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Spam is good for you
April 27th, 2009 under Digital Rights, InfoSec, Life, Media, Politics, rengolin, Web. [ Comments: none ]

Spam is good for you, at least better than you may think. Spam accounts for three quarters of all emails sent worldwide and some even attached carbon footprint to it (and here one of the reasons why it’s nonsense). But it’s good for you in ways that does not meet the eye very easily and very few people would even consider it as good in the first place.

Not only emails, think on how much regular mail you receive is really worthy and how much is spam, it’ll probably account for three quarters as well. How much of that is really mean, how that really hurts you so bad that you’d put the sender in jail for it?

Sure spam is a nuisance, sure it gets in the way of the real work, but at what cost are we, the society, willing to pay to eradicate such problem? Well, lets take a look on how spam really started…

Local business

You’re a window cleaner and recently moved to Shlobershire in a very quite little village. How would you let people know about your business? You can go on, talking to each one of the local residents but that’s a nuisance, so you print some pamphlets and post through the door of everyone.

Some will read and call you, some will be pissed off but most will just ignore you. You’ll figure out pretty quickly about those that got pissed off (if you live in a small village you know that already), but then you buy them a pint and everything is settled.

What’s the final cost? A few pamphlets, a couple pints and you got two great things: one or two windows to clean and the whole village knowing who you are. This is, by far, the cheapest marketing ever. The rest of us that can’t afford a real marketing campaign have to find ways to promote our business.

With all the fuss about global warming, organic farming and fair competition in business (if there is such thing), we want to promote and use more of local business than big brands. We’re loosing creativity, diversity and quality if we don’t.

ROI

Just like the local business, some people can’t afford big marketing campaigns. Either because they’re poor or because their business is not so legal in every country.

So, why people still send those stupid ill edited loosely formatted emails, even when it’s obvious what they want? Who wants pills, fake degrees or enlarge their penises? Well, apparently some do and the do reply and may well get what they want!

The return of investment is much, much better than most marketing campaigns. Take Microsoft’s campaign with Jerry Seinfield or the “I’m a PC” thing? It was the most expensive piece of crap ever done. Seriously, I prefer spam than that!

The return rate is very low, one reply in millions of email, but if they send billions of emails, go figure.

But that’s clearly bad, isn’t it?

Well, illegal activities are bad, of course. Either on-line of off-line, drug dealing is bad, banking scams are bad, but not all spam is a scam or a drug selling point.

First, people receive so much spam from normal companies (even those that they have explicitly opted-out) including broadband providers, software, telephone and TV etc and etc.

The smaller companies are still sending physical spam and it’s probably working much better than the electronic spam, but that’s the deal: it works and it’s cheap.

Second, what’s really illegal? Downloading a music you haven’t paid for is illegal? What if you will pay later? What if the author allowed you to? Ripping your CDs to MP3 to listen in your car is illegal? You have paid for it already!

Google has become target of many accusations of illegal behaviour because they host a number of websites, videos, personal profiles on social networks. If people started to massively upload child pornography to YouTube, would the Google guys be in jail? I bet my little finger they wouldn’t.

RIAA kills a kitten every time you download (or rip) a CD while governments detain people for years on maximum security prisons without a single charge, what’s really legal?

Pirate Bay scam

I still don’t believe it happened, even though it was on all major journals for a week, but the Pirate Bay guy actually got a jail sentence for owning a website that allowed people to share files. They’re not criminals, they’re not killing people or (more importantly) getting in the way of the course of business (after all, money is more important than peoples lives nowadays). They just set up a list of things.

File sharing is one of the biggest revolutions of the recent internet and more and more people are asking the industry to finally adopt the technique rather than fight it. Whether they like it or not, it will prevail.

What is worse, a few old ladies downloading very old music (unavailable from any shop in the world) or the fear that the recording industry poses on most governments today that allowed such a scam to ever being turn into reality?

One mistake does not justify the other, but many (sane) people are already saying: Stop fighting reality, come back to it, be part of it.

You can’t fight them, help them!

