch, you have to figure out what data you need to keep and how to convert it to be used on the next OS. Sure there's the 'My Documents' folder that you'll copy over. Those PDF files will work fine, no matter what OS you're using. Office docs will generally work between the PC and the Mac. OpenOffice can also deal with most Office documents like Word and Power Point if you're headed for Ubuntu Village. Email is where it gets tricky.

I was using Outlook under XP and planning on using Thunderbird under Ubuntu. There is no Ubuntu application that will read Outlook files. It turns out you need to convert them to something useful on XP before you switch. This can be a problem if you've already switched and only have the Outlook files but no longer have Outlook. It worked out for me since I was using one computer but two hard drives. I could boot off the old XP disk and be back in Windows Land. Basically you need to export your email from Outlook and then import it to Thunderbird. Thus you have to get it working under Thunderbird on XP and then you're back simply copying over the Thunderbird email directory. So in my case of moving from XP, to Ubuntu, and finally to Mac OS; the XP to Ubuntu was the hard part. Moving from Thunderbird on Ubuntu to Thunderbird on Mac OS was pretty painless. Eventually I moved to on Mac OS and as long as you can find a converter program, you're good to go. The one that worked for me was Eudora Mailbox Cleaner, which I highly recommend. There are a few tricks, like emptying your trash and compressing all your mail folders before converting, but otherwise it worked like a charm. I highly recommend it. I also learned that uses SQLite under the covers. Which makes me want to learn more about that little corner of the world at some point.

What about calendar? When I moved from Outlook on XP to Thunderbird, I also switched to Lightning, a Thunderbird plugin that does calendar. It was pretty creaky but it worked. I was able to export my Outlook calendar and import it into Lightning. Moving Lightning to Mac OS from Ubuntu was again pretty easy.

The part that I almost forgot were my bookmarks. At first bookmarks don't seem that important. They are sort of temporal. You're working on a project and you accumulate a set of bookmarks related to that project: how to convert Outlook to Thunderbird, for instance. But there really are a lot of bookmarks that you need to take with you. I realized this after spending way too much time trying to find web pages I know I had bookmarked on my old machine. I then found this great Firefox plugin called Foxmarks. Foxmarks is a plugin that keeps a backup of your bookmarks on their servers, which can be convenient, if just a little bit scary from a privacy point of view. But the really cool thing is that Foxmarks keeps the bookmarks on all of your computers synchronized automatically. (Assuming that you've installed Foxmarks on all your computers.) This means you can add a bookmark to your computer at work, and later that night after you've put the kids to bed, you can belly up to your home computer to continue your project, and that bookmark will be there ready for you to use. Pretty sweet.

I'm not sure how the Foxmarks folks are going to make money. One founder is Mitch Kapor of VisiCalc and Lotus Notes fame so they shouldn't be hurting for funding at least. Their web site says something about better search. I suppose you could use bookmarks as a way to increase relevancy in search. Rather than using Google's Pagerank you could use some sort of Markrank that would boost pages that have more bookmarks. In the meantime, Foxmarks is a great way to keep your bookmarks safe and in sync.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Apple Ads

You've probably seen a few of these on TV. Here are a bunch from Truveo.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What do you mean Gesture?

Here's a neat trick for the MacBook users out there (yeah, both of you): use two fingers on the touch pad for scrolling. Turns out this is incredibly useful. If you've ever used a mouse with a scroll wheel, you know how useful this can be. I have to admit I find Apple's single mouse button thing a bit constraining. Now I can use two fingers on my track pad even if I can't do the same with the mouse buttons.

In computer science speak this is called a gesture. Back in the early 90s I remember getting a demo of another gesture based interface at CMU. If found it really cool but couldn't think of how it would be used in real life. I'm glad these ideas are making it into commercial products. It turns out the iPhone will also have a bunch of gestures built in. You can flick your finger across the display to scroll. Pinching your fingers together will zoom out. Spreading your fingers apart will zoom in. This is kind of hard to explain in print, check out the photos demo to get a better idea of how these work.

Not only are gestures coming out as UI components. The term is also starting to have a broader meaning. Lately I've heard folks use gesture to describe the act of tagging or the act of selecting an item from a list of search results. This strikes me as a strange use of the term. It's at least useful in that it makes us think about user interactions from a slightly different angle. Battelle likes to talk about search as users expressing their intent. In this context gestures could be thought of as further evidence of our intent.