I can’t imagine a world where we wait people to deliver a pamphlet to hand-cuff them, or where someone is jailed for listening music in his player’s speakers. Unfortunately, we’re not that far from it.

Why spam works? Because there isn’t any other way for those people. Yellow pages? Who reads them? Journal advertisement? Banners? People got used to them and can ad-block automatically. Our brains are trained to ignore them, it’s just not effective any more.

Some companies say they can provide a much better ad experience for the users by spying their lives closer than their lovers. I would object that approach…

There are many (free) systems for local business, but none of them seem to cut it. Maybe because people are always trying to get money in return (weird world, isn’t it?) and end up putting paid ads bigger, colourful and in the front page, and let the real local business somewhere between marriages and obituary.

I have no idea how a system would get rid of spam once and for all and it’s not my cup of tea to think about it, but I’m sure there are many people that could tackle this problem, they just need a bit of money (from the government) and time. It’s not a matter of filtering emails, it’s a matter of removing the need to send them in the first place!

If governments are really worried about spam, let them be creative and help freedom, privacy and good relationships rather than the totalitarianism we’re seeing around the world.

A new world is rising, new machines are taking life much faster than most governments would like and the digital hand-cuffs are showing that none of them understand a bit of what’s going on. All blinds, living in their caves watching the shadows on the wall. Whoever cry wolf is right for no one knows what wolf really is and where is it. Technology is like children, the more oppressed they are, the more you loose control over them.

Einstein didn’t go to the US because he liked the land of freedom, he moved because he hoped (in vain) that they would know how to use wisely the technology he knew how to build. He knew that others would be able to build it and it was just a matter of time before any bomb was actually available. Holding it back was not the answer and he knew it.

I just hope people figure it out sooner rather than later, or 1984 will seem like a pretty boring fairy tale for our children…


Opt-out
April 22nd, 2009 under Fun, rengolin, Web. [ Comments: none ]

Apparently, users are so dumb that they don’t even know what opt-out means, so Microsoft just wants to be really sure anyway…

Dear Windows Live User,

We are contacting you regarding your communication preference settings for Windows Live and MSN.

Currently, your settings do not allow Microsoft to send you promotional information or survey invitations about Windows Live and MSN. We would like to communicate important product updates to you, so if you would like to change your settings, please visit your account profile here to change your preferences.

Sincerely,
The Windows Live Team

Note: You can also change your Account settings by going to your browser and typing in: http://account.live.com. After logging-in to your account, look for ‘Additional options’ and click ‘Marketing preferences’. Then uncheck the top preference box and click ‘Save’.

Microsoft respects your privacy. To learn more, please read our online Privacy Statement.

Microsoft Corporation

Thanks for the fun, Rodrigo


MySQL down the drain?
April 20th, 2009 under Devel, OSS, Politics, rengolin. [ Comments: 4 ]

Almost 10 years ago, MySQL became a great open source database, part of the LAMP platform (Perl, not PHP) and had everything to compete with the big players in the next few years.

It was then that they have done major releases, with a huge set of new features each, almost once a year. The community was happy using, developing and integrating with other products. But it was around 2005 that the things started going bad…

Back in 2005, when I was still in the loop, I have to say that I wasn’t impressed with the progress that the database had. I wasn’t also impressed with the new view the board gave to big companies (such as Yahoo!) on what was a good bet and what wasn’t.

After release 5.0 (still the production release, irrespective of what Sun says) there wasn’t a major development until Sun acquired MySQL and only then they’ve released 5.1 which they better shouldn’t.

In the old days, MySQL became famous by not implementing foreign keys and transactions, something that every other database had, because of speed issues. That decision became the core of the company and allowed other storage engines (such as InnoDB and BerkeleyDB which had those features) to be integrated, making it very easy to plan your database, using only the features you needed where you needed.

Who’s to blame?

I’m not sure it has something to do with Oracle buying InnoDB and Sleepycat (and now buying Sun, which owns MySQL). Even with all the politics of Oracle slowly buying MySQL in pieces, I don’t believe it’s the whole story. I see much more of an internal conflict and a lack of vision (probably for the lack of guts to keep taking weird decisions and succeeding) than anything else.