It seems to me there are two kinds of gestures. One is a command and the other is evidence of intent. Pinching a photo of George Bush on my iPhone is a command, a direct manipulation. It doesn't mean anything really except that I'm done looking at the picture and I want to move on. Tagging that Flickr photo of Bush as velvety is a evidence of intent. It says something deeper about the relationship between me and the photo. What do I mean by the gesture of tagging our president as 'velvety'? In this case it's just something I find amusing. It probably also says something about my politics, but let's not go there. This is a technology blog, not a political blog after all.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

hacker class?

The title 'hacker class' is a riff on the term 'creative class' as in the title of Richard Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class

hacker: as in someone who enjoys hacks or tricks.
class: as in a group of people having the same social or economic status.

The Cool Kids

My buddy Omar and I were having coffee yesterday and talking about fun startup ideas among other things. Omar has already been exposed to my Ruby fanaticism and he's a Mac buff. So I was showing him my latest toy, the TextMate. TextMate is the coolest developer tool I've seen in a while. (Probably since I began using Intelli J from Jetbrains back in 2003, also known as the days of yore.)

Omar made the comment, "That's what all the cool kids are using these days." Which resonated with an idea I've been thinking about lately. It seems to me that there are some pretty big shifts going on in terms of how development gets done. My own productivity has increased enormously over the last 5 years. Lately I've experienced some stunning changes in how much I can get done, partly due to the fact that maybe I'm just getting better at it, but mainly do to the fact that I have better tools with which to do it.

For me the first shift was from Java to Ruby. This was back in 2004 and the early days of Truveo. I was trying to make a Perl script do what I wanted and it just wasn't working. I kept sending emails to my buddy Manchek (my personal hacker guru) asking him why this or that thing didn't work the way I expected. He finally got fed up and suggested that I learn Ruby. (Thanks again Bob!) He knew that I came from the C/Unix/Vi school and that I was then living in the Java world. I think he suspected that Ruby would fit my brain a bit better than Perl. It did.

I eventually gave up on Java and started doing everything in Ruby. I missed using the Jetbrains stuff and tried to get Ruby and Eclipse working but it just took too much work. I reverted to Ruby and XEmacs on cygwin. Progress was made, rapidly.

I've pretty much been living in that world until my AOL issued laptop started taking 5 minutes or so to boot up. It was driving me nuts. I live on my laptop. I do all my development and non-development work on this one machine that goes everywhere with me. (More on that later.) Since the machine had to be docked and undocked daily, I was shutting down and booting up twice a day. These zen exercises were costing me around 20 minutes a day. I decided to take drastic measures, I installed Ubuntu. This was a whole other odyssey which I won't get into here. But eventually I prevailed. I had a real linux environment with all the trimmings. The best part, boot times under 60 seconds. Rock on.

Now comes the bad part. A lot of the other fun stuff I liked about XP was gone. The two biggies for me were iTunes and destktop search. I can probably live without iTunes but the lack of a good desktop search was a problem. I have tons of email and I was used to finding things easily. (Thankyou Google Desktop.) Well Ubuntu has Beagle, but I found Beagle about as useful as a wiener dog. Kind of a hassle and not that much fun.

Ubuntu had a hacker coolness to it but it just didn't have all the creature comforts I needed. I was proud of myself for getting it to work. I had to do some fairly heroic things, like compile custom VPN software and get my WiFi working even though my D410's chipset wasn't supported by Ubuntu. But, then I saw the light.

Last December we spent a week at Beaver Creek skiing with some friends. One was my good friend Peter, another of my personal gurus. He had a shiny Macintosh and I had to have one. Luckily Peter and I both work for AOL and AOL is willing (if not always happy) to provide both Windows and Macintosh computers to its employees. I proceeded to badger the administration and was eventually awarded my own shiny MacBook Pro. iTunes support, check. Desktop search, check. Unix underpinnings, check. Rock on.

This brings me back to the cool kids and TextMate. I started settling into my new OSX home, re-arranging the furniture and hauling in some of the old furniture from my last place in Ubuntu Village. I couldn't quite get the XEmacs through the door though. There was this thing called Aquamacs but it was just scary. The port of GNU emacs for the mac seemed like the best choice. Things were still missing, like syntax highlighting for Ruby, etc. Then one day I ran across this screencast by James Edward Gray II, and I was hooked. Not only did it support Ruby like a champ but it had some of my favorite control key bindings from emacs: ^a, ^e, ^k, and ^y are all there and happy to help. Sure, it costs 39 euros, but hey, I'm worth it.

There is so much cool stuff in TextMate I would recommend splurging on the book as well: TextMate: Power Editing for the Mac

So what else are all the cool kids using these days? (And who are these cool kids anyway?) I suspect the cool kids know about GTD, Subversion, and a whole lot more. My plan is to keep an eye out for this kind of hacker goodness and blog about it when I get the chance.