Now, MySQL is going down the same drain InnoDB and Sleepycat went, but with a twist: the source code is still GPL. Sun screwed up MySQL in a way I thought it wasn’t possible, Oracle will do it much more efficiently, even if they still play as good guys, it is definitely the end.

Don’t take my word only, my good friend and MySQL guru Jeremy Cole is taking himself out of the loop to avoid the useless politics. Steven (Computerworld) also cannot see how any of the involved companies will get anything in return of this deal.

Is there a light at the end?

Could Monty’s fork become a new MySQL without all the fuss? Could he, the odd guy with odd ideas, put MySQL on the map again? I do hope so, but that will cost MySQL the hall of fame. They’ll need to start over again and eventually fail once they’re there again and restart…

It’ll be fun to watch, at least MySQL had a GPL license which always ease forks and future development. Long live the open source revolution!

UPDATE:

Two excellent articles about the same issue from The Register and Ars Technica.


When refactoring goes wrong
April 15th, 2009 under Devel, rengolin. [ Comments: none ]

Recently I had to implement a very simple feature that would cross the barrier between a few components. As any good software, the communication between the components is done via public interfaces, and that case wasn’t an exception.

Unfortunately, some core interfaces would need to be changed and I knew I was looking for trouble. Nevertheless, I started it anyway and, in the beginning, it was not as bad as I thought. Lots of changes, of course, but nothing too complex. But the devil is in the details…

Each refactoring pointed out to another refactoring needed, which, if I implemented the first I’d either need to do the second or have to hack it, so I did it. What happened is that it didn’t stop in the second, it went on and on. Each refactoring uncovered another and another. In the end, the state of the program and the unit tests were hardly stable.

I’ve reached a cycle, where refactoring A would break B, B would break C and C would break A again in a different way. The snake was biting its own tail…

That taught me some very important lessons:

  1. Sometimes a simple refactoring can cost you the week and still have to be rolled back. In this case I believe I couldn’t have done differently, I had no way to know how bad it was before actually start poking around the code.
  2. When you face this situation, the best thing you can do is take notes on your changes and roll back. Trying to fix it, especially when you’ve changed quite a lot of unit tests, is recipe to disaster.
  3. Examine your notes and decide which refactoring need to be done first. It’ll probably be backwards to what you had to do in the first refactoring. When in doubt, start from the last and go up the stack.
  4. Never do more than one refactoring at a time. When faced with this situation, stop, take notes, roll back and do the last refactoring first. Test everything and commit before you start the next step.

The last item is especially true when more developers are actively changing the code. This will give them time to adapt their changes to yours and adapt your changes to theirs.

Those lessons I’ve learned, I believe, are irrespective of the version control you use. I know that GIT has some pretty impressive conflict resolutions when merging your code but I doubt it’ll successfully merge high-level concepts (such as object orientation principles and design patterns). If you can’t tell if the test is right or wrong, how could the version control?


Ready to send Exchange Server to trash?
April 11th, 2009 under rvincoletto, Technology. [ Comments: none ]

I’ve been testing a few options to replace Exchange+Outlook without losing functionalities users are used to.

Until now my best solution is this one. Please let me know what do you think and what you are using.

Tools:

Google Apps as mail server

Mozilla Thunderbird as Mail client

Mozilla Sunbird as Calendar client

Add-ons:

Google contacts to synchronize contacts

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/addon/7307

Lighting to add Sunbird to Thunderbird

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/addon/2313

Directions:

Install Thunderbird and create your email account with the instructions from Google help page: http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=77662

To set up your Thunderbird client to work with Gmail:

  1. Enable IMAP in Gmail. Make sure you click Save Changes when you’re done.
  2. Open Thunderbird, and select Tools > Account Settings.
  3. Click Add Account.
  4. Select the Email account radio button and click Next. The Identity screen appears.
  5. Enter your full name in the Your Name field. Enter your Gmail address (username@gmail.com) in the Email Address field, and click Next. Google Apps users, enter your full address in the format username@your_domain.com
  6. Select IMAP as the type of incoming server you are using. Enter imap.gmail.com in the Incoming Server field.
  7. Set the Outgoing Server to smtp.gmail.com and click Next.
  8. Enter your full email address (including @gmail.com @your_domain.com) in the Incoming User Name and Outgoing User Name fields, and click Next.
  9. Enter a name for your email account in the Account Name field, and click Next.
  10. Verify your account information in the dialog box, and click Finish.
  11. Select Server Settings from the folder list below your new account.
  12. Update the Port value to 993.
  13. In the Security Settings section, select SSL from the Use secure connection options.
  14. Select the ‘Check for messages at startup’ checkbox and the ‘Check for new messages every 10 minutes’ checkbox.
  15. Click Outgoing Server (SMTP) in the folder list.
  16. Select the smtp.gmail.com (Default) entry from the list and click Edit. The SMTP Server page appears.
  17. Enter smtp.gmail.com as the Server Name and set the Port to 587.
  18. Select User name and password and enter your full email address (including @gmail.com or @your_domain.com) in the User Name field.
  19. Select TLS from the Use secure connection radio buttons and click OK.
  20. Click OK to save your changes and exit the Account Settings dialog.
  21. Check our recommended client settings, and adjust your client’s settings as needed.
  22. Install Sunbird.
  23. Install Ligthing.
  24. Restart Thunderbird.
  25. Now in your Thunderbird you can see your Calendar as well.
  26. Open the Calendar tab and under the “home” Calendar, click with the right button of your mouse and select “New Calendar”
  27. Select On the Network and click Next.
  28. Select the CalDAV format option.
  29. In the Location field, enter [ https://www.google.com/calendar/dav/ [ your Google Calendar email address ] /events ] and click Next.For example, if the email address used to access your Google Calendar is calendarfriend@gmail.com, the Location field should contain https://www.google.com/calendar/dav/calendarfriend@gmail.com/events
    Be sure to use https in your URL, as an http address will not work.
  30. Enter a name and select a color for your calendar.
  31. In the pop-up screen, enter the following information:Username: This is the complete email address you use with Google Calendar (including the part after the @ sign). If you’re using Google Apps, be sure to enter your Google Apps email address.
    Password: This is the password you use to sign in to Google Calendar
  32. Click OK.
  33. Your Google Calendar will now appear in the Calendar tab of Mozilla Sunbird, and Sunbird will sync any changes to and from Google Calendar.
  34. Now got to Thunderbird add-on tab and install Google Contacts add-on
  35. Restart Thunderbird
  36. Configure Google Contacts to synchronize with the server and that’s it.


How green can you get?
April 9th, 2009 under Gadgtes, Life, rengolin, Technology, World. [ Comments: 1 ]

Recently the whole family has been engaged in a complete greenification and organification. We prefer regional organic food (fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products) than regular ones. We recycle everything we can, even if that means a car trip to the recycling centre every now and then.

But the recent trip to Scotland made us to want a new car, and the new car we wanted wasn’t green at all: the Toyota’s Rav4. It took me a while to have courage to actually buy one, but in the week I was listing them to get one on the local Toyota dealer, I saw a talk by Prof. David MacKay at ARM and changed my mind…

Besides being one of the key world figures on information theory, inference and learning, he’s also pushing hard on sustainable energy. His talk was great and it was then I figured out how much difference you can make with little things. Not getting planes unless you really have no other choice, changing your car to something greener and buying food from local markets does make a big difference.

It was then that we bought a Toyota Prius. I have to say that I’m impressed. Not only it runs on battery for quite a while, but the petrol engine is super effective, only turns on when needed and doing 60mpg (21 km/l) at constant speeds. Not only that, but the amount of gadgets and technology they put in those cars is amazing.

I’m not saving the world, I know, but does help a lot. If those cars were more common, if the globalization used more internet and less aeroplanes, and if people ate more local food, maybe we could reduce the energy footprint and than sustainable energy could be viable.

One thing is for sure, people do need to change their attitude towards life and comfort and be prepared to live more and complaint less.


 


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